The Long Voyage: Selected Letters of Malcolm Cowley, 1915-1987by Malcolm Cowley
Critic, poet, editor, chronicler of the "lost generation," and elder statesman of the Republic of Letters, Malcolm Cowley (1898-1989) was an eloquent witness to much of twentieth-century American literary and political life. These letters, the vast majority previously unpublished, provide an indelible self-portrait of Cowley and his time, and make possible a full… See more details below
Critic, poet, editor, chronicler of the "lost generation," and elder statesman of the Republic of Letters, Malcolm Cowley (1898-1989) was an eloquent witness to much of twentieth-century American literary and political life. These letters, the vast majority previously unpublished, provide an indelible self-portrait of Cowley and his time, and make possible a full appreciation of his long and varied career.
Perhaps no other writer aided the careers of so many poets and novelists. Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Kerouac, Tillie Olsen, and John Cheever are among the many authors Cowley knew and whose work he supported. A poet himself, Cowley enjoyed the company of writers and knew how to encourage, entertain, and when necessary scold them. At the center of his epistolary life were his friendships with Kenneth Burke, Allen Tate, Conrad Aiken, and Edmund Wilson. By turns serious and thoughtful, humorous and gossipy, Cowley's letters to these and other correspondents display his keen literary judgment and ability to navigate the world of publishing.
The letters also illuminate Cowley's reluctance to speak out against Stalin and the Moscow Trials when he was on staff at The New Republic--and the consequences of his agonized evasions. His radical past would continue to haunt him into the Cold War era, as he became caught up in the notorious "Lowell Affair" and was summoned to testify in the Alger Hiss trials. Hans Bak supplies helpful notes and a preface that assesses Cowley's career, and Robert Cowley contributes a moving foreword about his father.
A committed, contentious life at the center of American letters comes alive in this scintillating collection. The book follows Cowley (1898–1989) from his 1920s salad days as a poet and critic in New York and Paris, immersed in fierce literary squabbles over the emerging modernist aesthetic; through his 1930s reign as the New Republic’s literary editor, when he discovered Marxism and drew (not unfounded) accusations of pushing a Stalinist line that dogged him during and after World War II; to his postwar efforts to champion old masters and newcomers, from Fitzgerald and Faulkner to Kerouac and Kesey. Cowley’s letters fizz with gossip, bawdy jokes, lurid anecdotes, witty reflections—“A sort of natural phenomenon like Old Faithful geyser that sends up a jet of steam and mud every hour on the hour” is his characterization of Kerouac’s bursts of automatic writing—and perceptive criticisms of authors he knew well. (“When became more or less the image he had created of himself... he pretty well stopped being a writer.”) Ably contextualized by editor Bak’s extensive biographical insertions, these missives convey the intense passions aroused by the aesthetic and political upheavals of the 20th century through the pen of one of the era’s leading literary intellectuals. (Jan.)
As a poet, editor, literary historian and memoirist, Cowley (1898–1989) had his finger on the pulse of American literature for most of the 20th century. He helped both to revitalize the reputations of established authors, such as William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Walt Whitman, and to bring forth new works by younger writers, including Jack Kerouac's On the Road and Ken Kesey's One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest. In this collection, editor Bak (American literature & American studies, Radboud Univ.; Malcolm Cowley: The Formative Years) gathers approximately 500 letters culled from Cowley's papers in Chicago's Newberry Library, most previously unpublished. Correspondents include Kenneth Burke (a childhood friend), Allen Tate, Conrad Aiken, Edmund Wilson, Hart Crane, Ernest Hemingway, Jack Kerouac, Tillie Olsen, and almost anyone who was anybody in American literature. The arrangement is generally chronological, though some letters are grouped together by correspondent (Hemingway, Kerouac, Olsen) or by theme (Crane's death, the Yaddo Affair, the Fitzgerald revival). In addition to his literary activities, the letters shed light on Cowley's politics, including his ties to communist front organizations in the 1930s, his reaction to the Moscow Trials, and his fight to preserve his reputation during the McCarthy era. VERDICT This title will appeal to students of modern American literature, particularly those familiar with Cowley's oeuvre.—William Gargan, Brooklyn Coll. Lib., CUNY
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