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Name Foley, Martha
Born / Died 1897–1977

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Called “a powerful force in the development” of the American short story by The New York Times, Martha Foley (1897 – 1977) spent nearly forty years working in that literary métier. With her then-husband Whit Burnett, she co-founded Story magazine in 1931 and a decade later, she assumed editorship of the annual volume The Best American Short Stories, published by Houghton Mifflin.

Born on March 21, 1897 in Boston, Massachusetts, she was the daughter of physician Walter Foley and his schoolteacher wife, the former Millicent McCarty. During her early childhood, Foley and her older half-brother Francis were sent to live with another family when her own parents became ill. She later recalled the time as a particularly lonely and difficult, as the new family, in her words, “either did not like or did not understand children.” The only thing that helped her to cope was her parents’ library.

Foley attended Boston Girls’ Latin School and began her own literary career while a student, publishing her first short story at age eleven. Although she later attended Boston University, she dropped out and never completed her degree. Later in life, though, she taught at various colleges and universities, including Columbia University and the University of Missouri.

the 1920s and 30s, Foley worked as a journalist and foreign correspondent for a number of newspapers ranging from the Boston Herald to Los Angeles' Illustrated Daily News to New York's Daily News to the Paris Herald . While living in San Francisco in 1925, she met author and editor Whit Burnett and they soon became a couple, making homes in New York City and Paris. In 1930, the couple married in Vienna, Austria. The following year, they co-founded the periodical Story, at the time “the only magazine devoted to the short story.” Over the next decade, they moved from Vienna to Majorca to Manhattan, all the while editing and publishing the magazine that published work by an amazing array of literary figures that included William Saroyan, John Cheever, Norman Mailer, James T. Farrell, Carson McCullers and Tess Slesinger. Simultaneously, Foley continued her own literary career, turning out fiction and short stories. She and her husband also co-founded The Story Press which published anthologies drawn for the magazine’s archives.

1941, Foley left both the magazine and her husband (they divorced in 1942) when she was tapped to replace the late Edward O’Brien as editor of the annual anthology, The Best American Short Stories, beginning with the 1942 edition. For the next 16 years, she employed a similar strategy to when she was editing Story . Foley included established writers alongside those who had yet to make a mark, and she drew on a wide array of publications including popular magazines with large circulations (like The New Yorker ) and “little” magazines. Among the many authors whose work she championed over the years were Bernard Malamud, Flannery O’Connor, Ray Bradbury, Eudora Welty and Vladimir Nabokov.

In 1958, her son, David Burnett, joined her as co-editor, remaining until his death in 1971. Under her aegis, there were also three special anthologies: The Best of the Best American Short Stories 1915 to 1950 (1952); Fifty Best American Short Stories, 1915-1965 (1965); and 200 Years of Great American Short Stories (1975).

Between 1945 and 1966, when an accident forced her to retire from teaching, Foley held popular classes in the short story at a variety of colleges and universities. Following her son’s death, she moved to Northampton, Massachusetts in 1973 where she continued her editing as well as concentrated on her own writing, including the posthumously published memoir, The Story of Story Magazine (Norton, 1980).

Martha Foley died on September 5, 1977 of heart disease in Northampton, Massachusetts at the age of 80.

Library of Congress Subject Headings Authors, American.
Women authors, American.
Women editors.
Women journalists.
Short stories.
American literature -- 20th century.

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