Weldon Kees and the Midcentury Generation: Letters, 1935-1955

Weldon Kees and the Midcentury Generation: Letters, 1935-1955

Weldon Kees and the Midcentury Generation: Letters, 1935-1955

Weldon Kees and the Midcentury Generation: Letters, 1935-1955

Synopsis

Before he vanished in the fog of San Francisco, Weldon Kees (1914-55) was a poet, storyteller, critic, painter, musician, and filmmaker. What remains is a body of work and a large collection of letters that shed light on Kees's complex personality. Robert E. Knoll traces the odyssey of a Nebraska boy who made his way in a fiercely competitive national scene, befriending the movers and shakers of the art worlds on both coasts. Kees's letters-satirical, witty, poetic, gossipy, intensely individual-provide the feel of lives being lived, of a career going forth, and finally, of the darkness that engulfed him when, in Knoll's phrase, he was "ten minutes from triumph."

Excerpt

More than three decades after his mysterious disappearance, Weldon Kees has become a figure of great artistic and literary interest. His poems have been included in major anthologies of midcentury American verse, and in 1960 Donald Justice edited The Collected Poems for a limited edition published by the Stone Wall Press, Iowa City. This edition was reprinted with six additional poems as a Bison Book by the University of Nebraska Press in 1962. For a revised edition in I975, Donald Justice rewrote his introduction. Several of the Kees poems are reprinted so frequently that they are nearly classics of their time.

Kees's prose has not received as much attention as the poetry, but it is not entirely forgotten. His essay on popular culture, "Muskrat Ramble : Popular and Unpopular Music," and his book with Jurgen Ruesch, M.D., Nonverbal Communication (1956, still in print), are sometimes noted, though his sketches and short stories are uncollected. James Reidel and Timothy Nolan assembled eight of these pieces in Columbia: A Magazine of Poetry and Prose, no. 8 (1983), with a cover reproducing a black and white painting by Kees. In 1983 Abattoir published a limited edition of Kees's fiction entitled The Ceremony and Other Stories, containing a picture by Kees. The following year this volume, edited and with an introduction by Dana Gioia and amplified by five additional pieces, was reprinted by Graywolf Press. Dana Gioia has also prepared Two Prose Sketches (1984) for Aralia Press; these are not in any of the other volumes, and, though slight . . .

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