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Short biography
Nancy Cunard was the only child and heiress of Sir Bache Cunard of the British shipping business and his American wife Emerald, née Maud Alice Burke, a society hostess. She had a privileged but mostly unhappy childhood in an English castle. Her debut in London society coincided with the start of World War I in 1914. Nancy and her friend Iris Tree helped put together the so-called "Corrupt Coterie," a fashionable set of aristocrats, intellectuals, and artists, some of whom became her lovers, including Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot. In 1920, following a brief, impetuous marriage to a wounded veteran, she moved to Paris, joined the avant-garde community, and published her poetry. She became a patron, model, and muse to several artists including Brancusi, Huxley, and Neruda. In 1928, she founded the Hours Press, a small publishing house that issued books by Aragon, Pound, and Beckett. After she fell in love with Henry Crowder, an African-American jazz pianist, she became an activist for racial and social justice, and edited and published Negro (1934), an anthology of black history and culture for which she wrote the preface. By the mid-1930s, she was writing for newspapers such as The Manchester Guardian and went to Spain to cover the Civil War there. In her dispatches, she denounced Franco’s brutality and demanded help for his victims. In 1939, in fragile health, she returned to Paris. During World War II, she was involved as a translator with a French Resistance group. In 1960, after some drunken scuffles with London authorities, she was declared insane and committed to a mental hospital. After her discharge, she died during an extended alcoholic binge.
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