Kay Boyle  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Kay Boyle, born February 19, 1902 in St. Paul, Minnesota, United States – died December 27, 1992 in Mill Valley, California, was an award-winning writer, educator, and political activist.


Early life

The granddaughter of a publisher, Kay Boyle grew up in several cities but principally in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her father was a lawyer but her greatest influence came from her mother Katherine Evans, a literary and social activist who believed that the wealthy had an obligation to help the less well off. As such, in later years, Kay Boyle championed integration and civil rights. She also advocated banning nuclear weapons, and American withdrawal from the Vietnam War.

Kay Boyle was educated at the exclusive Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, then studied architecture at the Ohio Mechanics Institute in Cincinnati. Interested in the arts, she studied violin at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music before settling in New York City in 1922 where she found work as a writer/editor with a small magazine.

Marriages and Family Life

That same year, she met and married a French exchange student, Richard Brault, and moved to France in 1923. This resulted in her staying in Europe for the better part of the next twenty years. Separated from her husband, she formed a relationship with magazine editor Ernest Walsh, with whom she had a daughter (born after Walsh had died of consumption).

In 1928 she met Laurence Vail, who was then married to Peggy Guggenheim. Boyle and Vail lived together between 1929 until 1932 when, following their divorces, they married. With Vail, she had three more children.

During her years in France, Boyle was associated with several innovative literary magazines and made friends with many of the writers and artists living in Paris around Montparnasse. Among her friends were Harry and Caresse Crosby and Eugene and Maria Jolas. In 1929 the Crosbys' Black Sun Press published Boyle's first book of fiction titled Short Stories. Kay Boyle also wrote for transition, one of the preeminent literary publications of the day. A poet as well as a novelist, her early writings often reflected her lifelong search for true love as well as her interest in the power relationships between men and women. Kay Boyle's short stories won two O. Henry Awards.

In 1936 she wrote a novel titled Death of a Man that was an attack on the growing threat of Nazism but at the time, no one in America was listening. After having lived in France, Austria, England, and in Germany after World War II, Boyle returned to the United States. In 1943, following her divorce from Laurence Vail, she married Baron Joseph von Franckenstein with whom she had two children.

McCarthyism, later life

In the States, Boyle and her husband were victims of early 1950s McCarthyism. Her husband was dismissed by Roy Cohn from his post in the Public Affairs Division of the U.S. State Department, and Boyle lost her position as foreign correspondent for The New Yorker, a post she had held for six years. She was blacklisted by most of the major magazines. During this period, her life and writing became increasingly political.

Following her husband's death in 1962, Boyle accepted a creative writing position on the faculty of San Francisco State College where she remained until 1979. During this period she became heavily involved in political activism. She traveled to Cambodia in 1966 as part of the "Americans Want to Know" fact-seeking mission. She participated in numerous protests, and in 1967 was arrested twice and imprisoned. In her later years, she became an active supporter of Amnesty International and worked for the NAACP.

Boyle died at a California seniors home in 1992.

In all, Kay Boyle published more than 40 books, including 14 novels, eight volumes of poetry, 11 collections of short fiction, three children's books, French to English translations and essays. Most of her papers and manuscripts are in the Morris Library at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois. A comprehensive assessment of Boyle's life and work was published in 1986 titled Kay Boyle, Artist and Activist by Sandra Whipple Spanier. In 1994 Joan Mellen published a voluminous biography of Kay Boyle, Kay Boyle. Author of herself.

A member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, in addition to her two O. Henry Awards, she received two Guggenheim Fellowships and was given a lifetime achievement award from the National Endowment for the Arts.




Short stories



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