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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The characters populating Leavitt’s fiction, whether gay or straight, strive to overcome a sense of separateness, a sense of being on the outside of life looking in, but they often succeed only briefly in making meaningful connections with the rest of the human race. At best, they come to terms with the fact that isolation is part of the human condition rather than a lonely vigil kept only by themselves.
David Leavitt was born June 23, 1961, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His father, Harold Jack, was a professor, and his mother, Gloria Leavitt, a housewife who fought a battle with cancer for many years. This struggle is reflected in many of Leavitt’s stories and particularly in one novel, Equal Affections, which deals with cancer and its impact on family life.
The young Leavitt grew up in Palo Alto, California, and some elements of his adolescence are found in a 1985 Esquire magazine article, “The New Lost Generation,” where Leavitt discusses and compares the late 1960’s and early 1970’s generation of youth to his own of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Leavitt attended Yale University, where he published, at age twenty-one and while still a student, his first short story in The New Yorker. He received his B.A. from Yale University in 1983 and worked for a time as a reader and editorial assistant at Viking Penguin in New York, where he was, he said in interviews, a reader of the “slush” manuscripts.
Leavitt’s first collection of short fiction was published by Alfred A. Knopf and received considerable literary acclaim in 1984. That volume, Family Dancing, did, however, generate some negative criticism for its limited choice of themes. Nevertheless, Leavitt was soon considered to be among the more promising group of young American writers first appearing in the 1980’s. In addition to two...
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