Words That Must Somehow Be Said consists of selections from Kay Boyle’s writing from as far back as 1927. Representative of the author’s unique experiences in Europe and the United States, the essays in this collection vary in tone from satiric and self-mocking to intensely serious. The author’s arrangement of the essays, reviews, and one short story in the collection suggests that she intends a message for all who will hear, but especially for writers.
The first of the four sections, an autobiographical piece entitled “The Family” and the only section previously unpublished, shows how the author’s values were formed. Recalling her unusual childhood, Boyle credits her mother for early years free of boredom, unusually free of dogma, and even relatively free of formal education. Boyle’s remarkable mother, although not formally educated herself, made her daughter aware of important musicians, authors, and artists, and even took the child to such significant cultural events as the Armory Art Show in 1913. Other family members, such as Boyle’s Grandmother Evans, who told her of crossing the plains in a covered wagon, also influenced her; yet by reading to her children, by showing kindnesses to down-and-out individuals, and by championing women’s suffrage, it was Boyle’s mother who achieved the most significant influence upon her daughter. As a child, Kay Boyle had difficulty learning to read because of her hit-and-miss education, but she grew up to become a political activist, a teacher, and a noted author.
In assessing her roots in the relatively brief opening section, Boyle explains her distrust of the autobiographical “I.” She finds neither the child nor the adult voice entirely authentic; therefore she chooses to say those words which she believes must be said through selections from her own earlier writing. The title phrase comes from “A Man in the Wilderness,” a 1967 review of two collections by Edward Dahlberg. In it, she applauds Dahlberg’s “philosophy of rebellion, but of dignity and discipline as well.” The rebels of the 1960’s, Boyle goes on to say, were not sure that their leaders were saying “fearlessly and honestly enough the words that must somehow be said.” Still fearful of loss of freedom, Boyle chose the essays in this volume to make a statement in freedom’s defense.
Boyle prefaces the second section, “On Writers and Writing,” with the phrase “Interpreters of This Deep Concern,” a line from “A Declaration for 1955.” This section demands that artists and writers be authentic. In her review of In the American Grain (1925), she finds William Carlos Williams to be authentic, but in another early review, “Mr. Crane and His Grandmother,” she finds Hart Crane’s poetry false and patronizing, even of his grandmother. Boyle finds Katherine Mansfield’s writing inadequate and narrow and judges Elizabeth Bowen’s fiction disconnected from reality for the most part. Despite some faults with his characterizations, in a 1938 review she finds William Faulkner, like Edgar Allan Poe, obsessed with “the unutterable depths of mankind’s vice and even more with his divinity.”
Not only must writers express truth in their art, according to Boyle, but also they must have a social conscience. Acknowledging the heresy of her position, she asks that writers take responsibility for the “transforming of the contemporary scene”: “The artist’s deeper concern has always been not with what is taking place, but with the dimension of what might, within the imagination and the infinite capacity of man, take place.” She shows that an artist has the capability of using words to draw out the best in humans when a Spaniard deflects a near confrontation with a waiter in her “Farewell to New York.” When she was a professor at San Francisco State University in the 1960’s, she had an opportunity to put into practice her belief that the writer’s obligation is to speak out. In “Excerpt from ’The Long Walk at San Francisco State,’” Boyle judges her own poetry less “relevant to life and death” than that of the students of black poet Sonia Sanchez. Boyle ends this second section with “The Teaching of Writing,” an essay addressed to teachers. The quotation that she selects from James Baldwin expresses the...
(The entire section is 1771 words.)