CONVERSATIONS WITH MALCOLM COWLEY by Thomas Daniel--Ed. Young

CONVERSATIONS WITH MALCOLM COWLEY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Salty multigenerational literary chitchat with the man of letters (poet/critic/editor/historian) who was there and knew everyone. Now 88 but still undimmed, Cowley has helped Young (professor emeritus, Vanderbilt) select 21 unabridged interviews or talks that took place between 1942 and 1985 and which cover seven decades of American literature. Also included are four new interviews never before published. For almost 20 years Cowley was literary editor of The New Republic, a post he took over from Edmund Wilson in 1929. In 1934 he published his leading study of the Lost Generation, Exile's Return, which the critics--especially Bernard De Voto--sank, saying that Hemingway, Fitzgerald & Co. were ""frivolous and corrupt"" and not worth attention. Reprinted 20 years later, it became a classic. Readable as that book is, Cowley will likely go down most memorably as the rescuer of William Faulkner. During the 1940's Faulker's greatest works (Sanctuary aside) were completely out of print, and he was thought washed up, until Cowley edited his groundbreaking Viking Portable Faulkner, single-handedly setting off the Faulkner boom which raised the subsequent Nobel Prize winner to being the most widely read author in American literature. A few years later he became Jack Kerouac's editor for On the Road and still another boom followed. ""I had no great interest in changing [Kerouac's] commas or words, but I thought that in the structure of the book he'd done a weak thing by having it swing back and forth across the country like a pendulum. One suggestion was that he should telescope two-thirds of the trips across the country and have a simpler movement. . ."" Cowley is especially bright about the writer's economics, success, and the suicides of first novelists Ross Lockridge (Raintree County) and Thomas Heggens (Mr. Roberts). ""It was always said that Gilbert Seldes' review of The Great Gatsby, which was ecstatic, probably damaged Scott Fitzgerald. The trouble is that after something like that, every work has to count. . .every word has to live up to this marvelous praise. The poor author gets stage fright."" The writer's trade, seen by a modest master.

Pub Date: May 15th, 1986
Publisher: Univ. Press of Mississippi