Controversial Cult author, poet and playwright James Purdy, whose fans ranged from Dorothy Parker to Gore Vidal and who was little known to the general public, died several years ago. Born in Ohio, Purdy said he was "exposed to everything" as a child, when his parents split and he lived alternately with his mother, father and grandmother. Though best known for novels like Malcolm (1959) and The Nephew (1961), Purdy's credits include Cabot Wright Begins, Eustace Chisholm and the Works, as well as numerous short stories, plays, poems and drawings created over the past half-century.
"He was an early evoker of a certain kind of gay experience in America. His stories are damp, cloistered, climate controlled, intentionally uncomfortable environments. His closeted gay men sense that something is wrong with them, rarely that anything is right. Purdy’s is a universe in which women are frequently grotesque. The gay signifiers in Purdy’s stories take you back to another time. His men and boys lisp, or sew, or bake, or have womanly voices, or prize photographs of male relatives emerging from the water in swimming trunks. Their mothers and wives wonder what is wrong with them." NEW YORK TIMES REVIEW
Purdy found himself like a prophet in his own land, largely ignored. In his senior years he abided in the one room apartment in Brooklyn where he had lived over 30 years writing 14 novels there, 3 volumes of poetry, plays and short stories. With most of his work out of print he depended largely on donations from friends. Like his poetry his drawings illuminate a still deeper aspect of his talent. They are spirit drawings, intensely original, archetypal, like cave drawings coming out of the deep recesses of the psyche. Purdy spiraled his pencil in free flowing lines forming innocent looking minimal human figures. Purdy states "I don't know how to draw I just let the pencil go.” Purdy usually doodled in between his literary projects, working with a ink pen and felt tip marker--compulsively filling one sketch book after another.
Gore Vidal in Italy wrote that Purdy was an "authentic American genius."
Dame Edith Sitwell, who helped launch his career called him " The greatest writer produced in America during the past 100 years. "
Katherine Anne Porter wrote of Purdy: "Style as fluid and natural as a man thinking to himself in the dark, yet controlled, coherent, with an innate sense of form, and great powers of concentration."