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James Purdy Michael Snyder (Assistant Teaching Professor, Assistant Teaching Professor, University of Oklahoma)

James Purdy By Michael Snyder (Assistant Teaching Professor, Assistant Teaching Professor, University of Oklahoma)


This is the first biography of a gay American novelist, story writer, and playwright who in the early 1960s was considered a major talent and whose work was praised by Jonathan Franzen, Susan Sontag, Langston Hughes, and Tennessee Williams.

James Purdy Summary

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.

James Purdy Reviews

This biography of a cult writer and pioneer of queer fiction tries to reconcile mainstream neglect of his work with the acclaim he received from authors including Tennessee Williams and Susan Sontag....Snyder takes us from Purdy's childhood on an Ohio farm to his final years in New York, in a tantalizing portrait of a man with a talent for alienating colleagues, but also for conveying 'a tragic sense of life couched in dark laughter.' * New Yorker (Briefly Noted) *
For Purdy fans, it [Snyder's biography] offers a welcome trove of new details about a man who was as ornery in life as he was on the page. For everyone else, it offers something even better: a cornucopia of literary gossip. * Jon Michaud, New Yorker *
Meticulously researched.... Snyder deserves applause for having delivered James's important and ramshackle life in so neat of a volume...with enough novel detail that even a reader like me, who knew James for two decades, will find value and pleasure in reading the book....I recommend that you go out and buy [James Purdy:] Life of a Contrarian Writer from your local independent bookstore and devote however many days and hours you need to read it. You won't be wasting your time. * Matthew Stadler, Los Angeles Review of Books *
James Purdy was out of category, out of this world, and hence, often out of print. He was also, without question, one of the most original American writers of the twentieth century. Michael Snyder has performed an essential public service by bringing this to your attention. So please heed it. * Fran Lebowitz *
With his crazy prose and graveside view of life, James Purdy felt to generations of young writers under his bewitching spell like a moral compass, though one that never stopped spinning. In the black-diamond tradition of Denton Welch, Paul Bowles, even the later Herman Melville, he revealed what strange, crooked marvels the imagination might discover if left alone. Thank you, Michael Snyder, for framing, for a new generation, the fitfully forgotten but never forgettable life and fiction of James Purdy. * Brad Gooch, author of Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor *
A beautifully in-depth literary biography of a maddening, inflammatory, eccentric, and very important writer. James Purdy is probably the most important writer you've never heard of, and Michael Snyder makes an impeccable case for why American fiction wouldn't be what it is without him. * Brian Evenson, author of Song for the Unraveling of the World *

About Michael Snyder (Assistant Teaching Professor, Assistant Teaching Professor, University of Oklahoma)

Michael Snyder is the author of John Joseph Mathews: Life of an Osage Writer, which was a finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award in non-fiction, and Our Osage Hills: Toward an Osage Ecology and Tribalography of the Twentieth Century. An expert on gay literature and Native writers, Snyder is an Assistant Teaching Professor at Dodge Family College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Oklahoma.

Additional information

James Purdy: Life of a Contrarian Writer by Michael Snyder (Assistant Teaching Professor, Assistant Teaching Professor, University of Oklahoma)
Oxford University Press Inc
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