Kay Boyle was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, on February 19, 1902, the daughter of Howard Peterson Boyle and Katherine Evans Boyle. Her father was a rather dim but well-intentioned figure in her life, while her paternal grandfather, Jesse Payton Boyle, was described by Kay as brilliant, reactionary, domineering, and destructive. Boyle’s mother was active in the radical labor movement and other political causes, while her grandfather consistently criticized and opposed both mother and daughter. In Robert McAlmon’s memoir Being Geniuses Together—a collaboration with Boyle once she revised and expanded it in 1968—she credited her mother with being the dominant influence in her life. It was her mother who instilled in her daughter social, political, and artistic values that permeated Boyle’s work.
Boyle’s formal schooling was sketchy: a few terms at two private girls’ schools, a short time at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, and two years at the Ohio Mechanics Institute in Cincinnati, Ohio, where the family had moved in 1916. Travel took the place of conventional education in Boyle’s life; while still a girl, she accompanied her family to Europe as well as to several cities in America. Indeed, travel became a constant factor in her life as she moved from one place to another; at various times, she lived in France, England, Austria, Germany, and Spain.
Before going off on her own, Boyle worked in her father’s Cincinnati office for a short while, then moved to New York, where she found a job working on Broom, one of several avant-garde literary publications with which she was to become associated in America and Europe. The 1920’s and 1930’s were the era of the “little magazines,” which promoted literary experimentation and innovation.
In June, 1922, Boyle married Robert Brault, a Frenchman, and the couple went to France in June, 1923, to spend the summer with Brault’s family in St. Malo. Afterward, they moved to Paris, Le Havre, and the village of Harfleur, where, in 1924, Boyle began her second novel (the manuscript of the first was lost in the mail). As was to be the case with almost all of her novels and much of her short fiction, Boyle drew heavily upon events and persons in her own life for her material. Plagued by the Nightingale, a novel published in 1931, grew out of the period that she and her husband spent with his family in St. Malo.
Their marriage was shaky, and after meeting Ernest Walsh in 1925, Boyle became deeply involved with him and with his new magazine,...
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Among the women writers who were finding their voices and gaining increased recognition in the years between the two world wars and afterward—a time of great turmoil and upheaval—Boyle earned a place as one who was true to her ideals and principles throughout her writing life. One of her most interesting and revealing books was Being Geniuses Together, 1920-1930, a memoir of the “Lost Generation” written by her friend McAlmon that she revised and greatly expanded in 1968. In this book, Boyle told of wanting to write of “the unseen world” of the poor and oppressed, which in her mind was too often ignored or belittled. She admitted that she had come to demand a great deal of women, and even more of women writers....
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Born into an affluent family in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1902, Kay Boyle moved and traveled frequently and extensively with her family during her childhood. After studying architecture for two years in Cincinnati, Boyle married Robert Brault, whose family never accepted her or the marriage. What was to have been a summer trip to France in 1923 became an eighteen-year expatriation, during which Boyle continued to write poetry and fiction. Boyle left her husband to live with editor Ernest Walsh until his death from tuberculosis in 1926. Boyle later returned to Brault with Walsh’s child. They divorced in 1932, when she married Laurence Vail, a fellow American expatriate. After her marriage to Vail also ended in divorce, Boyle married...
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