The unforgettable story of the birth of modern America and the western writers who gave voice to its emerging identity begins in 1860s San Francisco, and is brought to light in: The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature ($27.95). The Gold Rush has ended; the Civil War threatens to tear apart the country. Far from the front lines, a city at the western edge roars. A global seaport and home to immigrants from five continents, San Francisco has become a complex urban society virtually overnight. The bards of the moment are the Bohemians: a young Mark Twain, fleeing the draft and seeking adventure; literary golden boy Bret Harte; struggling gay poet Charles Warren Stoddard; and beautiful, haunted Ina Coolbrith, poet and protectorate of the group. Ben Tarnoff’s elegant, atmospheric history reveals how these four pioneering western writers would together create a new American literature, unfettered by the heavy European influence that dominated the East.
The Bohemian movent would continue in Boston, New York, and London, and would achieve immortality in the writings of Mark Twain. San Francisco gave him his education as a writer and helped inspire the astonishing innovations that radically reimagined American literature. At once an intimate portrait of an eclectic, unforgettable group of writers and a history of a cultural revolution in America, this work reveals how a brief moment on the western frontier changed our country forever.
Ben Tarnoff has worked at Lapham's Quarterly, and his writing has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle. He graduated from Harvard in 2007 and lives in New York City.