Belsano's famous literary
figure, Malcolm Cowley
Malcolm Cowley, 1898-1989, is described by the Encyclopedia Britannica as an American literary critic and social historian who chronicled the writers of the 'Lost Generation' of the 1920s and their successors; literary editor of The New Republic [which EB describes as one of the most influential liberal magazines in the United States from its founding in 1914] from 1929 to 1944. First brought to our attention by Dennis Roddy, former bureau manager of the Nanty Glo Journal, Cowley was born in Belsano and died in Milford, Conn. He wrote introductions to and edited works by Thornton Wilder, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner and other leading literary lights of the 20th century.
A source at Cambria County Library in Johnstown provided the following: There is an historical marker in his honor in front of the White Mill Hotel, west of Belsano (shown above)... He was born in what is now the White Mill Hotel (no longer a tavern but a private residence once more) in what Current Biography calls the Allegheny hills village of Belsano on August 24 1898. Father and mother were William and Josephine (Hutmacher). His father was a homeopathic physician. A local woman whose sister, now in her eighties, once worked for the Cowleys recalls getting off the bus there with her sister, who would take her into the house. She said it was beautiful back then, with fireplaces, pods storage, bearskins rugs, and Victorolas.
She said that Malcolm mentions the farm in one of his books and talks about going to Mary Paul's house. Malcolm was childhood friends with Doss Paul of Belsano. Doss and Malcolm used to go to Mary Paul's farm to visit and play. The book says that they would take reeds and play in the water near there (Blacklick Creek, presumably). Malcolm's sister died in the (White Mill) house.
Current Biography says that Malcolm's father practiced in Pittsburgh, which was for the most part Cowley's early home, but his preference for the country made him feel that he belonged in Belsano, where the family spent summers. He has recalled, never the less, that as a student at Peabody High School in Pittsburgh, he had the time of his life.
Twentieth Century Authors quotes Cowley: My mother belonged to a German family established in Quincy, Ill. Belsano was their summer home, but I always felt I belonged there rather than in Pittsburgh. It's hard to be loyal to Pittsburgh.
Enrolling in Harvard in 1915, he left to serve in the First World War in the spring of 1917. Joining the American Ambulance Service in France, he drove a munitions truck for the French Army for several months, returning to Harvard, after a year, in February 1918, to receive his bachelor's cum laude in winter, 1920. Between being discharged from the military and returning to Harvard, he lived for several months in poverty in New York's Greenwich Village, writing to pay the rent. His girlfriend Peggy introduced him to Clarence Britten, the literary editor of the little fortnightly magazine Dial, for which he became an author of book reviews at a penny a word. Between writing the reviews and getting paid (upon publication), he sold the books to secondhand bookstores to help him survive. In the summer of 1919 he became a book reviewer for The New Republic, of which he later was literary editor for 15 years.
Malcolm married Peggy, Margarite Frances Baird, also known in Greenwich Village as Peggy Johns because she had earlier been married to poet Orrich Johns, in August 1919. He divorced her in June 1932, and immediately married Muriel Maurer on June 18, 1932. He and Muriel had one child, Robert William, who became an editor at Random House. Malcolm and his son collaborated on Fitzgerald and the Jazz Age, one of several Cowley books on Fitzgerald. He was a writer, educator, lecturer, journalist, among many other things. A full-fledged member of The Lost Generation, he worked for Viking Press from 1948 to 1985 and was instrumental in getting beat novelist Jack Kerouac into print. Denise Duzsa Weber, author of the history of Vintondale and neighboring towns titled Delano's Domain, recounts in that volume a day spent with Cowley touring Cambria County sites and being regaled by his recollections, not long before his death.
The Cambria County Library in Johnstown has 14 of Malcolm's books, as well as reference material that cannot be removed, and a book of poetry. Cowley's published books include:
Conversations With Malcolm Cowley
Exile's Return : A Literary Odyssey of the 1920s
The Green Parrot : Princess Marthe Bibesco
Malcolm Cowley : The Formative Years
New England Writers and Writing
The Selected Correspondence of Kenneth Burke and Malcolm Cowley, 1915-1981
After the Genteel Tradition : American Writers Since 1910
Books That Changed Our Minds
The Early Career of Malcolm Cowley : A Humanist Among the Moderns
Exiles Return : A Literary Odyssey of the 1920's
Malcolm Cowley, a Checklist of His Writings, 1916-1973
Think Back on Us : A Contemporary Chronicle of the 1930's : The Literary Record
Think Back on Us : A Contemporary Chronicle of the 1930's : The Social Record
Unshaken Friend : A Profile of Maxwell Perkins
After the Genteel Tradition : American Writers, 1910-1930
And I Worked at the Writer's Trade : Chapters of Literary History, 1918-1978
Blue Juaniata : A Life (Collected Poems)
The dream of the golden mountains : Remembering the 1930s
The Faulkner-Cowley File : Letters and Memories, 1944-1962
The Flower and the Leaf : A Contemporary Record of American Writing Since 1941
A Many-Windowed House : Collected Essays on American Writers and American Writing
Portable Malcolm Cowley
A Second Flowering : Works and Days of the Lost Generation
The View from Eighty
Additional information, photographs, or documents for this page are solicited.
Links to additional Blacklick Township pages Blacklick Township Home Page (affiliated with Nanty Glo Home Page)
Blacklick Township High School Class Lists
George Warholic's Blacklick Township Pages
Belsano Memories (from Jon Kennedy's growing up there, with Belsano School photo-1)
Belsano Memories (from Trudy Rummel Myers, pig farm childhood)
Belsano Memories (from Jon Kennedy's adolescence, writing for Mountaineer Herald-2)
Belsano memories—Halloween in the 1950's (Jon Kennedy-3)
Spring fever on the Kennedy farm, 1956
The Blacklick Township Class of 1960 35th anniversary reunion photo
Blacklick Valley's most famous athlete - Bill Hartack
The 'good old days' at Blacklick Township High School, by Linda Rae Watson Silbaugh
A Death in the Family and how it forever changed our lives (Belsano crash kills three) |
A virtual hike, Vintondale to Belsano
© Jon Kennedy 1998