Robert Cantwell

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Robert Cantwell
Born Robert Emmett Cantwell
January 31, 1908
Little Falls (now Vader), Washington
Died December 8, 1978(1978-12-08) (aged 70)
New York City
Notable work The Land of Plenty (1934)
Spouse(s) Mary Elizabeth Chambers
Children Joan McNiece Cantwell, Betsy Ann Cantwell, and Mary Elizabeth Emmett Cantwell
Parent(s) Charles James Cantwell, Nina Adelia Hanson

Robert Emmett Cantwell (January 31, 1908 – December 8, 1978) was a novelist and critic. His most notable work, The Land of Plenty, focuses on a lumber mill in a thinly disguised version of his hometown in Washington State.



Cantwell was born in Little Falls (now Vader), Washington. His parents were Charles James Cantwell, an engineer, and Nina Adelia Hanson.[1]


Cantwell attended the University of Washington (1924−1925) and then spent the next four years working at Harbor Plywood Co., (1925−1929) in Hoquiam, Washington.[1]


In 1929, after selling a short story to The American Caravan, he moved to New York City, where he started work on his first novel, Laugh and Lie Down (1931). From 1930 to 1935 he wrote a second novel, The Land of Plenty (1934) and began work on a biography of Bostonian E. A. Filene, in collaboration with Lincoln Steffens. This work was never completed.[1]

Cantwell then worked on the editorial staffs of Time (1935−1936) and Fortune (1937), then became associate editor of Time (1938−1945).[1]

Cantwell spent the next three years researching and writing the biography, Nathaniel Hawthorne: The American Years (1948).[1]

From 1949 to 1954 he worked as the literary editor of Newsweek. In 1954, he took up freelancing again until 1956 when he began an association with Sports Illustrated.[1] He worked for the magazine from 1956 until his death in 1978. He worked on a number of articles, three of which became books: Alexander Wilson: Naturalist and Pioneer (1961), The Real McCoy (1971), and The Hidden Northwest (1972). Subjects of his articles include chess, ornithology, sports in the movies and literary figures in sports.[1]

Personal life and death[edit]

Cantwell married Mary Elizabeth Chambers, a teacher, on February 2, 1931. They had three children: Joan[2] McNiece (Mrs. George Stolz, Jr.), Betsy Ann (Mrs. Walter Pusey III), and Mary Elizabeth Emmett (Mrs. Lars-Erik Nelson).[1]

He died in 1978, aged 70, in New York City.[1]

In his obituary, Sports Illustrated wrote:

Bob Cantwell was with us during the last 22 years of his life, in which he wrote dozens of memorable articles, among them a portrayal of Cecil Smith, the Texas cowboy who became perhaps the greatest polo player the world has ever seen. When Cantwell wrote of Banjo Paterson, the virtually unknown author of Waltzing Matilda, he made sure that a colorful footnote to history was not going to be lost, at least not to SI readers. As he once said, "History is a natural resource, just as much as fossil fuel. It's what is there. We should not ignore it." Bob Cantwell was a unique intellectual resource and a friend. We shall miss him.[3]


Cantwell's correspondence includes: James T. Farrell, John Dos Passos, Van Wyck Brooks, Erskine Caldwell, Malcolm Cowley, Henry Luce, Clare Luce Booth, Marianne Moore, T. S. Matthews, and Edmund Wilson.

Ernest Hemingway considered Cantwell "his best bet" in American fiction.[4]

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote of Cantwell's first short story, "Hanging by My Thumbs": "Mark it well, for my guess is that he's learned a better lesson from Proust than Thornton Wilder did and has a destiny of no mean star."[3]

Cantwell helped get Whittaker Chambers a job at TIME magazine, as Chambers recounted in his memoirs:

The morning mail brought a letter from my friend, Robert Cantwell, the author of Laugh and Lie Down, and later, the biographer of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Cantwell was then one of the editors of Time magazine... But his letter... urged me to go to New York at once. As sometimes happens at Time, several jobs were suddenly open. Cantwell thought that I might get one of them... Cantwell thought I should try for a book reviewer's job. I wrote several trial reviews. A few days later, Time hired me.[5]

Chambers had used the alias "Lloyd Cantwell" during his time in the Soviet underground, including the formation of the American Feature Writers Syndicate with comrade John Loomis Sherman (using the alias Charles Francis Chase) and literary agent Maxim Lieber.[5]


Original Works:

  • Laugh and Lie Down (1931)
  • Land of Plenty (1934, 1971)
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne: The American Years (1948)
  • American Men of Letters, illustrated by Gerald McCann (1956)
  • Alexander Wilson: Naturalist and Pioneer: A Biography, decorated by Robert Ball (1961)
  • Real McCoy: The Life and Times of Norman Selby (1971)
  • Hidden Northwest (1972)

Editorial Works:

Unfinished Works:

  • Biography of E. A. Filene with Lincoln Steffens (1934)
  • Autobiography of James B. McNamara, convicted labor dynamiter
  • Small Boston, projected novel from the early 1970s
  • The FBI, privacy, and Cantwell’s involvement with politics and Whittaker Chambers
  • Four Novelists on William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, James T. Farrell and Erskine Caldwell[1]

Further reading[edit]

  • Lewis, Merrill (1985). Robert Cantwell. Boise State University. ISBN 0-88430-044-7
  • Seyersted, Per (2004). Robert Cantwell: An American 1930s Radical Writer and His Apostasy. Novus Press. ISBN 82-7099-397-2
  • "Literary Editor And Writer at 2 Magazines". Washington Post. 1978-12-10. p. B12. 


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Agapito, Aggie; Kihunrwa, Aika-Maria (c. 2004). "Guide to the Robert Cantwell Papers 1926−1978". NWDA (Northwest Digital Archives). Retrieved May 24, 2010. 
  2. ^ "Robert E. Cantwell, 70, A Journalist and Author Robert Emmett Cantwell". new york New York Time. 10 December 1978. p. 44. Retrieved 2014-09-30. (subscription required (help)). 
  3. ^ a b Sutton, Kelso F. (18 December 1978). "Letter From The Publisher". Sports Illustrated. 
  4. ^ Baker, ed., Carlos (1981). Ernest Hemingway, Selected Letters, 1917−1961. Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 709. ISBN 0-684-16765-4. 
  5. ^ a b Chambers, Whittaker (1952). Witness. New York: Random House. pp. 85–86 (Robert Cantwell), 365–366 (Lloyd Cantwell). 

External links[edit]