Helping Emerging Artists: Kreymborg and The American Caravan Project

Below I’ve listed and discuss some of the more important figures whose careers are indebted to The American Caravan anthologies, which were edited by Kreymborg, Lewis Mumford, and Paul Rosenfeld between 1927-1931.

ROBERT PENN WARREN

Discussing Robert Penn Warren in Our Singing Strength, Alfred Kreymborg writes, “So far as I know, Robert Penn Warren has not yet published a book…Though he is still another metaphysician in a land now dense with such thinkers, Warren has a grip on the soil and sounds less bookish than his fellows” (566). Appearing in the first (1927), second (1928), and fourth (1931) American Caravan anthologies, Warren would not publish his first book of poems, Thirty-Six Poems, until 1935, and his first book of fiction, Night Rider, until 1939. A letter from Warren to Allen Tate in February of 1927 indicates that Tate was the first to tell him about the Caravan (Warren 102), and Warren published three poems in the first two anthologies.

In a 1979 interview with William Ferris, Warren indicates that the American Caravan was his original inspiration to write prose. He recalls, “My last year at Oxford…I got a cable from Paul Rosenfeld…asking me to do a novelette for the Caravan. I had never thought of doing such a thing. And I said, ‘Well, why not? Try’… I sent it in, and it got good press. It was the first fiction I ever wrote. I was hooked” (Ferris 169). Warren does mention in his interview, however, that the Caravan also provided him with the confidence to continue writing prose. Though Warren had published poetry in the first and second Caravan anthologies, he was hesitant to submit prose. A letter in 1930 to Allen Tate reveals an insecurity in his ability to write fiction: he says, “The story for the Caravan is still unfinished…I haven’t the least idea whether it is any good or not…I haven’t much faith, anyway, in my ability as a writer of fiction” (Warren 185). The positive reception of his novelette, Prime Leaf (which appeared first in the American Caravan IV), was the impetus for what would later lead to twelve books of fiction throughout Warren’s career.

HART CRANE

In his biography of Hart Crane, Paul Mariani indicates that the American Caravan was one of the first publications to accept a section of Crane’s The Bridge. Mariani writes, “Nor did it help [Crane’s] mood to learn that a span of The Bridge had just been rejected by The Dial. On the other hand, Paul Rosenfeld, one of the editors of the American Caravan…had called Crane saying he had to have a piece of The Bridge for the magazine” (Mariani 260). “Ave Maria,” the first section of The Bridge, was published in the first American Caravan; “The River,” a section of “Powhatan’s Daughter” (which is the second section of The Bridge) appeared in the second Caravan. Mariani notes that twelve of the fifteen sections of The Bridge were eventually accepted by prominent publications, including Poetry, The Dial, The Virginia Quarterly, trasition, The Calendar, and Criterion. While Crane was particularly pleased that a section was to appear in Eliot’s Criterion, the acceptance of his work to the Caravan placed him in contact with the New York literary establishment. And in a letter that Crane wrote to his family, there is a useful description of a party thrown for the contributors of the American Caravan; he explains, “When I was last in NY the owners of the Macaulay Co gave a large party to all the contributors up in a huge but unbelievably vulgarly furnished and expensive apartment on West End Avenue. There seemed to be everybody there I’d every heard of. Enormous quantities of wine, cocktails, and highballs were served…It would take me ages to tell all the amusing things that happen at such parties” (Crane 533). In less than ten years, Kreymborg’s position as an editor took him from a shack in Grantwood to highballs on West End Avenue. While Kreymborg was still a proponent of experimental arts, his participating in money-making ventures within the New York literary establishment indicate the increasing importance of his economic concerns.

Much earlier than the Caravan project, however, Kreymborg had shown an affinity for Crane’s work and had encouraged the young poet. John Unterecker writes, “though Crane was never to become close to Alfred Kreymborg, Kreymborg did look at Crane’s work with a view toward publishing some of it in Others…At the end of [Crane’s] first week in New York he reported to his grandmother that William Carlos Williams and Kreymborg had accepted for publication one of his lyrics” (Unterecker 60, 72). Due to the difficult financial situation of Others, Crane’s work was never to actually appear in the magazine. Yet Kreymborg and Williams’ admiration of Crane’s earliest work helped him maintain confidence in a literary career; as Unterecker argues, Crane’s father changed his attitude toward his son’s occupation as a writer, “as a consequence of the success Harold seemed to be having. Though he was never to be published in Others, for months Crane was convinced he would be” (Unterecker 72).

YVOR WINTERS

The publication of Winters’ work in the first, second, and third Caravan anthologies provided him with early recognition, and helped begin his career as a literary critic. Though Winters had published books of poems in 1921, 1922, and 1927, he had not published book-length criticism, and had not yet shifted to a more conservative poetics. In Hart Crane and Yvor Winters: Their Literary Correspondence, Thomas Parkinson argues that the American Caravan helped launch Winters’ career as a critic, writing, “[Winters] began writing his first extended critical prose since his master’s thesis at Colorado in 1925… The essay was published in American Caravan for 1929 under the title “The Extension and Reintegration of the Human Spirit, Through the Poetry Mainly French and American Since Poe and Baudelaire” (Parkinson 132). The essay published by the Caravan eventually led to Winters’ first book of criticism, Primitivism and Decadence: A Study of Experimental Poetry (1937).

STANLEY BURNSHAW

The American Caravan launched the career of Stanley Burnshaw; before his poems appeared in the first Caravan, his work had only been published in minor magazines like The Midland and Palms. In Burnshaw’s obituary, Douglas Martin describes the poet’s expansive career by marking its beginnings with publication in the Caravan: “His own creative career spanned more than 70 years: five of his poems were published in 1927 in The American Caravan: A Yearbook of American Literature…and he published his final book, a poetry anthology, in 2002.”

KAY BOYLE

Appearing in the second American Caravan, Kay Boyle would not publish a book of short stories until a year later in 1929. Before her inclusion in the Caravan anthology, her work had only appeared in small-circulation publications, including Broom, Poetry, This Quarter, and Forum.

ARCHIBALD MACLEISH

Though the first American Caravan published Archibald MacLeish early in his career, MacLeish had no sympathy for the anthology, writing to Ranald H. Macdonald in 1928, “The ‘Caravan’ is sad trash—all except my poem which is a section of my ‘Hamley of A. MacLeish’ appearing next fall & most moving. I agree with you about the avant-garde view of the universe. It is almost as false and nearly half as silly as the American Business Man’s…” (MacLeish 213).