April 2014 Indie Next List
“Four writers who changed the face of American literature -- Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Charles Warren Stoddard, and Ina Coolbrith -- arrived in San Francisco in the 1860s and immediately found the city's 'intoxicating energy' to be just the elixir they needed to create a new American literature free from the 'heavy European influence that dominated the East.' Tarnoff makes the Bohemians come alive both as a group and as individuals in the blossoming West Coast, the site of burgeoning immigration from five continents. This book is an essential reference that needs to be in every home across America.”
— Trayce and Jerry Finney, Hiram Books, Hiram, GA
An extraordinary portrait of a fast-changing America--and the Western writers who gave voice to its emerging identity
At once an intimate portrait of an unforgettable group of writers and a history of a cultural revolution in America, The Bohemians reveals how a brief moment on the far western frontier changed our culture forever. Beginning with Mark Twain's arrival in San Francisco in 1863, this group biography introduces readers to the other young eccentric writers seeking to create a new American voice at the country's edge--literary golden boy Bret Harte; struggling gay poet Charles Warren Stoddard; and beautiful, haunted Ina Coolbrith, poet and protector of the group. Ben Tarnoff's elegant, atmospheric history reveals how these four pioneering writers helped spread the Bohemian movement throughout the world, transforming American literature along the way.
"Tarnoff's book sings with the humor and expansiveness of his subjects' prose, capturing the intoxicating atmosphere of possibility that defined, for a time, America's frontier." -- The New Yorker
"Rich hauls of historical research, deeply excavated but lightly borne.... Mr. Tarnoff's ultimate thesis is a strong one, strongly expressed: that together these writers 'helped pry American literature away from its provincial origins in New England and push it into a broader current'." -- Wall Street Journal
About the Author
BEN TARNOFF is the author of A Counterfeiter's Paradise. He has written for the New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle, among other publications. He lives in New York City.