Exile’s Return, 1934 (revised as Exile’s Return: A Literary Odyssey of the 1920’s, 1951)
The Literary Situation, 1954
Writers at Work: The “Paris Review” Interviews, 1958
Black Cargoes: A History of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1518-1865, 1962 (with Daniel Pratt Mannix)
The Faulkner-Cowley File: Letters and Memories, 1944-1962, 1966
Think Back on Us: A Contemporary Chronicle of the 1930’s, 1967
A Many-Windowed House: Collected Essays on American Writers and American Writing, 1970
The Lesson of the Masters, 1971
A Second Flowering: Works and Days of the Lost Generation, 1973
And I Worked the Writer’s Trade, 1978
The Dream of the Golden Mountains: Remembering the 1930’s, 1980 (memoir)
The View from Eighty, 1980 (memoir)
The Flower and the Leaf: A Contemporary Record of American Writing Since 1941, 1985
The Selected Correspondence of Kenneth Burke and Malcolm Cowley, 1915-1981, 1988
New England Writers and Writing, 1996 (Donald W. Faulkner, editor)
Blue Juniata, 1929
The Dry Season, 1941
Blue Juniata: Collected Poems, 1968
Blue Juniata, a Life: Collected and New Poems, 1985
On Board the Morning Star, 1925 (of Pierre MacOrlan’s novel À Bord de l’Étoile Matutine)
Joan of Arc, 1926 (of Joseph Delteil’s biography La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc)
Variety, 1927 (of volume 1 of Paul Valéry’s essay collection Variété)
Catherine-Paris, 1928 (of Marthe Bibesco’s novel)
The Green Parrot, 1929 (of Bibesco’s novel Le Perroquet vert)
The Count’s Ball, 1929 (of Raymond Radiguet’s novel Le Bal du comte d’Orgel)
Imaginary Interviews, 1944 (of André Gide’s essay collection Interviews imaginaires)
Leonardo, Poe, Mallarmé, 1972 (with James R. Lawler; volume 8 of The Collected Works of Paul Valéry)
After the Genteel Tradition: American Writers Since 1910, 1936, revised 1964
Books That Changed Our Minds, 1939 (with Bernard Smith)
The Portable Hemingway, 1944
The Portable Faulkner, 1946
The Portable Hawthorne, 1948
The Complete Poetry and Prose of Walt Whitman, 1948
The Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1951
Tender Is the Night, 1951 (by F. Scott Fitzgerald)
Great Tales of the Deep South, 1955
Leaves of Grass, the First (1855) Edition, 1959 (by Walt Whitman)
Fitzgerald and the Jazz Age, 1966 (with Robert Crowley)
The Lessons of the Masters: An Anthology of the Novel from Cervantes to Hemingway, 1971 (with Howard E. Hugo)
The Portable Malcolm Cowley, 1990
Malcolm Cowley (KOW-lee) is best known as the contemporary chronicler of the generation of American writers, mostly male, who matured during World War I and achieved fame during the 1920’s and 1930’s. Cowley was born in Belsano, Pennsylvania, a village south of Pittsburgh, in 1898, the son of physician William Cowley and his wife, Josephine. Malcolm attended school in Pittsburgh and developed a lifelong friendship with writer and critic Kenneth Burke when they attended the same high school.
In 1915, Cowley entered Harvard University and stayed there until 1917, when he went to France to serve in the American Ambulance Service but actually drove a munitions truck. He returned to the United States and attended Harvard University for the spring term of 1918 but again left to enter the Army until the armistice ended World War I. At that time, Cowley moved to Greenwich Village, where he tried to support himself by writing book reviews for a penny a word. He married Marguerite Bairds, and they both returned to Cambridge, Massachusetts. He graduated from Harvard Phi Beta Kappa in the winter of 1920.
Between 1921 and 1923, Cowley received an American Field Service Fellowship that allowed him to study for a year at the University of Montpellier and to live a second year at Giverny, fifty miles south of Paris, where he was able to meet both American and English expatriate writers and French artists he called “the Dada crowd” (later “the Surrealist crowd”). He also earned extra money from editorial work for, and contributions to, American and French magazines, especially Secession and Broom.
Cowley returned to the United States in the summer of 1923 and worked for Sweet’s Architectural Catalogue, but he soon gave that up to do freelance writing and translations from the French. He was also working on semiautobiographical poetry that traced his mental and emotional development. This poetry, published in 1929 as Blue Juniata, was well received critically and launched Cowley on his career as a man of letters.
Only a week before the stock market crash of 1929, Edmund Wilson chose Cowley as his replacement as literary editor of The New Republic, a position Cowley held for almost twenty years. This job decisively affected his career: It shifted his focus from poetry to prose and defined the style and length of his essays, which first appeared in the journal. (Many years later, they were collected in Think Back on Us, A Many-Windowed House, and The Flower and the Leaf.) It also gave him a perspective on writing as a craft as well as an art, and on publishing as a trade. Cowley’s personal life changed dramatically as well. In 1932, he was divorced from his first wife and married Muriel Maurer, with whom he had one child. They purchased a small farm in Sherman, Connecticut, where they settled. There, Cowley was able to pursue and write about the avocations he liked best: gardening, fishing, and hunting.
During the early years of the Depression, Cowley became a political radical who supported a variety of leftist causes and adopted a Marxist perspective, which shaped his first and most famous extended work of criticism, Exile’s Return. In this work, Cowley comments on writers of his own generation who rebelled against American society first through exile and art and later by returning to their own country and committing their art to the tasks of social reconstruction. In the revised edition, Cowley modified this interpretation somewhat and adds a chapter on important writers he had not previously covered. Nevertheless, it remains the most important and most characteristic of Cowley’s books because it introduced his abiding interests in literary generations and in the historical study of the relation of art and artists to society. When it was first published in 1934, the book received praise from youthful but unimportant critics and damnation from older, established ones. As a result of this criticism, Cowley did not write another critical study for twenty years.
Cowley, however, left a record of his life in the 1930’s in his memoir The Dream of the Golden Mountains. Aside from his work for The New Republic, Cowley was one of many intellectuals and artists who actively supported socialist and antifascist causes. Like many intellectuals, by the end of that decade Cowley had become disillusioned with politics and had withdrawn into his literary work. Unfortunately, leftist connections caused Cowley trouble in later years, including an attack by the Dies Committee which forced his resignation from a government job with the Office of Facts and Figures in 1942.
In the 1940’s, Cowley renewed his interest in writers of his own generation. His introduction to The Portable Faulkner rescued the work of future Nobel Prize winner William Faulkner from obscurity by explaining and praising the totality of his literary output. A later work, The Faulkner-Cowley File, collects the correspondence of these two men and includes the letters that Cowley used to write the introduction. After Cowley gave up his position at The New Yorker, he became an editor for Viking Press. He was also a visiting lecturer in various colleges and universities. In these positions he was able to encourage and help talented young writers such as Jack Kerouac and Ken Kesey. It was not until after the Korean War that Cowley wrote another book-length study, The Literary Situation, about the post-World War II generation of writers.
After he turned seventy, Cowley reached his peak of literary productivity. He returned to his own literary generation–to Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Faulkner in A Second Flowering and to minor figures such as Conrad Aiken and S. Foster Damon in And I Worked the Writer’s Trade. Later still, he published two volumes of memoirs, The Dream of the Golden Mountains and The View from Eighty, a delightfully written discussion about the life of an active octogenarian. Cowley’s earliest ambition was to be a person who could write well in several forms. Although he is best known for his literary criticism, there is no doubt that he made significant contributions to all the forms he attempted. Cowley died of a heart attack in March, 1989.