Born in Ohio on July 17, 1914, James Purdy consistently avoided personal publicity, arguing that his work was his biography. As a result of this decision, the details of his personal life are often sketchy. One of three sons born to William and Vera (Covick) Purdy, who divorced when he was only a small child, Purdy spent his teenaged years in Chicago. He attended both the University of Chicago and the University of Puebla in Mexico.
Purdy spent a number of years abroad, particularly as an interpreter in Latin America, Spain, and France. In addition to his linguistic work, he tried teaching, first as a faculty member at Lawrence University in Wisconsin from 1949 to 1953, then as a lecturer for the United States Information Agency in Europe in 1982, and finally as an instructor of fiction writing at New York University in the 1980’s.
Still, most of Purdy’s life was devoted to his writing. At the beginning of his career, he could not attract the attention of editors and publishers, and he had his first two books privately published. Purdy sent copies of these two books to writers that he admired, and one in particular, the English poet Dame Edith Sitwell, helped him acquire a European publisher, a development that led eventually to an American publishing contract.
From that moment, his output was prolific. In fact, Purdy published more than fifty volumes of fiction, poetry, and drama. Although his works did not garner him a popular audience, he continued to hone his craft. Purdy lived and worked in Brooklyn Heights, New York until his death at age 94 on March 13, 2009.