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Ebook Information

Kay Boyle

A Twentieth-Century Life in Letters
Awards and Recognition:

• Honorable Mention, Morton N. Cohen Award, Modern Language Association (MLA), 2017

The intimate and epic chronicle of a life lived in full

One of the Lost Generation modernists who gathered in 1920s Paris, Kay Boyle published more than forty books, including fifteen novels, eleven collections of short fiction, eight volumes of poetry, three children's books, and various essays and translations. Yet her achievements can be even better appreciated through her letters to the literary and cultural titans of her time between 1919 and 1992.

Kay Boyle shared the first issue of This Quarter with Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway, expressed her struggles with poetry to William Carlos Williams and voiced warm admiration to Katherine Anne Porter, fled WWII France with Max Ernst and Peggy Guggenheim, socialized with the likes of James Joyce, Marcel Duchamp, and Samuel Beckett, and went to jail with Joan Baez. The letters in this first-of-its-kind collection, authorized by Boyle herself, bear witness to a transformative era illuminated by genius and darkened by Nazism and the Red Scare. Yet they also serve as milestones on the journey of a woman who possessed a gift for intense and enduring friendship, a passion for social justice, and an artistic brilliance that earned her inclusion among the celebrated figures in her ever-expanding orbit.

Both intimate and epic, Kay Boyle is a chronicle of a life lived in full and an essential document for anyone interested in the literature of the twentieth century.


"More than a collection of letters by Kay Boyle, this volume functions as a cultural history. . . . Boyle's talent as a letter writer and Spanier's skill as an editor guarantee that this volume with be of enduring value. Highly recommended."--Choice

"Boyle's letters, often relayed in breathless and passionate prose, make clear that for her, as Spanier argues, there were 'no boundary lines between the public and the private, the person and the political, between art and life.'"--Times Literary Supplement

"Kay Boyle is one of those alluring figures of literature who exist at the corner of our eyeball. She wrote forty books. She may have written 30,000 letters--to the likes of William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound, to say only two. She seems to have known everyone who ever haunted the Left Bank of our imaginations. And yet hers has remained a certain kind of genius in the shadows--until now, that is. With exemplary scholarship, Sandra Spanier has brought into light a crucial American life."--Paul Hendrickson, author of Hemingway's Boat: Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost

"Kay Boyle has distracted us from the magnum opus of her letters by the extensive record of her poems, stories, and novels. But here is a rival to Malcolm Cowley and Edmund Wilson as a correspondent, and editor for the literary culture of her times. . . . An unparalleled resource for students of twentieth-century literature and its cultural contexts."--Suzanne Clark, author of Sentimental Modernism: Women Writers and the Revolution of the Word

"As a teacher, Kay Boyle started the career of countless writers, but as a citizen with a will and a conscience, she saved countless lives, and showed all of us the path to follow. Sandra Spanier reminds us that Kay Boyle's words might be even more relevant in our current century. And, who better to learn from than a poet and storyteller rather than a 24-hour news channel pundit and spin doctor?"--Shawn Wong, author of American Knees

"Through Boyle's prodigious correspondence, the volume presents a comprehensive overview of twentieth-century politics, events, literature, and art and offers an important look into Boyle's life and relationships. The notes read much like a who's who of twentieth-century literature: Boyle's correspondents include many of the era’s most significant European and American writers." --Marilyn Elkins, author of Metamorphosizing the Novel: Kay Boyle's Narrative Innovations


Kay Boyle (1902–1992) published over forty books, twice won the O'Henry award for best short story of the year, and worked as a foreign correspondent for The New Yorker. Her books include Process: A Novel and Fifty Stories. Sandra Spanier is a professor of English at Pennsylvania State University and general editor of The Letters of Ernest Hemingway. She is the author of Kay Boyle: Artist and Activist and editor of Boyle's Life Being the Best and Other Stories and Process: A Novel.

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