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James Purdy


James Purdy is one of those writers whose reputation seemed to be riding high in the 1960s and 1970s but has slowly faded away. This is unfortunate, as he is a very fine writer and has been praised by writers and critics as diverse as Edith Sitwell and Gore Vidal. I am not sure why his reputation has faded away but I can hazard a guess. Firstly, much of his writing has gay themes and the Great American Public is not really ready for homosexuality in its literature or, indeed, anywhere else. Secondly, his novels are far from conventional. There is no easy story larded with tasteful (or even, if you are witty enough, distasteful) heterosex. His characters are not the ones we meet at work or that we would wish our offspring to marry (or marry ourselves), even those that are of the marrying kind. In short, Purdy requires you to think when you read his novels. He uses a Gothic style which does not always sit well with readers. His endings are not always tidy and certainly not always happy. In short, he is not usual. Which is part of what makes him a very interesting and rewarding writer.

James Purdy was born in 1923 in Fremont Ohio. Some sites say he was born in Hicksville, over ninety miles to the West of Fremont. Purdy was circumspect about his birthplace. Purdy attended the University of Chicago and then the University of Puebla in Mexico. His first two books were published by subsidy publishers. He sent them to various writers and critic and received a positive response from Edith Sitwell, who arranged to have them published in England, where they received some success. His subsequent books were published in the United States and though they did receive critical acclaim they were also condemned by what Purdy called the stuffy New York establishment. Indeed, they seemed to have had more success in Europe than in the United States. He continued to write novels, short stories, poetry and plays till his death in 2009.

Other links

James Purdy
James Purdy
His papers (with bio)
James Purdy Explained
James Purdy: The Novelist as Outlaw
Who is James Purdy? Edward Albee Tells
‘I’m not a gay writer, I’m a monster’: did James Purdy foresee Trump’s America?
James Purdy Will Never Be Famous Again
James Purdy’s Outrages Against the Establishment


1956 Don’t Call Me by My Right Name and Other Stories (stories)
1956 63: Dream Palace (stories)
1957 Color of Darkness (stories)
1959 Malcolm (novel)
1960 The Nephew (novel)
1961 Children Is All (stories)
1964 Cabot Wright Begins (novel)
1967 An Oyster is a Wealthy Beast (fiction/poetry)
1967 Eustace Chisholm and the Works (novel)
1968 Mr. Evening: A Story and Nine Poems
1970 Jeremy’s Version (novel)
1970 On the Rebound: A Story and Nine Poems
1971 The Running Sun (poetry)
1972 I Am Elijah Thrush (novel)
1973 Sunshine is an Only Child (poetry)
1974 The House of the Solitary Maggot (novel)
1974 Wedding Finger (drama)
1975 In a Shallow Grave (novel)
1976 Lessons and Complaints (poetry)
1977 A Day after the Fair: A Collection of Plays and Stories
1978 Narrow Rooms (novel)
1979 Sleep Tight (poetry)
1980 Proud Flesh (drama)
1981 Scrap of Paper and The Berrypicker (drama)
1981 Mourners Below (novel)
1984 On Glory’s Course (novel)
1986 In the Hollow of His Hand (novel)
1986 The Brooklyn Branding Parlors (poetry)
1987 The Candles of Your Eyes and Thirteen Other Stories (stories)
1989 Garments the Living Wear (fiction)
1990 Collected Poems (novel)
1992 Out with the Stars (novel)
1992 In the Night Of Time and Four Other Plays
1997 Gertrude of Stony Island Avenue (novel)
1999 Brawith: A Story
2000 Moe’s Villa and Other Stories (stories)
2004 The Blue House: Forbidden Poems
2009 James Purdy: Selected Plays
2013 The Complete Short Stories of James Purdy