Young and Evil Bohemia: Sex, Art, and Identity in the Queer Atlantic, 1930–39

Saturday, January 7, 2012: 9:20 AM
Michigan Room A (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Thomas W. Hafer, City University of New York, Graduate Center
Through a network of bohemian poets, Charles Henri Ford and Parker Tyler met in letters in 1929. Working together on a poetry magazine, Ford moved to New York in 1930 and the two became the center of a small community of queer artists. During the Great Depression, a transformative period in queer history, their group occupied a unique space at the intersection of the homosexual, bohemian, and artist worlds in Greenwich Village. A “queer” community in present terminology, this group was different in that it was built principally on art and bohemian dreams; sexuality was secondary. Due to that, I argue that this community developed understandings of sexuality and identity, such as “pansexuality,” that challenged and complicated these concepts in larger society and even in the broader contemporary queer community. These ideas come through prominently in their poetic novel The Young and Evil (1933) based on their social, artistic, and sexual exploits in the Village and Harlem. Following this they used existing queer and artistic channels of communication to build a transnational web of bohemian artists connecting hubs like New York, Paris, London, and Tangier, to seemingly more provincial locales in Latin America, the United States, Europe, and North Africa. Parker Tyler and Charles Henri Ford were the anchors of this part of the community but they built platonic, romantic, and artistic relationships with figures Djuna Barnes, Gertrude Stein, Paul Bowles, and Pavel Tchelitchew, as well as others that moved through Tyler and Ford’s world in New York and those that Ford encountered in his travels abroad. Through this network these artists built a community with shared bohemian principles, engaged in queer friendships and sexual relationships, and collaborated on art of different kinds that promoted their visions and beliefs.