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Caresse Crosby: A World Citizen’s Passionate Years

In Being a World Citizen, Cultural Bridges, Europe, Literature, Poetry, The Search for Peace, United States on April 22, 2023 at 8:22 AM

By René Wadlow

Caresse Crosby (April 20, 1891 – January 24, 1970) was one of the more colorful figures of the early world citizens movement, heading the World Citizen Information Center in Washington, D. C. Her autobiography The Passionate Years was first published in 1953 and more recently republished by the Southern Illinois University Press in 1968. The Southern Illinois University Library holds her papers.

Most of The Passionate Years concerns Caresse Crosby’s life in Paris as the publisher of the Black Sun Press, at the center of the United States (U. S.) writers living in Paris in the 1920s – what has been called the Lost Generation – Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Archibald MacLeish. She had moved to Paris in 1922 from Boston with her then husband, Harry Crosby. Harry Crosby was a nephew of J. P. Morgan, the banker. Harry had a short-term job at the Paris branch of the Morgan Bank, but he was not interested in banking and had a reasonable income from a trust fund. Thus, he started a small publishing house to publish in fine but limited editions books of his own poems and those of his friends. Harry Crosby was always preoccupied with the idea of death, having seen it closely as a medical worker in France during the last part of the First World War. Hence the name of Black Sun, a symbol of death overcoming the light of the Sun for the publishing house. On a trip back to New York in 1929 in what may have been a suicide pact, Harry Crosby first shot a woman friend and then himself with her in his arms. (1)

Caresse stayed on in Paris to continue the Black Sun publishing house, opening it also to French writers she liked such as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. In 1936, seeing the clouds of tensions growing in Europe, she moved back to the USA, living in New York City and Washington, D. C. It was at this time that she began promoting the idea of world citizenship to counter the narrow nationalism she had seen firsthand in visits to Italy and Germany.

Right at the end of the Second World War, she wanted to create a Center for World Peace at Delphi, Greece – a place of inspiration from the Greek gods. However, the Greek Government still weak from the German occupation and the anti-Communist civil war did not want such a center with an ideology that it did not understand. The Greek Government refused the visas. Caresse then moved the idea to Cyprus and created the World Man Center with a geodesic dome designed by Buckminster Fuller, who had become her lover at the time. Cyprus, then under British control, was somewhat out of the way for the sort of visiting writers, painters, and intellectuals that Caresse usually attracted. Thus, she bought a castle north of Rome, the Castello di Rocca Sinibalda, and established an artists’ colony for young artists. She divided her time between this Rome area and her New York and Washington quarters.

For Caresse Crosby, World Citizenship was an aesthetic rather than a political concept, but she did plant seeds in the minds of people largely untouched by geopolitical considerations.

Caresse Crosby and her whippet, Clytoris (1922, author unknown)

1) See Geoffrey Wolff, Black Sun: The Brief Transit and Violent Eclipse of Harry Crosby (New York: New York Review of Books, 2003).

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

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