American Collections blog

What's on the mind of Team America?


Find out more about our Americas Studies collections on the Americas blog, written by our curatorial team and guest posts from the Eccles Centre writers in residence. Our collections cover both North and South America, as well as the Caribbean. Read more

19 July 2016

Kay Boyle, American in Paris

Among the American expatriate writers who congregated in Paris in the interwar period, Kay Boyle was one of the most prolific. In her long and varied career she published fourteen novels, among them Death of a Man (1936) and Avalanche (1944), several collections of short stories, essays, poetry and translations. 


By New York World-Telegram and the Sun staff photographer: Al Ravenna [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Kay Boyle was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1902. In 1922 she moved to New York, where she became an assistant to Lola Ridge, the editor of Broom magazine. Boyle attended Ridge’s literary gatherings, where guests included William Carlos Williams and Marianne Moore. In June of the same year she married her first husband, the Frenchman Richard Brault, and the couple moved to France in 1923. While in Paris, Boyle met the writer and founder of Contact Editions Robert McAlmon, who became both a friend and a literary mentor.

In 1928 Boyle became acquainted with Harry and Caresse Crosby, founders of the Black Sun Press, one of the most renowned private presses run by American expatriates. The press, which was originally set up with the name Éditions Narcisse, published works by celebrated modernist writers including D H Lawrence, Hemingway and James Joyce. In March 1929 the press published Boyle’s Short Stories in a limited edition of 150 [Cup.510.fa.7.]. Some of the seven stories that form the collection had previously appeared in little magazines of the period, including transition, and all of them were reprinted alongside new work in the later collection Wedding Day and Other Stories (1930).

During the late 1920s and 1930s Boyle worked on several literary translations from French into English, including Joseph Delteil’s novel Don Juan. In 1931 the Black Sun Press published Boyle’s translation of a work by the surrealist writer René Crevel, Mr. Knife and Miss Fork, an extract of Crevel’s novel Babylone. The book was illustrated with nineteen photograms by the German artist Max Ernst. Boyle’s full translation of the novel into English was published in 1985 by North Point Press.





René Crevel, Mr. Knife, Miss Fork (being a fragment of the novel Babylone), trans. by Kay Boyle.  Paris : Black Sun Press, 1931. [C.184.f.4] From top to bottom: cover, detail of the spine, front page and photogram by Max Ernst.


The following year Boyle’s poem ‘A Statement’ was published by a lesser known American private press, The Modern Editions Press, founded by the African American writer Kathleen Tankersley Young . The press produced two series of beautifully crafted short story and poetry pamphlets in 1932 and 1933. Boyle’s poem included a frontispiece by the cubist artist Max Weber. The Modern Editions Press was a short-lived project, as Young died unexpectedly in 1933 during a trip to Mexico.



Kay Boyle. A Statement. New York : Modern Editions Press, 1932. [RF.2016.A.26]           From top to bottom: front cover and frontispiece by Max Weber.


The Library has recently acquired Kay Boyle: A Twentieth Century Life in Letters, a volume that collects Boyle’s correspondence, edited by Sandra Spanier. Boyle’s selected letters, spanning eight decades, bear witness to her central role in several modernist networks and presents a fascinating picture of American expatriate life in Paris and beyond during the twentieth century.


Further reading:  

Boyle, Kay. Kay Boyle: A Twentieth-Century Life in Letters, ed. by Sandra Spanier. Urbana, Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2015. [YD.2016.a.2187]

Ford, Hugh. Published in Paris: American and British Writers, Printers, and Publishers in Paris, 1920-1939. London: Garnstone Press, 1975. [X.981/20326]

McAlmon, Robert and Kay Boyle. Being Geniuses Together 1920-1930. London: Michael Joseph, 1970. [X.989/5601.]

Spanier, Sandra Whipple. Kay Boyle: Artist and Activist. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1986. [YC.2002.a.22409]

18 July 2016

Join us for the Eccles Centre Summer Scholars series

Each year, the Eccles Centre for American Studies supports numerous fellows to conduct research in the Library's North American collections. Over the years, the Centre has supported over 140 Fellows.  As part of this, they run an annual Summer Scholars series which gives Fellows an opportunity to present the findings of their research to a public audience. 

The talks run throughout July and August on Monday and Friday lunchtimes, between 12.30-14.00 and are free for all to attend with no booking required.

Final Eccles Centre Summer Scholars Seminar Series 2016-1


The 2016 series opened with a talk by author Gaiutra Bahadur on her book Coolie Woman.  Working from the starting point of her grandmother's history, Gaiutra spoke about her strategies for overcoming elisions and biases in the archives that document the migration of bonded labourers from the Indian subcontinent to the West Indies.

We've also seen talks from Emily Trafford who examined how Progressive era World's Fairs became key sites of battle over the representation of the Chinese in America, and Hannah-Rose Murray whose work in the digital newspaper archives has uncovered a fascinating and lively history of African American abolitionists in the UK. 

Forthcoming talks in the series cover a broad range of topics, from Appalachian log cabins, Emily Dickinson, the Ladies' Home Journal, US foreign policy and Pakistan's nuclear programme, discourses of domestic hygience in turn of the century periodicals, the great American desert, and many more.

MONDAY 25 JULY, The British Library Conference Centre Cabin-Fever: deconstructing the log-cabin myth of Appalachia Kevan Manwaring explores the iconic ‘log-cabin’, synonymous with the pioneering spirit of North America. Tracing influences back to Scots-Irish and Scandinavian settlers, this illustrated talk will show log-cabins in a new light.

MONDAY 1 AUGUST, The British Library Centre for Conservation The Poetics of Reticence: Emily Dickinson and Her Contemporaries Eve Grubin discusses Emily Dickinson’s poems and their characteristic style against the backdrop of poetry written by other American women during Dickinson’s time.

The Modern Consuming Housewife From feminine vice to essential feminine interest, Rachael Alexander explores changing attitudes to makeup and fashion as seen in, and encouraged by, the Ladies' Home Journal and Canadian Home Journal of the 1920s.

FRIDAY 5 AUGUST, The British Library Centre for Conservation America, Britain, and the 'Islamic Bomb' Malcolm Craig explores the intersections between America, Britain, Pakistan's nuclear programme, and political Islam's rise in the 1970s. Was Pakistan building an 'Islamic bomb' or was it all just a media scare?

MONDAY 8 AUGUST, The British Library Centre for Conservation

‘What Irish Boys Can Do’ Catherine Bateson analyses more than two-dozen American Civil War songs held in the British Library’s U.S. archives, and explores how ballads sung the story of Irish involvement in the conflict. Dreaming of the Orient during the War on Germs Bianca Scoti discusses oriental rugs in middle class homes and discourses on domestic hygiene in American magazines and periodicals at the turn of the twentieth century.

FRIDAY 12 AUGUST, The British Library Centre for Conservation Selling Black History: from Margins to Mainstream James West examines the content of EBONY magazine as a case study into the production, dissemination and marketisation of popular black history during the second half of the twentieth century.

About Trauma - Constructing Medical Narratives of the Vietnam War Nicole Cassie examines how medical Vietnam veterans have engaged with the evolving psychological and social understanding of post-war trauma. It also explores why they often identify as 'resilient' as opposed to 'traumatised,' despite having experienced some of the worst of the war.

MONDAY 15 AUGUST, The British Library Centre for Conservation American Genre Painting and Magazine Illustration In 1910 Leila Mechlin argued that Edmund Tarbell’s paintings controvert the fallacy that “all American genre painters have become illustrators.” John Fagg explores the fluid boundary between these artforms.

FRIDAY 19 AUGUST, The British Library Centre for Conservation How to Blow Up an Oil Rig... Harry Whitehead’s third novel concerns the oil business. Big subject, overwhelming research. So when to go ‘shallow’, when ‘deep’? And just how do you blow…? Reading Don DeLillo in the Archives Rebecca Harding shares how the materials in the British Library’s collections have helped her to see beyond common critical frameworks in her research, a study of the role of the body in the fiction of Don DeLillo.

MONDAY 22 AUGUST, The British Library Centre for Conservation 'Put all to fire and sword' Nicola Martin compares and contrasts the experiences and encounters of various groups of ‘others’, and considers pacification in the eighteenth-century British Empire from Culloden to Quebec.

Britain and the Anglo-American War of 1812 The 1812 Anglo-American War may be the most overlooked conflict in British history. Peter O’Connor explores the domestic impact of the war with a particular focus on the response of radical democrats within Britain who had held up the USA as a model political system since the Revolution.

FRIDAY 26 AUGUST, The British Library Centre for Conservation The Great American Desert Eccles Centre Writer in Residence William Atkins is working on a cultural history and travel book about the world’s deserts, with a particular focus on the US southwest. He discusses his use of the America’s collections in researching the evolution of the US’s perception of its desert regions, from John C. Frémont’s account of his exploration of the Great Basin in 1843, to the development of an American ‘desert aesthetic’ in the seminal writings of John C. Van Dyke, Mary Austin and Edward Abbey in the twentieth century.


Dr Fran Fuentes

Assistant Head - Eccles Centre

05 May 2016

The principle of the process of creation: Adolfo Best Maugard

In Diego Rivera’s 1913 portrait, Adolfo Best Maugard appears as an elegant though somewhat angular figure, a gaunt giant surveying the steel and smog and bluster of Paris. Born in 1891, Fito Best as he was known to his friends came of age as Mexico was emerging for the porfiriato period (1876 – 1911) and was part of a generation of Mexican artists and writers who sought inspiration in both Mexico’s pre-Columbian past and the European avant-gardes in order to fashion a new national identity. Many of his contemporaries – Rivera, Miguel Covarrubias, Rufino Tamayo, José Vasconcelos – have themselves become part of the fabric of Mexican cultural identity, whereas Best Maugard’s work remains decidedly less celebrated.

A method for creative design (1926) is arguably Best Maugard’s most well-known work. In it, the author provides a series of lessons on how to draw utilising instinctive methods and simple forms. Far from being a dry, didactic text, the book is full of imaginative and creative designs through which the student “will dream his work out of his own imagination, and his work will be the only one of its kind on earth.” [1]


Adolfo Best Maugard A method for creative design [Shelfmark: W49/7342]

Best Maugard’s designs bear the influence of both classical and pre-Columbian art, and indeed he was fascinated by the art of indigenous Mexicans, seeing in it shared structures, which he referred to as ‘archetypes’, upon which the artistic will of the individual could impose its own creativity: “the archetype is the essential idea of a certain thing.”[2] Best Maugard’s pedagogical methods became influential in the Mexican education system, but his ideas were also important for his more illustrious peers – in its synthesis of the classical, the pre-Columbian and the avant-garde, Best Maugard’s methodoloy is redolent of the central concerns of many Mexican artists during the first half of the twentieth century, sensing that “in the period in which we are now living, a new form of art expression is to appear.”[3]


Adolfo Best Maugard The simplified human figure: Intuitional expression [Shelfmark: 7864.pp.31.]

According to Best Maugard's concept, all visual represenation can be reduced to a small number of elements which take their inspiration from the forms of nature. In this respect, Best Maugard sees the artist as something like Levi-Strauss's bricoleur, reorganising and recombining these same essential elements in order to arrive at new forms of creation. It is this preoccupation which underpins Best Maugard's most ambitious work El nuevo conocimiento de los tres principios de la naturaleza (1949), in which he outlined his three principles of nature - namely the principle of the process of creation, the principle of the procedure of conversion, and the principle of the formation and gradual transformation of reality. This is a dense text, as might be imagined, in that it attempts to present a "theory of the origin of the creation, conversion, formation, transformation and realization of existence and physical reality."[4]


Adolfo Best Maugard El nuevo conocimiento de los tres principios de la naturaleza [Shelfmark: YF.2016.a.9298]

Best Maugard’s graceful diagrams appear several times in El nuevo conocimiento, providing an illustrative counterpoint to the abstract ideas, and neatly demonstrating the author’s own commitment to the pedagogical system he set out in A method for creative design.


Adolfo Best Maugard El nuevo conocimiento de los tres principios de la naturaleza [Shelfmark: YF.2016.a.9298]

Best Maugard also worked as an assistant to Sergei Eisenstein during the ¡Que viva México! project, and would later go on to direct his own films, including 1937’s La Mancha de Sangre, which was heavily censored by the Mexican authorities. This might lead us to presume that Fito Best was something of a renaissance man, but perhaps it is more accurate to say that he was, in his own words, striving to “find the means for a complete expression of the true spirit of our times”.[5]


[1] A method for creative design p. vi

[2] Ibid. p. 145

[3] Ibid. p. 170

[4] Nuevo conocimiento de los tres principios de la naturaleza p. 13

[5] A method for creative design p.171

References / further reading

Best Maugard, Adolfo, A method for creative design (London: Alfred A. Knopf, 1926) [W49/7342]

Best Maugard, Adolfo, El nuevo conocimiento de los tres principios de la naturaleza (Mexico City: El Instituto de Investigaciones Cientificas de la Exegesis de la Existencia, 1949) [YF.2016.a.9298]

Best Maugard, Adolfo, The simplified human figure: Intuitional expression (London: Putnam, 1937) [7864.pp.31.]

Pomade, Rita From a Mexican perspective: The vision of Adolfo Best Maugard – available here: