For most of my fiction writing career, I’ve been interested in exploring themes of black bohemianism. I’ll try writing a character who eschews the idea of “setting down roots” and flits from suitor to suitor, hobby to hobby, hammock in a backyard to hammock in Honduras. I’ll give her purple-tinted dreads that graze the small of her back. She wears mendhi on her palms and wrists and feet with no intention of marrying. She bellydances barefoot in the afternoon, assumes intricate yoga poses just as her straight-laced boyfriend enters their home with a suit-wearing coworker. But none of those stories seem to work, because the woman in question never seems quite real. She’s too much of a stereotype, modeled too closely on the Lisa Bonét ideal to be real for the reader. Or maybe I’m the one with the disbelief-suspending hang-ups.
It would seem that bohemianism isn’t as acceptable a lifestyle for black women as it is for women in other cultures. As it is most often associated with either voluntary poverty or wealth and privilege, either of which would be necessary to backpack the world pursuing any artistic, romantic, or adventurous whim that comes, it isn’t often a philosophy we’re in a position to adopt. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t black women who have successfully adopted a bohemian lifestyle, at least for a time. Let’s take a look at a few!