John SzwedSep 3, 2023
The Life and Times of Harry Smith
Farrar, Straus & Giroux 2023
Who was Harry Smith? Was he an anthropologist, a filmmaker, a painter? Was he a charlatan? A genius? Was he a moocher, a schmuck, a bum? As John Szwed's Cosmic Scholar: The Life and Times of Harry Smith (FSG, 2023) reveals, Smith was all of these and more. Best known for editing The Anthology of American Folk Music, Smith was also a pioneer in experimental film who Jonas Mekas considered one of the leading lights of the New American Cinema. He created paintings that attempted to transcribe bebop recordings. He acted as mysticism consultant on the 1967 effort to levitate the Pentagon. But he also spent years living in poverty, in SROs, at the Chelsea Hotel, or at the apartments of famous friends like Allen Ginsberg. The story of Harry Smith is thus also a story of a vanished New York Bohemia that mixed high and low, the street and the gallery, the Bowery and MOMA, to create one of the most remarkable outpourings of cultural production this country has even seen. And Smith was at the center of it all.
Andy Boyd is a playwright based in Brooklyn, New York. He is a graduate of the playwriting MFA at Columbia University, Harvard University, and the Arizona School for the Arts.