Special Collections Department
papers relating to
Manuscript Collection Number: 410
Accessioned: Purchase, April 2000
Extent: .3 linear ft.
Content: Letters, clippings, magazines, short story, and novel
Access: The collection is open for research.
Processed: June 2001 by Anita A. Wellner
Special Collections, University of Delaware Library
Newark, Delaware 19717-5267
Table of Contents
Born on February 19, 1902, in Saint Paul, Minnesota, Kay Boyle has been known for her work and achievements as a poet, short story writer, novelist, journalist, teacher, and political activist. One of the most prominent American expatriates during the 1920s and 1930s, much of Kay Boyle’s work reflects the influences of that literary circle.
Kay Boyle’s first contribution to a national publication was a letter to the editor, published in Harriet Monroe’s Poetry: A Magazine of Verse in 1921. By 1922, with the support and encouragement of her mother, Boyle moved to New York City and began working for the fashion writer Margery Welles. Later that year she began working for Lola Ridge, the American editor of Broom, an art and literary magazine published by Harold Loeb in Rome and later in Berlin. While working in New York, Boyle had contact with many literary persons and developed her writing. In January of 1923, her poem, “Morning,” was published in Broom.
In 1922 Kay Boyle married a French exchange student, Richard Brault. A 1923 visit to meet Brault’s family in Brittany, France, turned what was to have been a brief visit into a twenty-year stay in Europe. During her years in France, Boyle was associated with several innovative literary magazines and became acquainted with many of the literary figures writing for them. Her writing appeared in issues of This Quarter, edited by Ernest Walsh, and transition, edited by Eugene Jolas. Through these editors and others she associated with such writers as James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, William Carlos Williams, Robert McAlmon, Emanuel Carnevali, and Harry and Caresse Crosby. It was the Crosbys’ Black Sun Press that published Kay Boyle’s first book of fiction, Short Stories, in 1929. Crosby also published her translation of the first chapter of Rene Crevel’s Babylone as Mr. Knife and Miss Fork in 1931.
In respect for her friendship with Emanuel Carnevali, Kay Boyle made a commitment to see to the posthumous publication of his autobiography. Her promise was realized in 1967, when The Autobiography of Emanuel Carnevali was published. She compiled it from bits and pieces of writing Carnevali had sent through the ten years of their friendship.
Robert McAlmon was Boyle’s lifelong friend. Being Geniuses Together, 1920-1930, McAlmon’s memoirs, was revised by Kay Boyle in 1968, with several supplementary chapters that chronicle her own experiences during the 1920s and ‘30s.
By the summer of 1928, Kay Boyle had met Laurence Vail, who was then Peggy Guggenheim’s husband. They were married in 1932. In addition to three children of their own, Boyle also cared for Vail’s two children from his marriage with Peggy Guggenheim, and her own daughter by Ernest Walsh, Sharon. Many of Boyle’s experiences during the 1920s found expression in her novels, Plagued by the Nightingale (1931), Year Before Last (1932), Gentlemen, I Address You Privately (1933), and My Next Bride (1934).
In 1934 Boyle compiled an anthology which was to have been titled “Short Stories 1934.” The original idea for the anthology was to gather 365 single-page stories to represent the year 1934 in fictional accounts. The anthology was eventually published in 1936 as 365 Days and included 97 stories by Boyle. Other contributors to the anthology included Nancy Cunard, Charles Henri Ford, Langston Hughes, James Laughlin, Robert McAlmon, Henry Miller, William Saroyan (who originally submitted 365 stories), Parker Tyler, and Emanuel Carnevali.
The White Horses of Vienna and Other Stories, also published in 1936, was a significant collection of Boyle’s short stories. The title story won the O. Henry Short Story Award for 1935. She continued to write short stories throughout her life, including a late collection, Life Being the Best and Other Stories (1988).
In her later years Kay Boyle was recognized for her political activism. Fostered by her mother in the belief that privilege demanded social responsibility, she championed integration, civil rights, the ban of nuclear weapons, and America’s withdrawal from Vietnam.
Kay Boyle died December 27, 1992, at the Redwoods, a retirement community in Mill Valley, California.
Maritine, James J. (ed.) American Novelists, 1910-1945. Part I. Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 9. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1981. pp. 83-92.
Quartermain, Peter (ed.) American Poets, 1880-1945. Second Series. Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 48. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1986. pp. 45-51.
Rood, Karen Lane (ed.) American Writers in Paris, 1920- 1939. Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 4. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1980. pp. 46-56.
The Kay Boyle Papers related to Robert Nellen consists of letters written by Boyle to her student Robert Nellen, manuscripts of novels and a story written by Nellen, and a small group of printed material collected by Nellen. Spanning the dates 1975 to 1992, the papers comprise .3 linear ft. of letters, typescripts, clippings, and photocopies.
Robert Nellen was a student of Boyle’s in a Directed Writing Course at San Francisco State University and also audited some sessions of her short story workshop. Her correspondence with him began with a postcard in which she offered to discuss his writing, about which she stated, “Your work is very interesting.” (1972 Oct 1). Over the next eight years Boyle offered Nellen, through detailed letters and conversations, honest critiques of the writing he delivered to her. Her comments were keyed to particular pieces of writing, stating in one letter that her criteria for judging the work of others was: “whether or not they have failed to communicate what they had set out to do.” (1974 Sep 18) Her criticism was frank, instructive, and encouraging.
In critiquing Nellen’s novel “The Basic Earth,” Boyle wrote several letters over the span of a month meticulously commenting on the manuscript. Her letters and the manuscript on which Boyle made additional comments and corrections can be found in F4.
Occasionally Boyle mentioned her own writing, travels, or health. In one letter she enlisted Nellen’s help in locating a student to assist her with gardening and household chores in exchange for board.
In addition to Boyle’s letters, there is a draft of a letter from Nellen to Boyle, another novel and a story written by Nellen, and a few articles collected by Nellen. The articles are each related to Kay Boyle, including her autobiographical story, “The Men in My Family.” These letters exemplify Kay Boyle’s commitment to teaching her craft and to encouraging the talents of young writers.
Ms 99 Letters to Basil Beckett Burwell
Ms 103 John Malcolm Brinnin Papers
Ms 131 Kay Boyle Papers
Folder -- Contents
Series I. Letters written by Kay Boyle to Robert Nellen, 1972-1980 F1 Letters, 1972-1973 5 items 1972 Oct 1 ACS 1p 1972 Nov 7 ALS 1p w/env 1973 Jan 17 ALS 1p 1973 Jul 14 ALS 2p w/env 1973 Dec 12 ALS 1p w/env Note: Written in a Christmas card. F2 Letters, 1974 9 items Many of the written in 1974 concern a manuscript of a novel found in F4 of this collection. In her letters Boyle critiques Nellen’s novel, titled “The Basic Earth.” With the typescript in F4 is a letters dated August 30, 1974, which offers specific suggestions for the work. 1974 Jan 3 ALS 1p Note: With a photocopy of a brief letter of recommendation for Nellen by Boyle. Aug 28 ALS 1p w/env Aug 31 TLS 1p w/env Sep 9 ALS 1p Sep 10 ALS 1p w/env Sep 18 TLS 2p Sep 22 ALS 1p Sep 27 TLS 1p Nov 27 ALS 3p F3 Letters, 1975-1980 5 items 1975 May 4 ALS 1p Note: With TL (carbon) letter from Nellen to Boyle. Aug 2 TLS 2p 1976 Jan 12 ALS 1p Jan 13 ALS 1p Jan 20 ALS 1p Feb 16 ALS 2p 1980 Jan 4 TLS 1p Dec ANS 1p Note: Brief note written in a Christmas card. With a TL (carbon) of Nellen’s letter of response. Series II. Manuscripts written by Robert Nellen, 1974 and [n.d.] F4 “The Basic Earth, a novel,”  Typescript with autograph corrections and notes written by Kay Boyle. Includes twenty-four pages of notes, questions and comments written by Boyle as she read the novel. The pages were written on various dates between Augutst 30 and September 18, 1974. Several of Boyle’s letters in F2 also include references to this manuscript. F5 “Agua Caliente,” [n.d.] Typescript with autograph corrections and notes by Kay Boyle. 22p F6 Untitled work with page heading “Shawi,” [n.d.] Incomplete typescript (photocopy) which bears autograph corrections and notes by Nellen and Kay Boyle. Present are pages 4-138, with some duplicate numbering (e.g. two page 88, 113 and 125). Pages 1-3 and 9 are missing. Some of the pages were stapled to together and are now housed in the oversize section. F7 “…ion, Me, et al.,” [n.d.] Photocopy of a printed poem written by Nellen, with an autograph note on the top of the page by Nellen to Boyle. Also includes a few notes by Nellen. Series III. Magazines or clippings related to Kay Boyle, 1983-1992 Robert Nellen collected a number of clippings which included stories about Kay Boyle as well as one magazine which included a story written by Boyle. F8 “The Men in My Family,” 1985 Nov November 1985 issue of The Berkeley Monthly which included this “memory” by Kay Boyle. Removed to oversize. F9 Clippings, 1983-1992 Clippings with articles about Kay Boyle. Two clippings have been removed to oversize.