Unknown Genius: Nancy Cunard, the Jazz Age Flapper, Muse, & Poet

Charles Riley at Chinatown Soup

Thu, Mar 3 at 7:30 p.m.   |   90 minutes

Join us at the brand new art gallery Chinatown Soup for an evening with author and professor Charles Riley as we learn about one of the lesser known heroes of Paris' Jazz Age.

During the Jazz Age the flapper roll call from Josephine Baker to Zelda Fitzgerald reached its aristocratic high point with Nancy Cunard. Heiress to the shipping fortune, champion (and lover) of African-Americans, hard-drinking sybarite relentlessly on the move to be wherever the party was, the fashion-forward Cunard was a meal ticket for gossip columnists. With her arms encased in African bracelets, long skinny legs flashing from under abbreviated Chanel hemlines, and kohl-rimmed eyes, Nancy Cunard dared Man Ray, Cecil Beaton and other photographers to tame the predatory pheromones she exuded even as a teenage member of London’s Corrupt Coterie.


Biographers batten on her dalliances with black jazz musicians and high-profile literary figures (no less than three Nobel prizewinners), a roster of lovers that included T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound and Samuel Beckett. But the wild tales mask a prodigious talent on display in Parallax, her book-length poem published by Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press in 1929. This ambitious work is a revelation, taking its place alongside Eliot’s Waste Land and Hart Crane’s The Bridge. The deeply personal, Modernist narrative includes London nocturnes and a brilliant episode on Cezanne’s Provence that we will explore in critical depth, with images of the paintings. The alarming thrill of “dancing on dynamite” was Nancy Cunard’s drug: “And Paris/Rolls up the monstrous carpet of its nights.”

Teacher: Charles Riley

Charles Riley II is the director of the Nassau County Museum of Art, an arts journalist, curator and professor at Clarkson University. He graduated from Princeton and received his Phd from City College of New York.


Venue: Chinatown Soup

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Olio: A miscellaneous collection of art and literature.