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literature

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McAlmon, Robert (1896-1956)  
 
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Yet, despite his participation in bohemian revelries, McAlmon managed to be productive as a writer, especially during his early years in Paris. By January 1922 (but possibly in late 1921), McAlmon had printed at his own expense A Hasty Brunch, a collection of short stories, previously rejected by a British publisher who found the book to be obscene. These stories of life in the American Midwest were favorably reviewed by Ezra Pound in the Dial. McAlmon was also encouraged by the unpublished praise offered by Katherine Mansfield, James Joyce, and other writers whom he admired.

Also in 1921 and 1922, McAlmon found time to assist James Joyce with the difficult tasks of editing and typing early versions of Ulysses. Throughout the 1920s, McAlmon continued to offer various kinds of support to Joyce, including substantial financial gifts. However, scattered remarks in Being Among Geniuses indicate that he did not share the awe of Joyce's work widespread among the expatriate community.

Sponsor Message.

Although primarily based in Paris, McAlmon traveled extensively throughout Europe. The several weeks that he spent in Berlin in the fall of 1921 provided the basis for Distinguished Air. While in Capri in 1922, he met a Swedish couple, Ludvig Nordström and Maryka Sternstedt, both writers, who invited him to spend Christmas 1923 in Stockholm and who helped stimulate interest in McAlmon's writings in Scandinavia.

Contact Editions

Although the Ellerman family was initially suspicious of McAlmon's motivations for his marriage to Bryher, they quickly became fond of him. Thus, late in 1922 or early in 1923, Sir John entrusted him with about $70,000 to support his literary endeavors. McAlmon immediately resolved to use the money to establish Contact Editions to publish innovative works without concern for profit.

Shortly thereafter, he released two of his own books: Post Adolescence and Companion Volume, a collection of short stories, one of which—"One to Set Her Up"—offers one of the earliest portraits of a "fag hag" in American literature. Between 1924 and 1929, Contact published three further volumes of his work, including the highly regarded Village (1924), comprised of interwoven stories set in a small Midwestern town.

Eager that Contact not be regarded as a vanity press, McAlmon sought to publish works by authors with distinctive perspectives. Although he did not find Hemingway's emphatically hard-boiled and deliberately simple style entirely congenial, he published Three Stories and Ten Poems by him in 1923. While working on this project, McAlmon, Hemingway, and Hadley (Hemingway's wife) undertook a trip to Spain, at McAlmon's expense. Despite McAlmon's generosity, Hemingway relentlessly complained to mutual acquaintances that McAlmon was not "a real man" because he did not share his own unequivocal love of bullfights and other sports.

In 1925, McAlmon published five important books, including Gertrude Stein's Making of Americans. Although he recognized its importance, McAlmon found the publication of Stein's monumental work a very frustrating and exhausting experience. Because of the small demand for books published by Contact, McAlmon generally limited editions (including his own works) to approximately 150 copies. However, without consulting McAlmon, Stein instructed the printer to produce 600 copies of Making of Americans, and she refused to assist him with the printing bill of 60,000 francs (then equivalent to about $3,000) or with the storage costs of the hundreds of unsold volumes. The production of Making of Americans undermined the financial stability of the press, which closed in 1931.

McAlmon at the Height of His Literary Career: 1924-1926

During the mid-1920s, Williams and others noted that McAlmon increasingly suffered from severe depression, which was intensified by disparaging comments made about his work by Ford Maddox Ford and other figures in the literary establishment. His heavy drinking also distressed his friends. In the spring of 1925, he created a scandal by his drunken behavior at the Quatre Arts Ball; by the end of the evening, he had stripped off his cheesecloth toga and was cavorting naked. Throughout the period from late 1924 through early 1925, McAlmon spent a great deal of time partying with the wealthy socialite, Nancy Cunard. According to gossip of the era, McAlmon initiated an affair with Cunard, but he emphatically denied this.

Despite personal problems and numerous distractions, McAlmon had reason to be proud of his significant professional accomplishments of the mid-1920s. In addition to making his works available through Contact, McAlmon published pieces in other venues. For example, in the first issue of Transatlantic Review (January 1924), his story "Elsie" was published, along with poems by e. e. cummings and Williams and fiction by Ford and Joseph Conrad. However, McAlmon's delight in this achievement was dissipated when Ford published harsh and condescending criticism of the Village and other works in subsequent issues of the Review.

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