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Malcolm Cowley

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Malcolm Cowley Malcolm Cowley, 1898-1989, is described by the Encyclopedia Britannica as an "American literary critic and social historian who chronicled the writers of the 'Lost Generation' of the 1920s and their successors; literary editor of The New Republic [which EB describes as "one of the most influential liberal magazines in the United States from its founding in 1914"] from 1929 to 1944." First brought to our attention by Dennis Roddy, former bureau manager of the Nanty Glo Journal, Cowley was born in Belsano and died in Milford, Conn. He wrote introductions to and edited works by Thornton Wilder, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner and other leading literary lights of the 20th century.

A source at Cambria County Library in Johnstown provided the following: There is an historical marker in his honor in front of the White Mill Hotel, west of Belsano... He was born in what is now the White Mill Hotel (no longer a tavern but a private residence once more) in what Current Biography calls "the Allegheny hills village of Malcolm Cowley - Historical Marker, Cambria County, PABelsano" August 24 1998 (this is his centennial year). Father and mother were William and Josephine (Hutmacher). His father was a homeopathic doctor. A local woman whose sister, now in her eighties, once worked for the Cowleys recalls getting off the bus there with her sister, who would take her into the house. She said it was beautiful back then, with fireplaces, bearskins rugs, and Victorolas.

Farm House in Belsano, PA
She said that Malcolm mentions "the farm" in one of his books and talks about going to Mary Paul's house. Malcolm was childhood friends with Doss Paul of Belsano. Doss and Malcolm used to go to Mary Paul's farm to visit and play. The book says that they would take reeds and play in the water near there (Blacklick Creek, presumably). Malcolm's sister died in the (White Mill) house.

Current Biography says that Malcolm's "father practiced in Pittsburgh, which was for the most part Cowley's early home, but his preference for the country made him feel that he belonged in Belsano, where the family spent summers. He has recalled, never the less, that as a student at Peabody High School in Pittsburgh, he had the time of his life."

Twentieth Century Authors quotes Cowley: "My mother belonged to a German family established in Quincy, Ill. Belsano was their summer home, but I always felt I belonged there rather than in Pittsburgh. It's hard to be loyal to Pittsburgh."

Enrolling in Harvard in 1915, he 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, returning to Harvard, after a year, in February 1918, to receive his bachelor's cum laude in winter, 1920. 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. Between writing the reviews and getting paid (upon publication), he sold the books to secondhand bookstores to help him survive. In the summer of 1919 he became a book reviewer for The New Republic, of which he later was literary editor for 15 years.

Malcolm married "Peggy," Margarite Frances Baird, also known in Greenwich 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, 1932. He and Muriel had one child, Robert William, who became an editor at Random House. Malcolm and his son collaborated on Fitzgerald and the Jazz Age, one of several Cowley books on Fitzgerald. He was a writer, educator, lecturer, journalist, among many other things. A full-fledged member of "The Lost Generation," he worked for Viking Press from 1948 to 1985.

The Cambria County Library in Johnstown has 14 of Malcolm's books, as well as reference material that cannot be removed, and a book of poetry. Cowley's published books include:

  • Conversations With Malcolm Cowley
  • Exile's Return : A Literary Odyssey of the 1920s
  • The Green Parrot : Princess Marthe Bibesco
  • Malcolm Cowley : The Formative Years
  • New England Writers and Writing
  • The Selected Correspondence of Kenneth Burke and Malcolm Cowley, 1915-1981
  • After the Genteel Tradition : American Writers Since 1910
  • Books That Changed Our Minds
  • The Early Career of Malcolm Cowley : A Humanist Among the Moderns
  • Exiles Return : A Literary Odyssey of the 1920's
  • Malcolm Cowley, a Checklist of His Writings, 1916-1973
  • Think Back on Us : A Contemporary Chronicle of the 1930's : The Literary Record
  • Think Back on Us : A Contemporary Chronicle of the 1930's : The Social Record
  • Unshaken Friend : A Profile of Maxwell Perkins
  • After the Genteel Tradition : American Writers, 1910-1930
  • And I Worked at the Writer's Trade : Chapters of Literary History, 1918-1978
  • Blue Juaniata : A Life (Collected Poems)
  • The dream of the golden mountains : Remembering the 1930s
  • The Faulkner-Cowley File : Letters and Memories, 1944-1962
  • The Flower and the Leaf : A Contemporary Record of American Writing Since 1941
  • A Many-Windowed House : Collected Essays on American Writers and American Writing
  • Portable Malcolm Cowley
  • A Second Flowering : Works and Days of the Lost Generation
  • The View from Eighty

Other stuff...
Margarite Frances Baird
Married August 1919. Divorced June 1932.

Muriel Maurer
Married June 18, 1932


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