The University of Wisconsin Press has just released Jerry Rosco’s fine 2002 biography Glenway Wescott Personally, in paperback. Notable because at a friendlier price it should be on every gay shelf. Wescott is an almost forgotten literary figure.
Born in 1907 he came from the most modest of upbringing in Wisconsin to emerge as the most promising young voice of his generation. The public and critical reception to Wescott indicated that he was to be an illustrious man of American letters. His first books, Goodbye, Wisconsin and The Grandmothers and volumes of poetry were lavished with praise and he was famous before he was 30.
As a young man, he was out and unapologetic, in life and representing the hidden gay world in his writing. Fitzgerald noted his talents right away, Hemingway indicated jealousy and even slung some homophobic slurs his way in print. But Wescott could not have cared less as he made his way into the worlds of literature and art in New York and Europe.
He was already in love with Monroe Wheeler, who started his own publishing company and eventually became curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In Paris, the couple became intimates of Gertrude Stein, Salvador Dali and Jean Cocteau (and his lovers, the good ones using prime opium, the bad ones using street opium, we come to know). Rosco paints vivid background of international gay life populated with an a-list of artists and writers.
Wescott’s contemporaries (and Harper and Brothers) pressed him to write more, but Wescott abandoned very ambitious ‘great American novels’ hopes and published shorter form work and becoming an essayist of note. His novella The Pilgrim Hawk was and is considered a modern masterpiece.
Glenway and Monroe were now part of the lofty worlds of Christopher Isherwood, W.H. Auden and painter Paul Cadmus, now their very close friend. The couple also had an ongoing ménage with photographer George Platt Lynes and the three shared a Manhattan apartment pre- war at a pivotal time in the New York when Europeans artists were getting out of fascist Europe.