"Tender Buttons" (The title Tender Buttons, of course, refers to a woman’s nipples), is one of the great Modern experiments in verse, a small book separated into three sections: Food, Objects, and Rooms—each containing prose under subtitles; a series of descriptions defying conventional syntax.
Before becoming the patron of Lost Generation artists, Gertrude Stein established her reputation as an innovative author whose style was closer to painting than literature.
At once considered a masterpiece of verbal Cubism, a modernist triumph, a spectacular failure, a collection of confusing gibberish, and an intentional hoax, the book is perhaps more often written about than read.
Its first poem, "A Carafe, That Is a Blind Glass", is arguably its most famous, and is usually cited as one of the quintessential pieces of Cubist literature.
By both redefining and undermining meaning merely through experimental grammar, Stein is able to displace everyday objects into new contexts, resulting in the reader's redefinition and reassessment of the reality of the mundane.
GERTRUDE STEIN (1874-1946) was one of the most important and innovative American writers of literary modernism, as well as one of the great art collectors and salon hosts of the period. A pioneering lesbian writer, Stein lived most of her life in Paris and became famous in the U.S. with the publication of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933). Many poets and novelists, including William Gass, Sherwood Anderson, E. E. Cummings, and Ernest Hemingway, cited her as an influence.
"Tender Buttons is a dazzling work that rewards close study and requires a willingness to let go of the need for concrete, literal storytelling."
—Christopher Luna, Rain Taxi Review of Books
"She did for writing what Picasso and her other painter friends were doing in their Cubist painting. Writing had to be moved out of the grip of the nineteenth century. All naturalistic description, romanticism and sentimentality had to be left behind."
—Renate Stendhal, San Francisco Bay Times