“Kay Boyle is the most dangerous woman in America!”
S.I. Hiyakawa (1967)
In 1967 at the height of the Vietnam war protests, S.I. Hiyakawa, then president of San Francisco State University, (and later United StatesSenator), publicly fired Kay Boyle for her active role in the student protests. Kay Boyle was 65 years old. DANGEROUS:KAY BOYLE is a feature length documentary profiling the life and work of writer and political activist Kay Boyle.
Kay Boyle has lived a life that most of us can only dream about. She has witnessed almost every major event of the 20th Century, and written about it. She was in Bohemian Paris in the 1920’s, assisted the partisans in their fight against Franco in the 1930’s, a war correspondent in the 1940’s, a blacklisted writer in the 1950’s, and a protester who served jail time in the 1960’s and 70’s. Throughout all of this she found the time to have 3 husbands, and 6 children, (her oldest is the daughter of the “doomed” poet Ernest Walsh). One husband, Laurence Vail, was known as “the last of the bohemians”, and another was a decorated war hero, the Austrian Baron Joseph von Franckenstein. She counted among her close friends, Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, James Baldwin, Joan Baez, Marcel Duchamp, Eldridge Cleaver, and Lillian Hellman. And she had a creative output that would put most of us to shame. It included 18 novels, 60 short stories, 3 children’s books and volumes of poems and essays. She was truly a “liberated”woman long before the term was ever coined. And yet the cost of that “liberation” was very high. The toll on her family and friends was quite dramatic at times. And her children still bear many of the scars of her life.
Throughout the years potential funders for this project have asked “Why Kay Boyle?” The subtext of the question is, we don’t think she’s “major” enough to warrant a documentary; we don’t think she’s famous enough.
It is for this reason I believe her life, as writer, political activist and mother, deserves attention. She is not simply another bohemian with a book. Her political views have made her unpalatable to some. Her need to support her family compelled her to write faster than she might have otherwise. Her life was not the glamorous life of an artist, yet she remains one of our few American women of letters.
That Kay Boyle , who died at the age of 90, was our last living link with the Lost Generation is perhaps only of passing interest. More importantly, she is a role model for women, young and old, struggling artists, and people committed to upholding their own values and beliefs. She has written about and spoken out on the important issues of the century, lead an exciting, if difficult, life, and never lost her focus. The fame and money never came, but her integrity has remained intact.
In an era when the heroes of American culture are athletes, actors and rock stars, all of whom are celebrated chiefly for their staggering salaries, Kay Boyle is as rare a bird as any of those listed on the endangered species list.
If you wish to make a contribution to Dangerous: Kay Boyle you can do so here.