Heiress, Muse, Political Idealist
Lois Gordon's absorbing biography tells the story of a writer, activist, and cultural icon who embodied the dazzling energy and tumultuous spirit of her age, and whom William Carlos Williams once called "one of the major phenomena of history."
Nancy Cunard (1896-1965) led a life that surpasses Hollywood fantasy. The only child of an English baronet (and heir to the Cunard shipping fortune) and an American beauty, Cunard abandoned the world of a celebrated socialite and Jazz Age icon to pursue a lifelong battle against social injustice as a wartime journalist, humanitarian aid worker, and civil rights champion.
Cunard fought fascism on the battlefields of Spain and reported firsthand on the atrocities of the French concentration camps. Intelligent and beautiful, she romanced the great writers of her era, including three Nobel Prize winners, and was the inspiration for characters in the works of Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Aldous Huxley, Pablo Neruda, Samuel Beckett, and Ernest Hemingway, among others.
Cunard was also a prolific poet, publisher, and translator and, after falling in love with a black American jazz pianist, became deeply committed to fighting for black rights. She edited the controversial anthology Negro, the first comprehensive study of the achievement and plight of blacks around the world. Her contributors included Langston Hughes, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Zora Neale Hurston, among scores of others.
Cunard's personal life was as complex as her public persona. Her involvement with the civil rights movement led her to be ridiculed and rejected by both family and friends. Throughout her life, she was plagued by insecurities and suffered a series of breakdowns, struggling with a sense of guilt over her promiscuous behavior and her ability to survive so much war and tragedy. Yet Cunard's writings also reveal an immense kindness and wit, as well as her renowned, often flamboyant defiance of prejudiced social conventions.
Drawing on diaries, correspondence, historical accounts, and the remembrances of others, Lois Gordon revisits the major movements of the first half of the twentieth century through the life of a truly gifted and extraordinary woman. She also returns Nancy Cunard to her rightful place as a major figure in the historical, social, and artistic events of a critical era.
"This able, diligently researched biography... revives the memory of a remarkable woman against the backdrop of major 20th-century events." — Publishers Weekly
"Gordon brings a literary sensibility, a historian's insight, and psychological fluency to her groundbreaking and alternately mesmerizing and shattering biography." — Booklist
"Here is a fascinating life story, delivered in absorbing detail." — New York Daily News
"A worthy biography of the Jazz Age beauty who mesmerized Pound and Elliot." — Megan O'Grady, Vogue
"This extraordinary life has been well served by Gordon." — The Australian
"Gordon provides a perfect illustration of Cunard's fascinating, moving life...your perfect summertime read." — Jen Ortiz, Social Life Magazine
"[Lois Gordon] vividly reconstructs the Cunard legend and brings her back to life." — Carla Kaplan, The Nation
"[A] fine biography-extremely well researched and felicitously written." — Mary V. Dearborn, American Book Review
"Lois Gordon's biography of Nancy Cunard arrives at a time when we sorely need exemplars for art and activism." — Rain Taxi
"A fascinating and ultimately poignant story." — Modernism/Modernity
"[An] immensely detailed biography." — Sarah Mower, The Daily Telegraph (UK)
"Lois Gordon's depiction of Nancy Cunard and her relationships is strong and vivid. Because Cunard was involved in many of the major events of the century, knew many of its artists personally and sexually, and was often represented in their work, this full-scale and highly detailed biography should have a readership appeal far beyond those interested in her complex and fascinating life and work." — Alan W. Friedman, The University of Texas at Austin
"In Lois Gordon's tireless hands, Nancy Cunard comes across as a woman of remarkable intelligence, intensity, and romantic idealism." — Lawrence Graver, Williams College
List of Illustrations
1. Golden Girl
2. Coming of Age During a Revolution in the Arts
3. Counterpoint of War in London
4. Postwar Breakdown
5. Return to the World in Paris
6. Reluctant Icon
7. Nancy as Publisher
8. Prelude to Negro
10. Nancy as Journalist: Scottsboro, Ethiopia, Spain
11. On the Front Lines in the Spanish Civil War
12. Exposing the Concentration Camps After Franco's Victory
13. Exile and Resistance in World War II
14. Surviving Réanville
15. Escaping La Mothe
16. The Last Great Glare