Anna Maydon on “Robert McAlmon, Publisher to a ‘Lost Generation'”
As a writer, McAlmon made significant contributions to the American literary canon, however it is through his role as publisher that McAlmon helped to define and shape the landscape of American life, art, and ego amongst the literary circles of 1920s Paris. Dan Pinck of New Republic Magazine, conveyed the impact the now relatively unknown publisher had, stating, “There have been few people, not excepting Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound, whose efforts so helped to cast significant literary reputations” (Mellow).
After starting off in typical American expatriate style by joining the efforts of WWI and then moving to Greenwich Village prior to the 1920s, Robert McAlmon departed from the norm by marrying into wealth. It was through this advantageous union that Robert McAlmon became the invisible force and financial backing to a group of writers and poets that Gertrude Stein aptly named, “The Lost Generation” (Hemingway 4). In The Nightinghouls of Paris, a compilation of McAlmon’s manuscripts and memoirs, editor Sanford J. Smoller, writes “He used much of the money to establish the Contact Publishing Company so that he could publish his friends’ writings as well as his own” (McAlmon 6).
In addition to publishing many defining works of the decade, McAlmon provided the financial support necessary for these authors and artists to experience expatriate life abroad. Maintaining friendships with the literary likes of Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, William Carlos Williams, and Kay Boyle, McAlmon spent his time and money cultivating the environment conducive to the bohemian lifestyle that permeated the works of his writers. As evidenced in numerous author biographies and autobiographies, McAlmon was a key influence on the writers that received much more acclaim during their life than he was ever afforded. James R. Mellow (author of Hemingway: A Life Without Consequences) describes McAlmon’s patronage:
“For a time he provided the always needy James Joyce with a monthly $150, he paid the expenses for Hemingway’s first trip to the bullfights in Spain in 1923, contributed to the welfare of indigent poets and, from 1922 to 1929, by way of the Contact Editions, published the works of the American vanguard writers…” (Mellow).
In funding Hemingway’s first trip to Spain, he provided the backdrop and story for expatriate staple, The Sun Also Rises published three years later.
More than just a patron, however, McAlmon actively participated in establishing the literary careers and the legendary personas of this group of Americans seeking “refuge” in Paris. Sylvia Beach once noted that, “[McAlmon] attracted people, and I knew few who did as much….Somehow he dominated whatever group he was in. Whatever café or bar McAlmon patronized at the moment was where you saw everybody” (Smoller 203).
Robert McAlmon’s own literary career, marked in such works as Being Geniuses Together (1920-1930) and The Hasty Bunch, (1922) took backseat to the cultivation and promotion of the literary talents and genius of his contemporaries. McAlmon’s central role in defining this literary generation, while typically unknown, pulses through the American expatriate texts.
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