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Mr.Skylark: John Bennett and the Charleston Renaissance
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Mr.Skylark: John Bennett and the Charleston Renaissance (Hardback)

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An intimate biography of John Bennett that reveals not only details of the artist's life, but much about the history of the Charleston Renaissance; Based on years of research and thousands of notes left by John Bennett, Mr. Skylark is an unusually intimate biography of a pivotal figure in the Charleston Renaissance, the brief period in the 1920s that first witnessed many of the cultural and artistic changes soon to sweep the South. The book not only examines Bennett's life but also reveals the rich tapestry of the literary and social history of Charleston, where past and present collided, bringing on epochal results. Born in Chillicothe, Ohio, in 1865, 'Bennett seemed destined to be an artist. Poverty slowed his progress, but he eventually enrolled in the Art Students' League in New York City, where in 1898 he published Master Skylark, still considered one of the best children's books of the nineteenth century. He became affiliated with the nation's premier magazine for children, St. Nicholas, and was proclaimed a leading silhouette artist. But it was in Charleston, South Carolina, where Bennett moved in 1902, that he was to have his greatest impact.

An outsider who became an insider by marrying into the local aristocracy, Bennett was perfectly placed to observe social and artistic change and to prompt it. He published the first scholarly treatise on Gullah, the language of the coastal southern blacks, and collected African American spirituals and tales. But after breaking several racial taboos of the time, he was publicly condemned, and it was only through mentoring such writers as Hervey Allen and DuBose Heyward that he was eventually welcomed back into the heart of the city. Today, the Charleston aesthetic, which mourned the loss of beauty in a modernizing South, is often overlooked in the study of southern literature, but Bennett, through his extensive private correspondence and notes, offers insight into the forces that shaped this literary movement. He documented the lives of the artists moving through the city, the plight of the city's blacks, and the changing social mores of his time. Restored to us in all his complexity and humor, Bennett is important for his own accomplishments, and also for providing a lens through which to view southern literary history and the complexities of a changing South.

Harlan Greene is an independent scholar who has served as assistant director of the South Carolina Historical Society and director of the North Carolina Preservation Consortium. Now affiliated with the Charleston Public Library, he is also the author of the prize-winning novels Why We Never Danced the Charleston and What the Dead Remember.

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