Shadows of the Sun sheds light on expatriates in Paris

Published 09-08-2011

"Please sell ten thousand dollars worth of stock. We have decided to live a mad and extravagant life." -Harry Crosby, telegram to his father, July 19, 1929
Paris in the 1920s is the focus of “Shadows of the Sun: The Crosbys, the Black Sun Press & the Lost Generation,” on display now in the Schatten Gallery at Emory University’s Woodruff Library.

The exhibition shines a light on modernism and the generation of writers, artists, jazz musicians and exiles in Paris after the First World War. The Black Sun Press, founded by Caresse and Harry Crosby in Paris in the 1920s, is emblematic of the avant-garde nature and adventurous spirit of the “Lost Generation” – expatriate American writers and artists – during that period. The Crosbys themselves symbolized the excesses and experimentation of the times: they threw lavish and sometimes wild parties, and they openly took lovers.

An opening reception will be held Tuesday, Sept. 27 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Schatten Gallery, on Level 3 of the Woodruff Library. This event is free and open to the public. Parking is available in the Fishburne Deck; visit for directions.

The fine press’s books were characterized by high-quality pages and printing, and many of the books belonged to the Crosbys, bearing personal inscriptions and beautiful bindings with the Crosby crest. Black Sun published the early works of many writers, including Ernest Hemingway, D.H. Lawrence, Kay Boyle, James Joyce (whose Black Sun book Tales Told of Shem and Shaun was integrated later into Finnegans Wake), and Hart Crane.

Black Sun also published works deemed too controversial or experimental by other publishers, such as those by James Joyce and D.H. Lawrence. Many of these books were censored, banned, or would not have been published until the Crosbys championed them, says Kevin Young, curator of the exhibition as well as both the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library and literary collections at MARBL (Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library).

“There’s a kind of rock-and-roll quality to their story – they lived this decadent lifestyle in Paris, they knew all the writers around town. Caresse Crosby said ‘Yes and never no was our answer to the fabulous Twenties,’ and it shows in both their work and life.” Young says. “Then there’s a sad part of the rock-and-roll story, which is that in December 1929, a few weeks after the market crash, Harry killed himself in an apparent suicide pact with his mistress. He and the Roaring Twenties met this violent, sensationalistic end.”

The exhibition also shows the ways Caresse Crosby, who as a young woman invented the modern bra, went on to reinvent both herself and the press, helping start the paperback revolution and first publishing poet Charles Bukowski and artists Salvador Dali and Romare Bearden.

The exhibition materials are drawn from a nearly-complete collection in the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library at MARBL and include books by small Paris publishers other than the Black Sun Press.

Among the significant items in the exhibition, some in editions as small as seven:

  • Hemingway’s first book, “Three Stories & Ten Poems,” printed by Contact Publishing. “An incredibly rare and important book,” Young says.
  • A 1926 edition of James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” published by Sylvia Beach, a leading expatriate figure of the time and a friend of the Crosbys. The book was banned in the U.S. until 1933; Young says this particular copy was torn into sections and stuffed into laundry bags, smuggled into the U.S. from Europe, then later reassembled and re-bound.
  • A copy of performer Josephine Baker’s rare first memoir, with copious portraits of her.
  • A rare copy of “The Common Sense of Drinking,” by Richard R. Peabody, Caresse’s first husband (before she changed her name from Polly Peabody). The book, published in 1933, was a major influence on the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous, and shaped the modern ideas of alcoholism as a disease.
  • A first edition of Hart Crane’s masterpiece “The Bridge” (once owned by Leonard Baskin); this Black Sun book contains the first published photographs by Walker Evans.
  • Black Sun Press’s 1930 edition of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland,” with lithographs by French artist Marie Laurencin, as well as signed artist books by surrealists from Max Ernst to Rene Crevel.

A small, accompanying exhibition called “Postcards from Paris,” about expatriate literary and artistic figures, is curated by Amy Hildreth, a doctoral candidate in English. It includes photographs and information about Gertrude Stein, Hart Crane, Paul Robeson, D.H. Lawrence, e.e. cummings, Malcolm Cowley and Claude McKay, among others.

Young plans to give a curator talk in October; the date will be posted on the library homepage when it is announced.

“Shadows of the Sun,” which will run until March 16, 2012, is free and open to the public during regular library hours.

The Schatten Gallery is on the third floor of the Woodruff Library, which is located at 540 Asbury Circle on the Emory campus in Atlanta, 30322.