The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature
May 6, 2014
The Bohemians begins in early 1860s San Francisco.The Gold Rush has ended; the Civil War threatens to tear apart the country. Far from the front lines, the city at the western edge of the continent roars. San Francisco has become a complex, urban society, virtually overnight.
The bards of this 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. Author Ben Tarnoff shows how these four pioneering western writers would together create a new American literature, unfettered by the heavy European influence that dominated the East, fired by the youthful irreverence of the new world being formed in the west.
As Tarnoff explains, the Bohemian moment would continue in Boston, New York, and London, and would achieve immortality in the writings of Mark Twain. San Francisco gave Twain 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, The Bohemians reveals how a brief moment on the western frontier changed the nation forever.