editor to writer--that's the path so many literary giants have followed
throughout the years. Malcolm Cowley was no exception. Born
on August 24, 1898, in the White Mill Hotel (now a private
residence) in the Allegheny hills village of Belsano,
PA, Crowley grew to become a respected literary critic, historian, editor, poet, and
essayist. His father, William, was a homeopathic physician. His
mother, Josephine, was a homemaker from a German family in Illinois.
Although Malcolm's father practiced in Pittsburgh, which was primarily Cowley's home
during his youth, he always preferred life in the country and felt
he belonged more in Belsano, where the family spent their summers. He
once wrote that he found it "hard to be loyal to Pittsburgh."
Enrolling in Harvard in 1915, Cowley left to serve in the First World War in
the spring of 1917. Joining the American Ambulance Service in France,
he drove a munitions truck for the French Army for several months. He
returned to Harvard in February 1918, where he received a bachelor's degree cum
laude. Between being discharged from the military and returning to
Harvard, he lived for several months in poverty in New York's Greenwich
Village, writing to pay the rent.
His girlfriend, Peggy, introduced
him to Clarence Britten, the literary editor of the little fortnightly
magazine Dial, for which he became an author of book reviews at a
penny a word. After writing his reviews, he sold the books to
secondhand bookstores to help survive. In the summer of 1919, he
became a book reviewer for The New Republic, where he later served as
literary editor for 15 years.
married Margarite Frances "Peggy" Baird, also known in the Village as
Peggy Johns because she had earlier been married to poet Orrich Johns, in
August 1919. He divorced her in June 1932 and immediately married
Muriel Maurer on June 18. He and Muriel had one child, Robert
William, who became an editor at Random House.
Cowley moved to Paris in the 1920s, where he became part of
the great migration of creative genius flocking to the Montparnasse Quarter.
He lived in France for three years. While there, he worked with Ernest
Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and other members of the Lost Generation.
Returning to the states, Cowley took a job in 1929 as an assistant editor at
The New Republic, where he worked for 15 years. He and his son collaborated on Fitzgerald and the
Jazz Age, one of several Cowley books on the American author. He was a
lauded member of the Beat Generation while working for Viking Press from
1948 to 1985 and was instrumental in getting Beat novelist Jack Kerouac into
Cowley's most famous work is his autobiographical Exile's
Return, which was published in 1934. The book chronicles
the general movement by the Lost Generation out of the United States.
Malcolm Cowley died in 1989.
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