Very Real" --
Hughes In Richmond, Virginia
Special Collections and Archives
James Branch Cabell Library
Hunter Taylor Stagg (1895-1960) was born in Richmond,
Virginia, the youngest son of Thomas E. and Sarah Stagg, on May 29, 1895.
During his youth, the family lived at 912 West Franklin Street. That building
is part of VCU's Monroe Park Campus known today as Stagg
Hunter Stagg, 1930s - image by Carl Van Vecten.
Stagg is best known for his association with the
Richmond literary magazine The Reviewer that gained national attention
in the early 1920s by publishing works by some of that era's most famous
authors and writers. He was one of the founding members -- along with
Emily Tapscott Clark [later Balch], Margaret Freeman [later the second
wife of James Branch Cabell], and Mary Dallas Street. He assumed the role
of book reviewer almost immediately. It was he and Emily Clark who first
approached Richmond author
James Branch Cabell about enlisting his support for their new literary
Edgar MacDonald wrote about Stagg's personal appeal in the October 1981
issue of the Ellen Glasgow Newsletter: "Hunter Stagg was an avid
literary lionizer, the one of the four who sought meetings with writers
for the thrill of associating with creative artists. His handsome appearance,
his considerable charm, his genuine appreciation for writing aided him
in establishing the friendships he cherished including that of Cabell.
Carl Van Vechten, leader of avant-garde cultural circles in New York,
responded to Hunter's appeal and opened literary doors for him."
Elizabeth S. Scott writes a different picture of Stagg in her Winter 1978 Virginia Cavalcade article, "In fame, not specie" The
Reviewer, Richmond's oasis in "The Sahara of the Bozart": "Local recollections
of Hunter Stagg are hazy. He left Richmond for Baltimore, and those who
remember him say he was brilliant, talented, lazy, and effete. [James
Branch] Cabell and [H. L.] Mencken both took great interest in Stagg
and expected him to write a superior novel, but he never got around to
it; he was the only one of the four [editors] of The Reviewer who did not produce a book."
It is through Stagg's friendship with Cabell that he met the New York social maven,
Carl Van Vechten on one of his several trips
to Richmond in the early 1920s. Stagg and Van Vechten would form a friendship through
letters that lasted for the better part of a
decade, stretching into the mid-1930s. Stagg and Van Vechten shared a keen interest
in the African American arts community.
During a visit to London in the fall of 1925, Stagg attended a performance
of The Emperor Jones. He went backstage after the performance to
meet Paul Robeson and his wife, Essie, who invited him to tea later in
the week. The following year, Stagg attended a performance of "Miss Calico" starring Ethel Waters, fully intending to throw a party in her honor at
his home. He was advised against that plan by Van Vechten, however, he
did get a chance to meet her backstage afterwards. He would get his chance
to host a celebrated African American artist in his home when Langston
Hughes arrived in Richmond to give a reading at Virginia Union University
in November 1926. He wrote a favorable review of Hughes' Fine Clothes
to the Jew the following year. In a literary review from the Richmond
News Leader, Stagg wrote that Hughes' work should be recognized "as the authentic artistic expression of something in human nature, we
are not quite prepared to say what, only that we are sure it is something
After The Reviewer moved to North Carolina in 1924, Stagg held several reviewing positions in Richmond, including stints as
literary editor at both the Richmond Times-Dispatch and Richmond News Leader, before moving to
Washington, D.C. in March 1938 to live with his sister, Helen Winston, and her family. He lived with Mrs. Winston until her death in the late 1940s.
After spending some time in New York with Margaret Freeman recuperating from his sister's death, Stagg returned to D.C. and got a
job managing a bookstore.
Stagg died 23 December 1960 in Washington, D.C.
alone and destitute after he'd been committed to St. Elizabeth's. He is buried in the Stagg family plot in
Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia. As of December 2004, his grave remains unmarked.
Stagg would go on to write favorably of Hughes' second volume of poetry, Fine
Clothes to the Jew, in his literary column, "Galley Sheets in the Wind" March 21, 1927 that ran shortly after he began work as the literary
editor of the Richmond News Leader. [The image on the right is that column pasted into Stagg's copy
of Fine Clothes To the
The Hunter Stagg Papers are one of over 300 manuscript collections housed in Special Collections
and Archives. Stagg's papers include correspondence, notes, typescripts,
reviews, bills and miscellaneous materials dating from 1917
to 1981. The bulk of the collection is correspondence from the 1920s and 1930s, especially that of James Branch
Cabell and Carl Van Vechten
(including copies of letters written to Van Vechten from Stagg obtained from Yale University by
Dr. Edgar E. MacDonald).
Other notable correspondents include: Essie Robeson (wife of Paul Robeson), Marjorie K. Rawlings, Tom
Ruthefurd (Ruthefoord), Gertrude Stein, Alice Toklas, Frances Newman, Langston Hughes, Ben Ray Redman, Ellen Glasgow, and
Montgomery Evans (much of the Evans materials are
photocopies from Stagg to Evans obtained from Southern Illinois University by Dr. Edgar E. MacDonald).
Hunter Stagg's bookplate was designed by Virginia artist Berkeley
Williams (1904 - 1976).
Hunter Stagg's personal library, numbering some 1,000 volumes, are housed
in Special Collections and Archives. They contain many
rare books of American and British fiction, dating primarily from the 1870s through the 1950s.