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The African American Roots of ModernismFrom Reconstruction to the Harlem Renaissance$
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James Smethurst

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780807834633

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: July 2014

DOI: 10.5149/9780807878088_smethurst

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Somebody Else's Civilization

Somebody Else's Civilization

African American Writers, Bohemia, and the New Poetry

(p.123) Chapter Four Somebody Else's Civilization
The African American Roots of Modernism

James Smethurst

University of North Carolina Press

This chapter argues that the rise of artistic modernism and the emergence of indigenous bohemias in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were closely linked, though not twinned phenomena. The author uses the plural rather than speak of bohemia in the singular because bohemia in the United States was characterized by racially and ethnically distinct, though significantly overlapping, communities, whether one is speaking of “black bohemia,” the largely white bohemia in such communities as New York's Greenwich Village and Chicago's Towertown, or the avant garde artistic subcultures of immigrant communities, such as the circles of Yiddish- and Russian-speaking Jewish artists and intellectuals who frequented the cafes of New York's Lower East Side. Given the increasingly rigid segregation of urban space and the debates about race and citizenship that roiled the United States, such distinctions are not surprising.

Keywords:   artistic modernism, indigenous bohemias, black bohemia, immigrant communities, Jewish artists

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