Kay Boyle, Artist and Activist

Kay Boyle, Artist and Activist

Kay Boyle, Artist and Activist

Kay Boyle, Artist and Activist


This first critical assessment of Kay Boyle's long career is both a portrait of the artist and a perceptive appraisal of her work.

Kay Boyle's writing initially appeared with that of the great experimenters of the 1920s, and through the rest of this century hers has remained a vital, original voice. Spanier examines all of Boyle's work, tracing central themes and concerns that create a single coherent body out of greatly diversified writing that includes 14 novels, 10 collections of short stories, 5 volumes of poetry, 3 children's books, and 2 essay collections.

Because Boyle's work always springs directly and immediately from personal experience, this book is necessarily a biography. Boyle herself has provided Spanier with letters, unpublished manuscripts, and pages of personal comment on this study. While the book definitely remains Spanier's, Kay Boyle's cooperation and participation make the work special.


Early in her career, as an avant-garde writer in Paris in the 1920 s, Kay Boyle was singled out by Katherine Anne Porter as one of the strongest and most promising talents of her generation, as one who "sums up the salient qualities of that movement: a fighting spirit, freshness of feeling, curiosity, the courage of her own attitude and idiom, a violently dedicated search for the meaning and methods of art." As spirited and "violently dedicated" as ever, Kay Boyle has continued to earn high esteem within small circles to the present day.

Interest in the "lost generation" has been keen for some time now, and interest in the overlooked contributions of women to American literature is burgeoning. Yet in a single recent year, while the mla Bibliography listed seventy-six new studies of the work of Ernest Hemingway, fifty- four of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and twenty-five of Gertrude Stein, Kay Boyle was not even named. Except for a few perceptive reviews of her books as they appeared and introductions to her work that has been republished, serious attempts at a critical assessment of Kay Boyle's career, spanning most of the twentieth century, have been limited to a handful of articles and unpublished doctoral dissertations. When other "minor" literary figures like Harry Crosby, Robert McAlmon, Nancy Cunard, and Djuna Barnes are subjects of entire books, it is most surprising that there has not been published before a full-length study of the life and work of Kay Boyle, their close associate, friend, and certainly artistic equal. a wider recognition of her achievement is long overdue.

When I sent the original version of this study to Kay Boyle asking permission to quote from her work, I expected a simple yes or no answer. Instead it was the beginning of an extensive correspondence. the present study draws upon scores of letters from Kay Boyle containing a wealth of new information about her life and work, unpublished documents and typescripts of works in progress, yellowed news clippings and book reviews she had saved over the years, and hundreds of pages of detailed notes in which she has reacted to my work page-by-page. She has set some facts straight; she has shared anecdotes about her personal relationships with William Carlos Williams, Gertrude Stein, Archibald MacLeish . . .

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