David Leavitt was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on June 23, 1961, the son of Harold Jack Leavitt and Gloria Rosenthal Leavitt. He grew up in Palo Alto, California, where his father was a professor at the graduate school of business at Stanford University. Being the youngest of three children—his brother, John, and sister, Emily, were nine and ten years older than he—resulted in a self-described precocity, which undoubtedly contributed to his remarkably early literary success. In a 1990 interview he remarked, “I grew up being the child in the room whose presence everyone forgot about. By the time I was twenty, therefore, I had absorbed an enormous amount, but I had experienced almost nothing.”
One of the pivotal events of his childhood was his mother’s long, futile battle with cancer. He explains, “The enormity of that experience cannot be minimalized. It has all gone into my work. Most of what I know about living and dying I learned from my mother.” The knowledge gained from his mother’s illness and death is reflected particularly in the moving portrayal of Louise Cooper’s twenty-year struggle against cancer in Equal Affections (1989) and also in the stories “Counting Months” and “Radiation,” which appear in Family Dancing (1984).
Leavitt left the West Coast to attend Yale University, graduating in 1983. An editor for The New Yorker read one of his stories in a student magazine and asked to see more of his work. He obliged by sending her everything he had written to that point, all of which she rejected. She finally accepted the story “Territory,” which was published in The New Yorker in 1982. This was reputedly the first story with substantial gay subject matter ever published in that magazine, and its appearance caused a stir.
Leavitt’s first book of short stories, Family Dancing, was published when he was only...
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