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literature

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McAlmon, Robert (1896-1956)  
 
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Later Years

Discontent with his sham marriage, McAlmon sought a divorce from Bryher, which was finalized during the spring of 1927. At this time, Sir John Ellerman, who seems to have become quite fond of his son-in-law, gave McAlmon a substantial financial settlement. Thereafter, McAlmon often was sneeringly referred to in bohemian circles as "McAlimony." Unfortunately, Ellerman's gift did not substantially improve McAlmon's financial situation because he quickly dissipated most of the funds through parties and drinking.

Apparently unable to remain in any place for an extended period, McAlmon traveled throughout Europe, the United States, and Mexico from 1927 to 1940. However, although discontented with the changes occurring in the French capital, he continued to live at intervals in Paris until 1940.

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Despite his peripatetic existence, McAlmon continued to write, though at a considerably reduced level. His later publications included the epic poem North America, Continent of Conjectures (1929, published through his own Contact Editions) and The Indefinite Huntress and Other Stories (Paris: Crosby, 1932). His last published poem was an eloquent attack on the effects of Mussolini's government of Italy, "Encyclical to Pope and Fascist" (1941).

Undoubtedly, Being Geniuses Together, 1920-1930 was the most significant endeavor of McAlmon's later years. He intended this book to be an honest and comprehensive memoir of his life in Paris and of his interactions with others in the expatriate community. Needing money, however, he agreed to the publication of a shortened and heavily edited version by the London firm of Secker and Warburg in 1938.

In 1940, as he attempted to flee from the advancing Nazi army, McAlmon abandoned the complete manuscript of the memoir in his cottage in Dampierre (France), and it presumably was destroyed during the war. In 1968 and 1984, McAlmon's friend, Kay Boyle, produced revised editions, which supposedly incorporated material from typescripts that McAlmon supplied to Secker and Warburg. However, concerned about rehabilitating McAlmon's reputation, she retained the moralistic approach of the London publishers.

Despite the many emendations of McAlmon's original text, Being Geniuses provides a lively, and often provocative, overview of Paris in the 1920s, and it is still widely consulted by scholars of the era. In particular, the book gives many indications of the honesty and bluntness that often disconcerted McAlmon's associates. Thus, he offers strong criticism of the pomposity that he perceives in such iconic figures of the expatriate community as Stein and Hemingway. Unfortunately, missing from any of the extant versions of the texts are the sexual escapades, which Williams and other friends mentioned in their responses to McAlmon's drafts.

During the initial stages of the Nazi Occupation of France, McAlmon was interned, but his family successfully implored United States Senators to use their influence to secure his freedom. His family paid for his return travel to the United States and found him a job selling medical equipment for a company based in Phoenix.

By the time that he returned permanently to the United States in 1940, McAlmon's health had deteriorated significantly. Suffering from tuberculosis and many other serious ailments, he spent extended periods in hospitals.

In 1951, McAlmon retired to a home that his sisters purchased for him in Desert Hot Springs, California, and he lived quietly there until his death on February 2, 1956. After his death, neighbors were very surprised to learn that he had once been considered a notable writer and that he had been an active participant in the dynamic community of expatriates in Paris during the 1920s.

Conclusion

Editions of some of McAlmon's most important stories, published by the University of New Mexico Press during the early 1990s, have helped to make a new generation of American readers aware of his work. Certainly, such books as Distinguished Air: Grim Fairy Tales deserve an important place in queer cultural history. It is to be hoped that future scholars will give McAlmon's achievements as writer and publisher the attention that they merit.

Richard G. Mann

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    Bibliography
   

Knoll, Robert E. Robert McAlmon: Expatriate Publisher and Writer. Foreword by William Carlos Williams. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1959.

McAlmon, Robert. Being Geniuses Together, 1920-1930. Rev. with Supplementary Chapters and an Afterword by Kay Boyle. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1984.

_____. Miss Knight and Others. Foreword by Gore Vidal. Edward N. S. Lorusso, ed. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1992.

_____. Post Adolescence: A Selection of Short Fiction. Edward N. S. Lorusso, ed. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1991.

_____. Village: As It Happened through a Fifteen Year Period. Edward N. S. Lorusso, ed. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1990.

Monk, Craig. "Textual Authority and Modern American Autobiography: Robert McAlmon, Kay Boyle, and the Writing of a Lost Generation." Journal of American Studies 35.3 (2001): 485-97.

Smoller, Sanford J. Adrift Among Geniuses: Robert McAlmon, Writer and Publisher of the Twenties. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1975.

Weinburg, Jonathan. Speaking for Vice: Homosexuality in the Art of Charles Demuth, Marsden Hartley, and the First American Avant-Garde. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.

Zeikowitz, Richard E. "Constrained in Liberation: Performative Queerness in Robert McAlmon's Berlin Stories." College Literature 31.3 (Summer 2004): 27-42.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Mann, Richard G.  
    Entry Title: McAlmon, Robert  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2006  
    Date Last Updated January 13, 2006  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/mcalmon_r.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
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    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2006, glbtq, inc.  
 

 

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