Boyle, Kay

Born: February 19, 1902
Died: December 27, 1992

Ohio connection: Former Resident


Kay Boyle was a versatile writer, educator and political activist.  She was twice awarded Guggenheim fellowships and won the O. Henry Award for best short story of the year (“The White Horses of Vienna”) in 1935 and again (“Defeat”) in 1941.  Boyle has held a number of honorary degrees, and occupied the Henry James chair of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.  In 1981, she was awarded a Senior Fellowship for Literature from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Boyle was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, on February 19, 1902, the daughter of Howard Peterson Boyle and Katherine Evans Boyle.  Boyle’s mother was active in the radical labor movement and other political causes, and instilled in her daughter social, political, and artistic values that permeated her work.  Her formal schooling consisted of a few terms at two private girls’ schools, a short time studying the violin at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, and two years studying architecture at the Ohio Mechanics Institute in Cincinnati, Ohio, where the family moved in 1916.  Travel took the place of conventional education for Boyle, and it became a constant in her life as she moved from one place to another.  At various points of her life, she lived in France, England, Austria, Germany, and Spain.

Boyle worked in her father’s Cincinnati office for a short while, and then moved to New York, where she found a job working on Broom, one of the several avant-garde literary publications with which she was to become associated in America and Europe.  In 1922, Boyle married Robert Brault, a Frenchman, and moved to Paris, where she started her second novel, Plagued by the Nightengale.  In this novel and in most of her novels and short fiction, Boyle drew heavily upon people and events in her own life.

The O. Henry Award, 1935 for “The White Horses of Vienna” and again in 1941 for “Defeat.”