Glenway Wescott was an American writer known for his poetic prose and explorations of themes related to homosexuality, human relationships, and existentialism. Born on April 11, 1901, in Kewaskum, Wisconsin, Wescott was raised in a conservative family and attended the University of Chicago, where he became involved in the city’s vibrant literary scene.
Wescott who was openly gay, early works were heavily influenced by his experiences in Paris in the 1920s, where he became part of the expatriate community that included Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and other luminaries of modernist literature. In 1925, he published his first novel, “The Apple of the Eye,” a coming-of-age story set in the Midwest, which drew praise for its lyrical style and psychological insights.
Wescott’s second novel, “The Grandmothers,” published in 1927, marked a departure from his earlier work, as it dealt openly with homosexuality and same-sex relationships. The book was banned in Boston and other cities, and it was not until the 1960s that it gained wider recognition as an important work of gay literature.
Wescott was also a prolific essayist, memoirist, and translator. He translated works by writers such as Jean Cocteau and Marcel Proust and was a lifelong friend of the poet and novelist Thornton Wilder.
Despite his achievements as a writer, Wescott’s personal life was marked by tragedy and loss. In 1933, he met the writer Monroe Wheeler, who became his lifelong partner and muse. The couple lived together in Europe and the United States, and their circle of friends included many of the leading cultural figures of their time. However, their relationship was strained by Wescott’s alcoholism, and in 1944, Wheeler left him for a younger man.
Wescott’s later years were marked by financial difficulties, and he struggled to support himself through his writing. He continued to publish works of fiction and nonfiction, including the acclaimed memoir “Continual Lessons,” which chronicled his life and literary career.
“At one of his own dinner parties, Wescott is eager to regale his guests with stories about Jean Cocteau and to put questions to the composer and (all too candid) diarist Ned Rorem, “but Truman Capote shouted me down all evening, in his falsetto way, about various crimes and atrocities.” This was, after all, the period of In Cold Blood. “As it happens,” continued Wescott, “I have never been with him in all-male society before, and was astonished to find that the subject matter of sex doesn’t interest him at all.” And when one of President Johnson’s aides, “the father of six children,” resigns after “having been arrested for indecent behavior in the men’s room of the notorious Washington YMCA,” Wescott wonders: “Will foolish homosexual or ambi-sexual men never cease to involve themselves in public service careers? I suppose the danger of the risks they run excites them—just as the men’s room surreptitiousness, the voyeurism, the exhibitionism, intensifies their desire.”Glenway Wescott – Continual Lessons
Glenway Wescott died on February 22, 1987, in Rosemont, New Jersey, at the age of 85.
Today, Glenway Wescott is remembered as a writer who pushed the boundaries of his time, both in terms of his exploration of homosexuality and in his stylistic innovations. His work has been celebrated by writers such as Edmund White and Michael Cunningham, who have cited him as a major influence on their own work
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