Shining rare light on these efforts, The Ethnic Avant-Garde makes a unique contribution to interwar literary, political, and art history, drawing extensively on Russian archives, travel narratives, and artistic exchanges to establish the parameters of an undervalued "ethnic avant-garde." These writers and artists cohered around distinct forms that mirrored Soviet techniques of montage, fragment, and interruption. They orbited interwar Moscow, where the international avant-garde converged with the Communist International.
The book explores Vladimir Mayakovsky's 1925 visit to New York City via Cuba and Mexico, during which he wrote Russian-language poetry in an "Afro-Cuban" voice; Langston Hughes's translations of these poems while in Moscow, which he visited to assist on a Soviet film about African American life; a futurist play condemning Western imperialism in China, which became Broadway's first major production to feature a predominantly Asian American cast; and efforts to imagine the Bolshevik Revolution as Jewish messianic arrest, followed by the slow political disenchantment of the New York Intellectuals. Through an absorbing collage of cross-ethnic encounters that also include Herbert Biberman, Sergei Eisenstein, Paul Robeson, and Vladimir Tatlin, this work remaps global modernism along minority and Soviet-centered lines, further advancing the avant-garde project of seeing the world anew.