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Gertrude Stein Portrait

Born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, Gertrude Stein and her six siblings were left alone when her mother died in 1888 and her father died in 1891. Stein and her brother Leo moved to live with her mother's sister. Meanwhile, an older brother helped to secure an independent income for them. She then followed Leo to Harvard, studying at the Annex that would later become Radcliffe, and spent two years with him at Johns Hopkins studying medicine. By then Leo was in Paris studying art, and Stein had become a writer and an active lesbian; she made her way to Paris in 1902 after some months in London and New York. They established what would become a famous Paris salon, and Stein entertained the literary and artistic avant-garde. By the end of the decade, Stein had met her lifelong companion and collaborator, fellow American expatriate Alice B. Toklas. Increasingly influenced by the visual arts and by experimental modernism, Stein wrote both recognizable narratives like Three Lives (1909) and playful experimental texts like Tender Buttons (1914). In her experimental mode she was arguably the most radical and forward looking of all modernists. "Patriarchal Poetry" is a 1927 prose poem that did not make its way into print until decades later. Yet it may be the only fully realized and rigorous deconstructive poem in American modernism.