Robert Cantwell and the Literary Left

A Northwest Writer Reworks American Fiction

T. V. Reed

  • Published: 2014. Paperback August 2015
  • Subject Listing: Literary Studies; Pacific Northwest; History
  • Bibliographic information: 254 pp., 1 illus., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Contents

Robert Cantwell and the Literary Left is the first full critical study of novelist and critic Robert Cantwell, a Northwest-born writer with a strong sense of social justice who found himself at the center of the radical literary and cultural politics of 1930s New York. Regarded by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway as one of the finest young fiction writers to emerge from this era, Cantwell is best known for his superb novel, The Land of Plenty, set in western Washington. His literary legacy, however, was largely lost during the Red Scare of the McCarthy era, when he retreated to conservatism.

Through meticulous research, an engaging writing style, and a deep commitment to the history of American social movements, T. V. Reed uncovers the story of a writer who brought his Pacific Northwest brand of justice to bear on the project of "reworking" American literature to include ordinary working people in its narratives. In tracing the flourishing of the American literary Left as it unfolded in New York, Reed reveals a rich progressive culture that can inform our own time.
T. V. Reed is Buchanan Distinguished Professor at Washington State University. He is also the author of The Art of Protest: Culture and Activism from the Civil Rights Movement to the Streets of Seattle.

"Reed provides a sound and well-documented biography, outstanding interpretations of Cantwell's two novels, a breakthrough study of Cantwell's literary criticism, a nice summary of his journalism, and a plausible explanation of his final migration to the Right."
-Alan Wald, H. Chandler Davis Collegiate Professor of English Literature, University of Michigan

1. Rewriting the Left
2. Mill Towns, Blue Collar Work, and Literary Ambitions
3. A Student of Karl Marx and Henry James
4. A Portrait of the Artist as Propagandist
5. The Revolutionist Meets the Capitalist
6. Time, Doubt, and the Popular Front
7. Breaking Down, Moving On, Looking Back


"This critical study dusts off the largely forgotten work and career of Cantwell. . . . T.V. Reed has performed a service in bringing Robert Cantwell and the topic of proletarian fiction back to the fore."
-Barbara McMichael, The Seattle Times

"A concise literary biography of "proletarian" novelist Robert Cantwell adds significantly to the revisionist studies of early and mid-twentieth-century cultural radicalism... Reed's valuable insight into considerations of place might be applied to avoid overgeneralizations about the Communist Party as a homogeneous entity-even when it sought to present itself as such."
-Joel Wendland, American Studies Journal

"Reed's complex and multilayered book on Cantwell will help rescue The Land of Plenty from oblivion. It is also a significant contribution to the project of reconsidering the American literary left of the 1930s. . . . Progressives from our own time have much to learn from that era and from this book."
-Priscilla Long, H-Net Reviews

"Reed succeeds admirably in recapturing Cantwell as both a complex political thinker and literary figure for the revisionist canon. . . . A timely invitation to serious academic engagement in our contemporary political crisis."
-John Trombold, ALH Online Review