James Purdy: Life of a Contrarian Writer by Michael Snyder (Assistant Teaching Professor, Assistant Teaching Professor, University of Oklahoma)
A definitive biography of a twentieth century gay author whose work has recently been rediscovered and enjoys a cult following. One of the most iconoclastic twentieth-century American novelists, James Purdy penned original and sometimes shocking works about those on the margins of American society, exploring small towns, urban life, failure, alienation, sexuality, and familial relations. In his own life, Purdy was a compelling if eccentric figure, declared an authentic American genius by Gore Vidal. James Purdy: Life of a Contrarian Writer is the first full-length biography of the gay American novelist, story writer, playwright, and poet. Michael Snyder has spent over a decade plumbing the mysteries of Purdy's career and personal life, including interviews with those who knew him. From his roots in northwestern Ohio, Purdy moved to the world of Bohemian artists and jazz musicians in Chicago in the late 1930s and 1940s, travelled in Spain, studied in Mexico, enlisted in the Army Air Corps, worked for the Federal Security Agency, and taught in Cuba and at a Wisconsin college for nearly a decade. All the while, he aspired to become a writer, but struggled to publish. Only when friends financed the private printing of his work did he find a champion in poet Dame Edith Sitwell, who helped get him published in England, which led to publication in the United States. After moving to New York in 1957, he spent nearly fifty years writing in Brooklyn Heights. Although Purdy's critical reputation peaked in the 1960s and he never enjoyed a bestseller, his often queer and edgy content found a diverse following that included Tennessee Williams, Langston Hughes, William Carlos Williams, Dorothy Parker, Edward Albee, Jonathan Franzen, John Waters, and many LGBTQ readers. Difficult and often contrarian, Purdy sometimes hampered his own career as he sought recognition from a conservative, cliquey New York publishing world. Conveying the potency and influence of Purdy's fierce artistic integrity, vision, and self-definition as a truth-teller, this groundbreaking literary biography recovers the life of a highly talented writer with a persistent cult following.