Editor’s Notes & Cover Art

About the Cover

Our cover design by John Pickard features “Woman with Tobacco Leaves, Charlotte, North Carolina” (c. 1947) by photographer Rosalie Gwathmey (1908–2001).

Rosalie Gwathmey was admired for capturing the hardship of life in black southern communites with an artist’s eye for composition and form. “We all know,” she said, “that if the language isn’t eloquent, no one bothers to finish the story.” She studied with Paul Strand at the Photo League, and exhibited her work at the Museum of Modern Art in 1946.

In 1955, she abruptly threw away all her negatives and became a textile designer. Fortunately, she donated prints of her work to the New York Public Library. In 1994, bookseller Glenn Horowitz gave a solo exhibition of her work from these prints, and revitalized interest in Gwathmey’s work by distributing a catalogue.

The Photo League was established by Paul Strand and Bernice Abbot in 1936. This group maintained darkrooms, meeting rooms, and gallery space. They also offered classes and published Photo Notes journal. Because of its broadly social outlook, the Photo League was listed by the U.S. Attorney General as subversive in the late 1940s and membership declined. The League closed its doors in 1951.

This photograph has been reproduced by permission of the Columbus Museum of Art in Columbus, Ohio, from their Photo League collection. The acquisition of this photograph was made possible with funds provided by Elizabeth M. Ross, the Derby fund, John S. and Catherine Chapin Kobacker, and the Friends of the Photo League. 2001.020.057.

Cover research by Anna Duke Reach.

Editor’s Notes

W. S. Merwin: Then and Now

In 1953, with support from the Rockefeller Foundation, The Kenyon Review awarded its first fellowships. These were intended to identify superlative younger writers and free them from the struggle to put food on the table and a roof over their heads. (This in the days before the widespread institutional patronage of creative writing programs.) No strings came attached—fellows could live where they chose, publish their work as they chose—though many expressed their thanks and admiration by offering their exceptional work to John Crowe Ransom for inclusion in KR.

The fellow in fiction that first year was Flannery O’Connor; in criticism, Irving Howe. The 1954 fellow in poetry was William Merwin. The company was very good indeed, and continued as such for four more years until funding expired. Later, Flannery O’Connor would say, “I wanted to write stories and had stories to write, I felt free to write them, thanks to the fellowship.”

Nearly a lifetime later, W. S. Merwin, one of those early KR fellows, continues to produce work of extraordinary grace, elegance, simplicity, resonance. He offers four new poems in this issue, and a personal essay as well, a memoir describing his decades-long project of reclaiming land left waste by generations of industrial pillage in Hawaii. His labors have nurtured a palm forest that will be deeded to public use after his death.

More of Mr. Merwin’s work in The Kenyon Review archive from across these five decades is featured right now on KROnline at kenyonreview.org. I invite you to visit.

From the early years of his career and the KR fellowship, through years in France and elsewhere, we have come nearly full circle. It gives me great pleasure, great joy to announce that W. S. Merwin will receive the 2010 Kenyon Review Award for Literary Achievement. He makes his own appreciation of that connection explicit in a letter: “I loved Professor Ransom’s letter. . . . And the link with him, and the few letters, were a great part of my happiness at receiving the grant, and are part of my pleasure in the present Award for Literary Achievement.”

Mr. Merwin will receive the award at our annual dinner on November 4, 2010, at the Four Seasons Restaurant in New York. The next day he will travel with us to Gambier for the Kenyon Review Literary Festival. In addition to meeting with students, he will offer the Sutcliffe Memorial Lecture on Saturday evening, November 6. My colleagues and students are eager—as am I.

— D. H. L.

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