The Bohemian South

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The Bohemian South: Creating Countercultures from Poe to Punk  
Author(s) Chandler Bingham and Lindsey A. Freeman
Publisher University of North Carolina Press
Publication date 2017
Pages 341
ISBN 978-1-4696-3167-7
Editors Shawn Chandler Bingham and Lindsey A. Freeman have pieced together an intriguing and interesting discussion of what defines bohemia and southern culture in the compilation, The Bohemian South: Creating Countercultures, from Poe to Punk. Each author in this collection has their own unique way of defining bohemian culture and space in the southern region of the United States. Besides the interesting content, this book should appeal to various fields in the humanities and beyond. The essays address a wide range of topics, from southern food history and sexuality to city planning and design, all written by sociologists, professional authors, anthropologists, historians, literature and English professors, feminists, and American Studies scholars.

Bohemian South literally expands the geographical boundaries of the South, “stretching from Kentucky and West Virginia to the southern tip of Florida, from Texas to the coasts of the Carolinas and Virginia” (15). This may be difficult for readers who want hard boundary lines between the southern U.S. and other parts of the U.S., but, as Bingham explains, boundaries “can become fuzzy at the borders. We chose to sit with the complexity, and to allow . . . this volume to help shape some version of the South while not coming even close to claiming to contain it all” (15). Certain chapters in the book help the reader understand how southern geographical boundaries become particularly blurred when southern culture, ideas, and money leave the South. For instance, Edward Whitley’s chapter discusses financial and cultural roots of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century bohemian New York that extend to the deep South and slavery. Others, like Daniel Cross Turner’s chapter, place the American South in a “global or Hemispheric South to account for connections between the . . . regions’ shared histories of European colonial removal or suppression of indigenous peoples, the importation of African chattel slaves . . . and the aftereffects of violent racial apartheid” (89).

In addition to reimagining and expanding the geographical boundaries of the American South, this collection relies on a variety of cultural expressions like food and music to help us think about what it means to be southern. Chapters by Jaime Cantrell and Chris Offutt center southern food. Cantrell’s piece explores the centrality of typically southern food in pieces by southern lesbian writers, and how these writers used food as a vehicle to discuss lesbian eroticism and desire. Author Chris Offutt’s short story, “Trash Food,” explores class, race, and how southern foods are able to cross these boundaries that people themselves often struggle to or cannot cross. Scott Barretta, Grace Elizabeth Hale, and Daniel S. Margolies each contributed chapters that explore music and the American South. Scott Barretta looks at the most southern of musical genres, the American Blues. His chapter looks closely at the way “race issues shaped the trajectory” of blues revivals in New Orleans, Houston, and Memphis. Another chapter on southern music, “Acting Out,” by Grace Elizabeth Hale, explores the Athens, Georgia music scene in the last few decades of the twentieth century, analyzing music by local (and national) stars, the B-52’s, Pylon, and R.E.M. Margolies’ chapter explores the lives of people who have adopted and adapted to the life of Appalachia through the traditional music forms of backcountry Appalachia.

Of course, food and music are not the only ways bohemia is found in the South. Literature, architecture and city planning, alternative living, and cinema make an appearance. Alex Sayf Cummings chapter on the architecture and design of North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park helps us think about how city planners might intentionally design a bohemian space to further economic prosperity. Jon Horne Carter explores the history and lifestyle of the Black Mountain College community in North Carolina during the first half of the twentieth century, exploring some of the bohemian artists and scholars who resided at the college.

The Bohemian South is a collection of essays that traverse the various ways bohemian lifestyle and culture have permeated the American South since the mid-nineteenth century. The book explores the complexities of the term bohemia and offers the reader an assortment of instances where “bohemia” and the South become intertwined. It is also a truly interdisciplinary collection that looks at one topic from numerous disciplines and angles. This book is a perfect compliment to a person studying culture and/or the U.S. South.