Malcolm Cowley's death marked the passing of one of the last surviving members of the so-called Lost Generation, the group of American writers who exiled themselves in Paris after World War I.
Cowley, 90, who died Tuesday at New Milford Hospital after suffering an apparent heart attack at home in nearby Sherman, was a poet and essayist in his own right.But he made his most significant contribution to American letters as an editor and critic who was among the first to recognize the brilliance of the writers dubbed "The Lost Generation" by Gertrude Stein in the 1920s. The group included Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos and Ezra Pound. He is also credited with saving Nobel laureate William Faulkner from obscurity.
A former associate editor of the New Republic and literary adviser to Viking Press, Cowley described himself as a literary historian in his 1978 account of writing in America, "And I Worked at the Writer's Trade."
Born on Aug. 24, 1898, Cowley attended Harvard University from 1915 to 1917, when he joined the American Ambulance Service in France. He drove a munitions truck for several months before re-enrolling in Harvard in February 1918.
He began contributing book reviews to the New Republic and Dial magazines and completed his degree at Harvard in 1920. Cowley spent much of his time writing free-lance magazine pieces to support himself, which diverted his attention from writing poetry.
Cowley was afforded his opportunity to go to France and hobnob with other young American expatriate writers when awarded an American Field Service Fellowship to study French literature in 1921-22.
Cowley championed the work of Hart Crane, e.e. cummings, Thornton Wilder and Thomas Wolfe. Some consider his most valuable contribution to be his editing of "The Portable Faulkner" in 1945, which saved Faulkner from obscurity.
In 1948, Cowley began a long association with Viking Press as its literary adviser. He also was chancellor of the American Academy of Arts and Letters from 1967 to 1977. His last book, published in 1985, was "The Flower and the Leaf," a collection of essays.
Cowley is survived by his wife, Muriel; a son; four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.