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The Long Voyage

The Long Voyage

Selected Letters of Malcolm Cowley, 1915-1987

Malcolm Cowley

Edited by Hans Bak

ISBN 9780674051065

Publication date: 01/06/2014

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Critic, poet, editor, chronicler of the “lost generation,” and elder statesman of the Republic of Letters, Malcolm Cowley (1898–1989) was an eloquent witness to much of twentieth-century American literary and political life. These letters, the vast majority previously unpublished, provide an indelible self-portrait of Cowley and his time, and make possible a full appreciation of his long and varied career.

Perhaps no other writer aided the careers of so many poets and novelists. Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Kerouac, Tillie Olsen, and John Cheever are among the many authors Cowley knew and whose work he supported. A poet himself, Cowley enjoyed the company of writers and knew how to encourage, entertain, and when necessary scold them. At the center of his epistolary life were his friendships with Kenneth Burke, Allen Tate, Conrad Aiken, and Edmund Wilson. By turns serious and thoughtful, humorous and gossipy, Cowley’s letters to these and other correspondents display his keen literary judgment and ability to navigate the world of publishing.

The letters also illuminate Cowley’s reluctance to speak out against Stalin and the Moscow Trials when he was on staff at The New Republic—and the consequences of his agonized evasions. His radical past would continue to haunt him into the Cold War era, as he became caught up in the notorious “Lowell Affair” and was summoned to testify in the Alger Hiss trials.

Hans Bak supplies helpful notes and a preface that assesses Cowley’s career, and Robert Cowley contributes a moving foreword about his father.


  • Malcolm Cowley was one of the most important (and easily the most omnipresent) literary figures of the past century… Cowley’s was a long, eventful and controversial life, amply documented in his letters… Bak has done on the whole an astounding job of effectively boiling down Cowley’s voluminous correspondence… To delve into Cowley’s letters is to get a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse at how the literary life, with its glittering prizes, really operates… This volume is a permanent addition to American literary history the likes of which we may never see again. If the telephone made letter-writing a luxury, email and texting have rendered it as obsolete as the manual typewriter, and we as readers are undoubtedly the poorer for it. That is all the more reason to cherish this invaluable collection.

    —Tom Moran, Chicago Tribune


  • Hans Bak is Professor of American Literature and American Studies at Radboud University, Nijmegen, the Netherlands.

Book Details

  • 848 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press
  • Foreword by Robert Cowley