Ernest Hartsock’s Bozart Magazine: An Oasis in the Sahara


Siân Round is very near to finishing a PhD in English at the University of Cambridge. Her research examines literary magazines in the American South between 1921 and 1945. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Journal of Modern Periodical Studies, The Cambridge Quarterly, and Review of English Studies.

Who was Ernest Hartsock? I first came across the name during the first term of my PhD when I was desperately hunting for literary magazines published in the South. I gleaned that he was an Atlantan poet who edited a poetry magazine called Bozart between 1927 and 1932, right in the middle of the Southern Renaissance. After three years researching Southern literary magazines from the early twentieth century, I had learnt very little else about Hartsock or Bozart but I knew enough to know I wanted to find out more. I was delighted to be awarded a Rose Library Fellowship to look at the Hartsock papers, which include a full run of the magazine. The following paragraphs are some of my initial findings.

Ernest Hartsock studied at Emory between 1922 and 1926, during which he became editor of campus magazine the Emory Phoenix. Until Hartsock’s tenure, the magazine was focused on local events and campus issues. Within a year, Hartsock turned it into a reputable poetry magazine focused on finding and promoting new Southern authors as well as on assessing current trends in poetry. In the Phoenix, Hartsock developed his playful editorial style and had a space to publish many of his early poems.

In the 1920s, little magazines were the most important publications in America, with Harriet Monroe’s Poetry magazine defining a generation of poets, and Margaret Anderson’s The Little Review serializing James Joyce’s Ulysses.  Andrew Thacker confirms that ‘it is almost universally acknowledged that modernism in America took root first in periodical publication.’[1] Hartsock knew that the magazines were where he would gain national attention, and sent his poems to Poetry, The Dial, The New Yorker, The Fugitive, and dozens of other magazines in all corners of the country. In his senior year at Emory, Hartsock published his first volume of poetry Romance and Stardust (1925). Soon after followed Narcissus and Iscariot (1927).

After his graduation, Hartsock started his own magazine, named Bozart: The Bi-Monthly Poetry Review (1927-32) along with the Bozart Press, a small publishing house dedicated to printing the works of new poets. The name had come from H. L. Mencken’s famous 1920 essay ‘The Sahara of the Bozart’, a scathing indictment of Southern culture which claimed that ‘it is impossible for intelligence to flourish’ in the atmosphere of the South.[2] Hartsock was not the first Southerner to rebuke Mencken’s claims by starting a magazine: New Orleans’s The Double Dealer (1921-26) and Richmond’s The Reviewer (1921-25) both actively engaged with Mencken in their pages. In an editorial for the Emory Phoenix, Hartsock acknowledged the great difficulties of editing a literary magazine in the South, citing The Double Dealer and The Reviewer as the only successful examples. It is these magazines he had in mind when he began Bozart. The magazine’s tagline promised to offer an ‘Oasis in the Sahara of the Bozart’… and it did.

Finally seeing Bozart was a feast for the eyes. The magazine is beautiful, full of illustrations by John Funk Jr. Each issue of Bozart was printed on a different colour paper, with Hartsock’s humorous editorials explaining the precise reason behind each colour choice. Rejection slips were even printed on gold paper. The magazine almost exclusively printed poetry and, while Hartsock never published many big names, included in the magazine were lots of successful poets at the time, including William Alexander Percy, Charles Henri Ford, Cleanth Brooks, and Louis Ginsberg, father of Beat poet Allen Ginsberg. The magazine ran many verse competitions and actively encouraged new poetry from Georgia and across the South.

At the same time as editing a monthly magazine and running a press which published over thirty volumes of poetry, Hartsock’s own writing career was going from strength to strength. In 1929, Hartsock was awarded an excellence award by the Poetry Society of America for his poem ‘Strange Splendour’, making him the first ever poet from Atlanta to do so. His criticism of Southern poetry also appeared in the reputable Sewanee Review.

The success of Bozart and Bozart Press led to a suggestion by New York publisher Henry Harrison. If Hartsock combined efforts with husband-and-wife publishers Lucia Trent and Ralph Cheyney, who had published many of their poems in the magazine, they could establish a larger, more financially stable press. In the November-December 1929 issue of Bozart, the magazine announced that it was absorbing Contemporary Verse, the second oldest poetry journal in the country, and JAPM: The Poetry Weekly.

Before he could witness this merger, Hartsock died very suddenly of a pulmonary infection in December 1929 aged 27, just as he was gaining mainstream success. Bozart, in its new expanded form, continued for three years after his death. Hartsock was not only a poet on the precipice of success, he was an active figure in the Atlanta literary community throughout his short life, enabling the publication of hundreds of new poets in Bozart magazine and dozens of poetry books through the Bozart Press.

Over the past century, Hartsock and Bozart have been lost in the literary history of the Southern Renaissance. There is still plenty more to uncover in Hartsock’s archives, and I am excited to delve deeper into the magazine and Hartsock’s correspondence. I am looking forward to writing a chapter on Hartsock for my upcoming monograph, provisionally titled The Little Magazine in the US South, 1921-45.

[1] Andrew Thacker, ‘General Introduction: Magazines, Magazines, Magazines!’, in The Oxford Critical and Cultural History of Modernist Magazines. Volume II, 1.

[2] H. L. Mencken, ‘The Sahara of the Bozart’, Prejudices: First, Second and Third Series (New York, NY: Library of America, 2010), 239.