October 9, 2011

The Portable Malcolm Cowley
Edited by Donald W. Faulkner

The Man Who Knows – Reading Malcolm Cowley is like taking a survey course of 20th Century literature. In the early 1920s, Cowley met Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein in Paris. Later, he succeeded Edmund Wilson as the literary editor of The New Republic, and throughout his career as critic, editor and writer he shaped how people around the world view the spectrum of writers reaching from Hart Crane to Jack Kerouac, from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Ken Kesey, from William Faulkner to John Cheever – and those are just a few examples of writers Cowley actually knew or closely edited. His influence stretched well beyond; what we think today of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Walt Whitman and Henry James is largely influenced by words Cowley has written. “Every time a young professor,” Cowley wrote in a 1951 letter to Hemingway, “goes to work on a writer of our generation it seems to me that he doesn’t know what it was all about.” Fortunately for those of us raised and schooled in 20th century American literature, there was a Cowley capable of putting the whole, broad scene into compelling perspective. Who will be the 21st Century’s clear-eyed interpreter? We’ll see.


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