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Wescott, Glenway (1901-1987)  
 
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American writer Glenway Wescott is the author of a series of critically esteemed novels, including The Grandmothers and The Pilgrim Hawk, which are distinguished by their polished, poetic language and vivid symbolism. He also published several collections of poetry, short stories, and essays. Following his death, a journal he kept from the late 1930s was published as Continual Lessons, a work that provides a valuable portrait of pre-Stonewall gay life among New York City's artistic and literary communities.

Wescott developed extensive ties to the expatriate American community in France, where he lived in the 1920s and 1930s and was familiar with Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein, among others. He and his life partner Monroe Wheeler subsequently became central figures in New York's artistic and gay communities in the 1950s and 1960s.

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Wescott was in a dedicated relationship with the book designer and museum director Monroe Wheeler, with whom he lived for sixty-eight years, beginning in 1919 until his death in 1987. Although their relationship was not physically monogamous, the two men thought of themselves as married and never waivered from their commitment to each other.

Some eight years into their relationship, they met and fell in love with photographer George Platt Lynes and accommodated him into their lives for 17 years.

Wescott published his last novel, Apartment in Athens, in 1945. Although he never stopped writing, he was unable to complete another novel and during the remaining forty-two years of his life did not publish any new fiction.

"To read the body of work that he has left behind," the critic Bruce Bawer notes in an essay written shortly after Wescott's death, "is not only to marvel at its charm and polish but to admire its probity and seriousness of purpose."

Biography and Education

The oldest of six children, Glenway Wescott was born April 11, 1901, on a pig farm in rural Kewaskum, Wisconsin. He grew up a thoughtful and sensitive child and often ran afoul of his father's expectations. As Wescott recalled years later, "I couldn't work for my father on the farm. He was so sorry for himself because he had more work than he could do, and I was sickly and irritable. Most of the time he was exhausted and had difficulty feeding us all."

Wescott attended the local one-room schoolhouse until the age of twelve, when he found an excuse to leave the farm. He moved to West Bend, Wisconsin, about 11 miles from Kewaskum. There, he attended West Bend High School, living with his maternal grandparents and then later rooming with an uncle and his family.

In 1914, Wescott began a relationship with a fifteen-year-old classmate named Earl Rix Kuelthau, who "relieved" Wescott of his "virginity." The secret romance apparently lasted more than a year.

Wescott excelled in his high school studies and at the age of sixteen earned a scholarship to the University of Chicago. He attended the university from 1917 until 1919, but left without graduating due to ill health.

As a freshman, Wescott was elected president of the university's prestigious Poetry Club. The club included such writers as Yvor Winters, Janet Lewis, and Elizabeth Madox Roberts. The poetry they wrote and shared would later become known as Imagist, a movement devoted to "clarity of expression" through the use of common speech and precise visual images.

One afternoon in the spring of 1919, during a meeting of the Poetry Club, Wescott, then seventeen years old, met and fell in love with the strikingly handsome, twenty-year-old Monroe Wheeler (1899-1988), the son of a Chicago fish broker. The two men would go on to create a life together that lasted sixty-eight years. Wheeler encouraged Wescott both to pursue a vocation as a writer and to accept his homosexuality without apology.

Shortly after that first meeting, Wescott contracted Spanish flu; he eventually recovered from the virus, but left school at the end of the term. He then traveled to Santa Fe, New Mexico to help recover his health and to continue work on his poetry, while Wheeler remained in Chicago.

In 1920 he published his first work, The Bitterns: A Book of Twelve Poems.

Move to Europe

In the fall of 1921, with their own meager savings and valuable letters of introduction provided by Harriet Monroe, founder of the influential journal Poetry, Wescott and Wheeler traveled to Europe. They arrived first in England, where they stayed with the writer Ford Madox Ford at his home in Sussex.

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