Purdy, James


Born: July 14, 1914
Died: March 13, 2009
Ohio connection: Birth

James (Amos or Otis) Purdy, son of William and Vera Purdy, was born in July (14 or 17) in 1914 (or 1923) in Fremont, Ohio. He was the middle child of three boys, with another boy having died before James was born. His parents were divorced during his youth, and he lived alternately with his father, mother, and a grandmother, until he left for college. He attended the University of Chicago and the University of Puebla in Mexico. In addition to his career as a writer, he has been a faculty member at Lawrence College (now University) in Appleton, Wisconsin, 1949-53, and a visiting professor at the University of Tulsa in 1977. He also worked as an interpreter in Latin America, France, and Spain; and was a lecturer for the United States Information Agency in Europe in 1982. Purdy had a difficult time getting started in his writing career, as numerous short stories he submitted to a variety of magazines were rejected. His major break came in 1956, when he submitted his first novel, 63: Dream Palace, and a short story collection, Don’t Call Me by My Right Name and Other Stories, to British poet Dame Edith Sitwell, who was very impressed with his works, calling them “masterpieces”. Through her influence, the British publisher Gollancz published the works in a single volume entitled 63: Dream Palace: A Novella and Nine Stories. In 1957, the same works, plus two additional stories, were published in the United States as Color of Darkness: Eleven Stories and a Novella. Thus began a prolific writing career, which has produced novels, short stories, poems, and plays.

Purdy has met with mixed success, both in critical evaluation and popular acceptance. He has often been considered by many to be an “outsider”, as his writings tend to attack “middle-class values” head-on. His works, many of which likely have autobiographical elements, deal with issues such as overbearing authority figures; stressful family relations; struggles with personal identity, including sexual orientation; incest; rape; violence; isolation; and loneliness. The attempt to find purpose in life and meaningful relationships in the midst of struggles is at the core of his writings. However, his depictions of savagery and degradation are often very graphic, and may have kept him from finding more popular and critical acceptance. Some of Purdy`s other writings are MalcolmThe NephewChildren Is AllMr. Evening: A Story and Nine PoemsSunshine Is an Only ChildLessons and ComplaintsProud Flesh: Four Short PlaysIn the Hollow of His HandOut with the Stars; and Dream Palaces: Three Novels. He is also the author of a number of plays, including CracksWedding Finger, and Proud Flesh. His novel Malcolm was adapted as a play by Edward Albee. James Purdy died March 13, 2009, in Englewood, N.J.

National Institute of Arts and Letters grant in literature, 1958; Guggenheim fellow, 1958, 1962; Ford Foundation grant, 1961; On Glory’s Course nominated for P.E.N.-Faulkner Award, 1985; received Rockefeller Foundation grant; received Morton Dauwen Zabel Fiction award from American Academy of Arts and Letters, 1993.