Robert Myron Coates was born in 1897 in New Haven, Connecticut. As a member of The Lost Generation, Coates spent much of the 1920s in Europe, where he wrote his first novel, The Eater of Darkness. While living in Paris, Coates brushed shoulders with other literary giants, including Malcolm Cowley, Ford Madox Ford, and Ernest Hemingway (with whom he boxed as a sparring partner). It was his special relationship with Gertrude Stein, however, that helped his first novel find international success.
While abroad, Coates developed his celebrated experimental style with short stories and sketches he published in the expatriate magazines Gargoyle, Broom, and Secession. After the publication of The Eater of Darkness, however, he returned to the United States and began work for the newly established New Yorker magazine, for which he worked as a contributor and an art critic for more than 40 years. It is from these contributions that he is credited with coining the term “abstract expressionism” in reference to the works of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Koonig.
Prior to his retirement in 1967, Coates published four more novels, including Wisteria Cottage and Yesterday’s Burdens, as well as countless works of short stories and nonfiction. Known early in his career for experimental fiction, Coates is considered by many as a pioneer of contemporary literary science fiction, and to this day, his novel, The Eater of Darkness, remains a cult classic among fans of dadaist and early twentieth century science fiction. His art criticism for The New Yorker was definitional and influential for three decades in the post World War II modernist era.
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