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Malcolm Cowley papers

Identifier: Midwest-MS-Cowley

Scope and Content of the Collection

Correspondence with and materials about 20th century literary figures; papers reflecting Cowley's long involvement with Yaddo and the American Academy of Arts and Letters; project files including Cowley's writings, related correspondence and research materials; audiotapes and photographs; and family correspondence. Correspondents include Conrad Aiken, Nelson Algren, Louis Aragon, Nathan Asch, Hamilton Basso, Marshall Best, Bruce Bliven, Peter Blume, Kenneth Burke, John Cheever, John Dos Passos, James T. Farrell, Jack Kerouac, Matthew Josephson, Katherine Anne Porter, Elizabeth (E.N.) Sargent (i.e. Nancy Roberts), Wallace Stegner, Allen Tate, Tristan Tzara, and Robert Penn Warren. Also contains several Spanish Civil War posters and postcards.


  • Creation: approximately 1850-2004
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1898 - 1985



Materials are primarily in English, with scattered materials in French.

Conditions Governing Access

The Malcolm Cowley papers are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 5 folders at a time maximum, and items in each folder will be counted before and after delivery to the patron (Priority I). Series 6: Family Papers are restricted and require approval of curator before accessing.

Conditions Governing Audiovisual Access

Some audiovisual recordings in this collection have been digitized. Researchers may access those materials in the Special Collections Reading Room.

Ownership and Literary Rights

The Malcolm Cowley papers are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the literary executor, Robert Cowley. After January 1, 2025, rights to all of Cowley's papers revert to The Newberry Library.

Any photocopy requests over 10 pages from this collection require written permission from the literary executor.

Biography of Malcolm Cowley

Malcolm Cowley was born Aug. 24, 1898, in Belsano, Pennsylvania. After living and attending school in and around Pittsburgh, he entered Harvard University at the age of 17. Sophomore year at Harvard, he dropped out briefly to join the American Field Service and served at the French front as a camion driver during World War I. In 1918 he returned to Harvard and graduated, living in the 1920's in both Paris and Greenwich Village, New York. After freelancing for a number of years he became the associate editor of The New Republic in 1929. Settling in Sherman, Connecticut with his second wife Muriel, Cowley continued to write for the rest of his life, succumbing to a heart attack at the age of 90 on Mar. 27, 1989.

"Cowley is best known as the literary chronicler of the "lost generation" in American literature (in particular in the authoritative Exile's Return, 1934; revised ed. 1951), as the literary editor of The New Republic in the turbulent political years 1930-1944, and as the critic who brought William Faulkner back into prominence (The Portable Faulkner, 1946). In a long career as critic, poet, editor, historian, publisher's advisor, writers' friend and confidant and, in general, "middleman" of letters, Cowley functioned at the heart of 20th century American literary, cultural and political life, in particular of the interbellum era and the cold war years. Cowley's multifaceted career almost seismographically reflected the major moments and movements of modern American literary history -- American Field Service in World War I, bohemian Greenwich Village and expatriate Paris in the 1920's, the embrace of radical politics in the 1930's, the anticommunist backlash in the 1940's and 1950's, and literary rehabilitation in the 1960's and 1970's when he became President of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. As an influential critic he helped to ensure the canonical status of the writers of his age group (Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Thornton Wilder, Cummings, Hart Crane, Dos Passos), while as publisher's scout for Viking Press (later Penguin) he opened doors to Kerouac, Larry McMurtry, and Ken Kesey. As literary historian he helped to enhance the stature of 20th century American literature both at home and abroad. He befriended (or antagonized) many of the significant writers, artists and intellectuals of his time: Edmund Wilson, Kenneth Burke, Allen Tate, Van Wyck Brooks, Alexander Calder foremost among them. A prolific letter writer, his correspondence reveals him as the spider in an extensive web of literary, political, and intellectual relations. With the exception of a selection of his correspondence with Kenneth Burke and his letters to William Faulkner, none of his letters have been published. The Newberry Library is the major repository of the letters of Malcolm Cowley: Cowley was an inveterate keeper of carbon copies of his own letters, and also carefully preserved most of his incoming correspondence. Consultation of Cowley's personal papers at the Newberry is the sine qua non of any edition of his letters." - Hans Bak, author of Malcolm Cowley : the formative years (Athens : University of Georgia Press, c1993).


77 Linear Feet (178 boxes, loose audio items, 3 oversize boxes, 1 artifact box, and 16 oversize folders)


Collection of correspondence, working files, drafts of works, subject files, and personal information by and about author, poet, literary critic, and literary historian Malcolm Cowley.


Papers are organized in the following series

Series 1: Correspondence, 1914-1990
Boxes 1-73
Series 2: Working Files, 1914-1985
Boxes 74-140
Series 3: American Academy Files, 1947-1988
Boxes 141-145
Series 4: Yaddo Files, 1934-1987
Boxes 146-149
Series 5: Kenneth Burke Files, 1914-1987
Boxes 150-153
Series 6: Family Papers, 1864-2004, bulk, 1930-1985
Boxes 154-157b
Series 7: Financial Files, 1921-1987
Boxes 158-162a
Series 8: Personal Files, 1917-1987
Boxes 163-168
Series 9: Photographs, approximately 1850-1986
Boxes 169-171
Series 10: Audio, 1968-1983
Box 172, Items 1-16
Series 11: Artifacts, undated
Box 173, Items 1-4

Collection Stack Location

1 13 2-6, Vault 49 4, Vault 31 4


Gift, 1954, with subsequent purchases.

Processed by

Martha Briggs, Alison Hinderliter, Monica Petraglia, Pamela Olson, and Lisa Janssen, 2004 and 2006.


This inventory was created with the generous support of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this inventory do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Inventory of the Malcolm Cowley papers, approximately 1850-2004, bulk 1898-1985
Pamela Olson, Monica Petraglia
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States