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James Gould Cozzens

James Gould Cozzens was the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Guard of Honor, and By Love Possessed.

Biographical fast facts

Date, time and place of birth: August 19, 1903, at 8:15 p.m., Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A.

Date, place and cause of death: August 9, 1978, Martin Memorial Hospital, Stuart, Florida, U.S.A. (Pneumonia/Cancer of the spine)

Spouse: Sylvia Bernice Baumgarten (m. December 31, 1927 - January 30, 1978) (her death)
Wedding took place at City Hall in New York City, New York, U.S.A.

Father: Henry William Cozzens, Jr. (b. 1866 - d. January 24, 1920)
Mother: Mary Bertha Wood Cozzens (b. Nova Scotia, Canada, 1875 - d. April 1953, of cancer)

Remains: Cremated

Biography - Credits

James Gould Cozzens graduated from Kent School, Kent, Connecticut, in 1922, and entered Harvard University. April 11th, 1924, while still attending Harvard, he published his first novel, Confusion. It was not well received, and he dropped out of Harvard shortly thereafter. That same year, he moved to New Brunswick, Canada, where he wrote his next novel, Michael Scarlett. Published in 1925, its reception was no better than his first. He then relocated to Cuba (1925-26), where he taught and began to write short stories. He subsequently went to France with his mother and worked as a tutor in Europe until his return to the U.S. in the spring of 1927. As one might expect, his experiences in Cuba and Europe provided fodder for later stories and novels.

His December 31st, 1927 marriage to Sylvia Bernice Baumgarten, a literary agent, was a pivotal moment for Cozzens. She would successfully guide his literary career for the rest of her life. Besides his career as a novelist, Cozzens worked as a librarian at the New York Athletic Club (1927), held a position at M. P. Gould, a New York City advertising agency (March - April 1928), spent 10 months in 1938 as an associate editor and writer for Fortune magazine, and served in the U.S. Army Air Forces (1942-45), attaining the rank of major before his discharge. Cozzens led a relatively reclusive life, preferring to spend his time gardening and writing in solitude at his 125-acre Carr's Farm (later Carrs Farm, without the apostrophe) on Goat Hill Road, near Lambertville, New Jersey, purchased in 1933. In 1958, he purchased "Shadowbrook" on Oblong Road, near Williamstown, Massachusetts, in the Berkshires. Following their move to Massachusetts, he spent six years (1960-66) on the Harvard Overseers' Visiting Committee for the English Department.

Cozzens' first four novels garnered little public or critical recognition, and negligible money. His first real success came with the publication of S.S. San Pedro in 1931, which was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection. The Last Adam (1933), The Just and the Unjust (1942), and By Love Possessed (1957), were likewise Book-of-the-Month Club selections. His time in the service during World War II provided the material for his Pulitzer Prize-winning Guard of Honor (1948). Other awards Cozzens received include the O. Henry Award in 1931 for his short story A Farewell to Cuba. He received that same award again in 1936 for Total Stranger, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters' William Dean Howells Medal, in 1960, for By Love Possessed.

Between 1924 and 1968, he would write a total of 14 novels and numerous short stories, yet he never achieved the level of overwhelming popular success of his literary contemporaries Hemingway, Faulkner or Steinbeck. Cozzens actually had blunt criticisms for many celebrated writers, calling Hemingway "a great big bleeding heart," Sinclair Lewis a "slovenly writer" and said of John Steinbeck, "I can't read ten pages of Steinbeck without throwing up."

While he was often praised for his seriousness and depth as a novelist, over time, his work moved from being intellectually challenging, to increasingly convoluted in nature.

His own comments over the years, perhaps provide the best picture of the man. He once described himself as a "natural-born snob" and candidly admitted, "I'm a hermit and I have no friends" adding, "My social preference is to be left alone, and people have always seemed willing, even eager, to gratify my inclination." As the years went on, and medical problems increased for both himself and his wife, he found little reason to continue living, and his interest in suicide moved to the forefront of his thoughts. A little more than three years before his death, he wrote in one of his detailed journals, "Since there's nothing here I enjoy, want, feel interest in, or can look forward to but more silly annoyances and unbecoming behavior on my part what the hell is that 12 gauge pump gun in my closet for if not to blow the top of my head and make these odds at even. Real trouble: those who have wisely done it I find I rather despise." In the end, it was pneumonia and complications from cancer of the spine that ended his life, not suicide.

Selected writing credits:
Works by the author include Confusion (1924), Michael Scarlett (1925), Cock Pit (1928), The Son of Perdition (1929), S.S. San Pedro (1931), The Last Adam (1933), Castaway (1934), Men and Brethren (1936), Ask Me Tomorrow (1940), The Just and the Unjust (1942), Guard of Honor (1948), By Love Possessed (1957), Morning Noon and Night (1968), and a volume of short stories entitled Children and Others (1964).

Cozzens contributed a variety of short stories, poems, and essays to periodicals, such as the Saturday Evening Post, Collier's, Atlantic, Pictorial Review, Town & Country, Redbook, Kent Quarterly, Harvard Advocate, and Woman's Home Companion.


The most in-depth of more than three dozen sources consulted in preparing this profile, was the 1983 biography, James Gould Cozzens: A Life Apart, by Matthew J. Bruccoli.

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