Who is best known for starting a literary salon for writers in 1920s Paris?
And the answer: Gertrude Stein.
Gertrude Stein came to Paris in 1903. Together with her brother Leo, she collected art and established the literary salon. She hosted fellow American expatriate writers Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald at her home in Paris.
Stein was born to a wealthy merchant family in Allegheny, Pennsylvania in 1876. She spent much of her early life traveling, or in Europe, before eventually settling in Oakland, California. After trying her hand at medical school (and deciding on a writing career instead), Stein moved to Paris and began collecting art with her brother. Herself and her brother opened a salon that featured not only up-and-coming artists such as Picasso, but writers as well. Stein established a weekly meeting at the salon wherein artists and writers could attend and discuss one another's art. The salon quickly became a nexus for modernist art and literature.
There, Stein met her life partner, Alice B. Toklas. The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas was ultimately Stein's most famous work, as her own writing was in fact quite controversial. The writing that put Stein on the map was also that which caused the most outrage, as it manipulated meaning and form. Her work Tender Buttons offers a survey of commonplace objects, as Stein attempts to replicate abstract painting in literary form. Yet the work was not appreciated in its time, and was viciously mocked by critics. However, Stein was undeterred, claiming:
"I am writing for myself and strangers. This is the only way I can do it."
Stein pushed the boundaries of what poetry could be and greatly informed the modernist movement. As such, Tender Buttons is now recognized for its innovation and contributions to literature alongside her avid advocation for art in all its forms. Learn more about Stein's life and legacy here.