Free as Gods

How the Jazz Age Reinvented Modernism

Charles A. Riley

Among many art, music and literature lovers, particularly devotees of modernism, the expatriate community in France during the Jazz Age represents a remarkable convergence of genius in one place and period—one of the most glorious in history. Drawn by the presence of such avant-garde figures as Joyce and Picasso, artists and writers fled the Prohibition in the United States and revolution in Russia to head for the free-wheeling scene in Paris, where they made contact with rivals, collaborators, and a sophisticated audience of collectors and patrons. The outpouring of boundary-pushing novels, paintings, ballets, music, and design was so profuse that it belies the brevity of the era (1918–1929). Drawing on unpublished albums, drawings, paintings, and manuscripts, Charles A. Riley offers a fresh examination of both canonic and overlooked writers and artists and their works, by revealing them in conversation with one another. He illuminates social interconnections and artistic collaborations among the most famous—Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Gershwin, Diaghilev, and Picasso—and goes a step further, setting their work alongside that of African Americans such as Sidney Bechet, Archibald Motley Jr., and Langston Hughes, and women such as Gertrude Stein and Nancy Cunard. Riley’s biographical and interpretive celebration of the many masterpieces of this remarkable group shows how the creative community of postwar Paris supported astounding experiments in content and form that still resonate today.

Cloth: $29.95 | E-book: $24.99
ISBN-13: 9781611688504
Pages: 272 | Size: 6 in. x 9 in.
Date Published: June 6, 2017


  • A stimulating book, partly because it takes a different approach to its subject, Paris in the 1920s, than many other books. And it looks at some of the lesser-known, or less talked about, writers and others who were around, but perhaps not noticeably so.

    The Penniless Press
  • [Profiles], such as the examination of Gerald Murphy’s art and collaborations with fellow artists, offer new insights into the fertile artistic environment of this remarkable place and time. . . . Recommended.

  • Riley’s book presents a great romp through one of the richest periods of artistic creation ever: Paris, 1918 to 1929. Newcomers and seasoned culture lovers alike will be treated to a fresh, full discussion of the artists, writers and musicians of the period and their dazzling paintings, writings and compositions.

    Kenneth Wayne
    author of Modigliani and the Artists of Montparnasse

About the Author

Charles A. Riley, II

Charles A. Riley II, a curator, critic, and professor of English, is the author of more than twenty books on the arts, as well as hundreds of features, news articles, exhibition catalogue essays, and reviews published in national and international magazines.

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