Floyd Dell (1887-1969) was one of the central figures of the Chicago literary renaissance and Greenwich Village bohemianism of the early twentieth century. He was a pivotal American writer whose advocacy of feminism, socialism, psychoanalysis, and progressive education shocked the American bourgeoisie. His novels, plays, essays, and bohemian life came to epitomize the Greenwich Village avant-garde of the 1910's and 1920's. Managing editor of radical magazine the Masses, Dell was twice put on trial for publishing subversive literature. Dell has been called "one of the most flamboyant plant, versatile and influential American men of letters of the first third of the Twentieth Century. As both editor and critic, Dell's influence is alive in the work of many major American writers.
Floyd Dell was born in Barry, Illinois on July 28, 1997. He lived in Quincy, Illinois for a large portion of his childhood. Encouraged by his mother, a former school teacher, Dell became a voracious reader, spending much of his time at Quincy's local library. At age 16, he moved with his family to Davenport, Iowa, which was then a liberal and cosmopolitan port city and center of trade with a thriving literary and intellectual scene. In Davenport, Dell left high school to work in a candy factory--a job for which he had no aptitude at all. But as luck would have it, when he lost the factory job, he was hired by a local newspaper and worked his way into a job as a reporter. He was also an active socialist, and associated with writers like playwright and novelist, George Cram Cook, journalist Susan Glaspell and poet Arthur Davison Ficke.
In 1908, Dell moved left Davenport for Chicago where he became editor and book reviewer for the Chicago Evening Post's nationally distributed 'Friday Literary Review," the "leading organ off literary modernism in America at the time." Dell used his position as editor to introduce many Americans to modernist literature and promote the work of many Chicago writers, including Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, and Carl Sandburg.
Relocating to New York City in 1913, Dell became a leader of the pre-war bohemian community in Greenwich Village and managing editor of Max Eastman's radical magazine the Masses. Following the passing of the Espionage Act of 1917, the government officially labeled the magazine "treasonable material" in August of that year and issued charges against its staff for "unlawfully and willfully . . . obstructing the recruiting and enlistment of the United States' military. The "conspirators" faced fines up to 10,000 dollars and twenty years improvement. After deliberating for three days, the jury was unable to come to a unanimous decision. The jurors seeking to convict the defendants blamed one juror for being unable to conform to the majority opinion, as he was also a socialist. Not only did the other eleven jurors demand the prosecutor to levy charges against the lone juror, but they attempted to drag the socialist supporter out into the street and Lynch him. The Judge, given the uproar, declared a mistrial. A second trial also resulted in a deadlocked jury.
Dell was on the staff of the Liberator, which succeeded The Masses, from 1918 to 1924. His first novel, the largely autobiographical Moon-Calf, appeared in 1920, to considerable acclaim and financial. Between 1920 and 1933, Dell published eleven novels, a book of short stories and poems, Love in Greenwich Village (1926),a biography of Upton Sinclair (1927), several books of non-fiction, including "Were You Ever a Child?" on childrearing and "Love in the Machine Age" (1930) and an autobiography "Homecoming" (1933). He also wrote a play "Little Accident" which was successfully produced in 1928. Dell joined the Federal Writers Project and moved to Washington, D.C. in the late 1930s as an official for the project. Hew continued in government work after the project ended, until his retirement in 1947.