Gerry Howard Signs Mary McCarthy-Biographer Frances Kiernan For Book on Elizabeth Hardwick and Caroline Blackwood

Frances Kiernan, biographer of Brooke Astor and Mary McCarthy, is writing her next book about Elizabeth Hardwick, Lady Caroline Blackwood, and their respective marriages to the poet Robert Lowell. 

Gerry Howard, who worked with Ms. Kiernan on her McCarthy biography when he was at Norton, will edit the book, which is tentatively titled The Two Mrs. Lowells. The book will be published through the Nan A. Talese imprint of Knopf Doubleday; the deal was brokered by the Wylie Agency. 

Hardwick, the literary critic, novelist, and co-founder of The New York Review of Books, was married to Lowell from 1949 until 1970, at which point Lowell met Blackwood—a novelist in her own right—while on a visiting professorship at Oxford. Lowell and Blackwood were married in 1972 and broke up in 1977, when Lowell resolved to reconcile with Hardwick only to die of a heart attack while in a taxi cab on his way to her apartment on the Upper West Side. 

“These are amazingly magnetic characters,” Mr. Howard said. “There’s this kind of haute ruined glamour to their lives that was very attractive, in a scary way.” He added: “It’s pretty yeasty stuff! Very Vanity Fair-ish. And Fran is the woman to bring back the goods.” 

According to Mr. Howard, Ms. Kiernan, formerly a fiction editor at The New Yorker, has already completed some of her research, having discussed Hardwick, Blackwood, and Lowell with a number of people who knew them during the course of her research for the McCarthy book. 

“She knows her away around literary New York like nobody’s business,” Mr. Howard said. 

Blackwood died of cancer in 1996 at the age of 64, and was the subject of a 2001 biography written by Nancy Schoenberger and published by De Capo Press. Hardwick died in 2006 at 91.