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Dixie Bohemia

A French Quarter Circle in the 1920s

Walter Lynwood Fleming Lectures in Southern History

320 pages / 6.12 x 9.25 inches / 173 b&w illus

ebook available

Southern History | Literature - American | Louisiana Studies

  Hardcover / 9780807147641 / September 2012
  Paperback / 9780807156100 / August 2014

In the years following World War I, the New Orleans French Quarter attracted artists and writers with its low rents, faded charm, and colorful street life. By the 1920s Jackson Square had become the center of a vibrant if short-lived bohemia. A young William Faulkner and his roommate William Spratling, an artist who taught at Tulane University, resided among the “artful and crafty ones of the French Quarter.” In Dixie Bohemia John Shelton Reed introduces Faulkner’s circle of friends—ranging from the distinguished Sherwood Anderson to a gender-bending Mardi Gras costume designer—and brings to life the people and places of New Orleans in the Jazz Age.

Reed begins with Faulkner and Spratling’s self-published homage to their fellow bohemians, “Sherwood Anderson and Other Famous Creoles.” The book contained 43 sketches of New Orleans artists, by Spratling, with captions and a short introduction by Faulkner. The title served as a rather obscure joke: Sherwood was not a Creole and neither were most of the people featured. But with Reed’s commentary, these profiles serve as an entry into the world of artists and writers that dined on Decatur Street, attended masked balls, and blatantly ignored the Prohibition Act. These men and women also helped to establish New Orleans institutions such as the Double Dealer literary magazine, the Arts & Crafts Club, and Le Petit Theatre. But unlike most bohemias, the one in New Orleans existed as a whites-only affair. Though some of the bohemians were relatively progressive, and many employed African American material in their own work, few of them knew or cared about what was going on across town among the city’s black intellectuals and artists.
The positive developments from this French Quarter renaissance, however, attracted attention and visitors, inspiring the historic preservation and commercial revitalization that turned the area into a tourist destination. Predictably, this gentrification drove out many of the working artists and writers who had helped revive the area. As Reed points out, one resident who identified herself as an “artist” on the 1920 federal census gave her occupation in 1930 as “saleslady, real estate,” reflecting the decline of an active artistic class. 
A charming and insightful glimpse into an era, Dixie Bohemia describes the writers, artists, poseurs, and hangers-on in the New Orleans art scene of the 1920s and illuminates how this dazzling world faded as quickly as it began.

John Shelton Reed is William Rand Kenan Jr. Professor Emeritus of sociology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and a co-founder of the Center for the Study of the American South and the quarterly Southern Cultures. He has written or edited 19 books, most of them about the American South, and was recently Chancellor of the Fellowship of Southern Writers.

Review of Dixie Bohemia

Gambit review of Dixie Bohemia

SOURCE: Gambit

Praise for Dixie Bohemia

"Dixie Bohemia beckons the myriad readers who appreciate he culture and history of the Crescent City."—The Southern Literary Journal

"With Dixie Bohemia, Reed, yet again, reaches across the wide spectrum of both academics and lay readers and provides a fine model for other historians. If nothing else, Dixie Bohemia serves as an endlessly enjoyable read, perhaps best consumed with café au lait and beignets, or maybe even a Hurricane cocktail, the absinthe of a decidedly non-modernist New Orleans."—HNet Book Reviews

"...the sheer number and diversity of remarkable characters in Dixie Bohemia is staggering."—The Weekly Standard

"...with Dixie Bohemia, Reed has helped to preserve and document [the Creoles] contributions for years to come."—Deep South Magazine

"Reed’s academic prose bubbles like freshly uncorked champagne and leaves no hangover."—StarNews Online

“What more could you ask for?—tales of the French Quarter in the 1920s as told with wit and insight by John Shelton Reed, author of books on the American South that surely define the region. He has brought to life a colorful and overlooked time and place in our country’s cultural history.”—Louise C. Hoffman, author of Josephine Crawford: An Artist’s Vision

“John Shelton Reed is a renowned cultural essayist who writes as if he shared a balcony with the creative personalities who created a 1920s bohemian culture in the French Quarter. I can attest that Reed is too young a man for that. His generous viewfinder yields vivid profiles of young and struggling writers like Faulkner, Lyle Saxon, Hamilton Basso, and the artist Caroline Durieux, among many others. When I finished this book I felt as if a band was playing dirges for old friends passed away. But the cultural milieu they made, like the music, lives on.”—Jason Berry, coauthor of Up from the Cradle of Jazz: New Orleans Music Since World War II 

“This book is an informed and delightful addition for anyone who has ever lived in the French Quarter of New Orleans, or has felt the thrill of brushing against bohemia in any of its other hatcheries, whether New York’s Greenwich Village, North Beach in San Francisco, or Montmartre and the Left Bank in Paris. The French Quarter has long nourished its artists, writers, and eccentrics, with anecdotal tidbits from earlier bohemias, but no one has, until now, given us a more concise and comprehensive picture of the mix of demimonde and haute culture of the 1920s circle that included William Faulkner and Sherwood Anderson. Dixie Bohemia is a superbly researched survey that resurrects the principal figures of the time and their far-flung connections and long-lasting influence.”—Andrei Codrescu, author of Whatever Gets You through the Night: A Story of Sheherezade and the Arabian Entertainments

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