The Bohemian South: Creating Countercultures, from Poe to Punk

The Bohemian South: Creating Countercultures, from Poe to Punk

The Bohemian South: Creating Countercultures, from Poe to Punk

The Bohemian South: Creating Countercultures, from Poe to Punk


From the southern influence on nineteenth-century New York to the musical legacy of late-twentieth-century Athens, Georgia, to the cutting-edge cuisines of twenty-first-century Asheville, North Carolina, the bohemian South has long contested traditional views of the region. Yet, even as the fruits of this creative South have famously been celebrated, exported, and expropriated, the region long was labeled a cultural backwater. This timely and illuminating collection uses bohemia as a novel lens for reconsidering more traditional views of the South. Exploring wide-ranging locales, such as Athens, Austin, Black Mountain College, Knoxville, Memphis, New Orleans, and North Carolina's Research Triangle, each essay challenges popular interpretations of the South, while highlighting important bohemian sub- and countercultures. The Bohemian South provides an important perspective in the New South as an epicenter for progress, innovation, and experimentation.

Contributors include Scott Barretta, Shawn Chandler Bingham, Jaime Cantrell, Jon Horne Carter, Alex Sayf Cummings, Lindsey A. Freeman, Grace E. Hale, Joanna Levin, Joshua Long, Daniel S. Margolies, Chris Offutt, Zandria F. Robinson, Allen Shelton, Daniel Cross Turner, Zackary Vernon, and Edward Whitley.


Shawn Chandler Bingham

Down there a poet is now almost as rare as an oboe-player, a dry-point etcher or a
metaphysician … that stupendous region of worn-out farms, shoddy cities and
para lyzed cerebrums … it is almost as sterile, artistically, intellectually, culturally,
as the Sahara Desert.
—H. L. Mencken

Despite the more hackneyed perceptions of the South that pervade, the bohemian South is alive and well. Consider Savannah: Lurking amid the tourists wearing fanny packs and visors, piling off busses and into Paula Deen’s restaurant and gift shop, and beyond the traditional architecture, is the city’s creative underbelly. Savannah, once called “a pretty woman with a dirty face” by England’s Lady Astor, has always had an artistic side. Today, wiry, aloof art students can be seen all over downtown carrying their oversize portfolios and tackle boxes filled with brushes, chalk, and pencils. Their sanctuary, the Savannah College of Art and Design, has helped create a revival in the historic area of the city, drawing the next generation of art students from every state in the Union and over twenty foreign countries.

North about five hours by car, Asheville, North Carolina, has drawn fresh attention as a Southern darling with a number of snappy monikers bandied about, especially in the travel sections of Northern newspapers: the Paris of the South, the San Francisco of the East, and the New York Times’ bucolic-busting description as the “Appalachian Shangri La.” Meanwhile, Rolling Stone has christened the seat of Buncombe County “Amer ica’s New Freak Capital.” These nicknames are more than romantic forms of marketing to draw tourists from the North. the city has bona fides: it is home to a thriving arts scene, complete with a large fringe arts festival, a vibrant music community, and as much focus on food ethics as aesthetics. Asheville was the birthplace of bluegrass legend Bill Monroe, Moog synthesizers, and novelist Thomas Wolfe—a major literary influence on James Agee and Jack Kerouac, among countless others. and in the midtwentieth century, the area was home to Black Mountain College, where R. Buckminster Fuller came up with his design for a geodesic dome, Merce . . .

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