David Leavitt Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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...

(The entire section is 792 words.)

David Leavitt Biography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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 Biography

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

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...

(The entire section is 407 words.)

David Leavitt Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

David Leavitt (LEHV-iht) is thought by some critics to be one of the most promising writers of the so-called Yuppie generation of the 1980’s. The son of Harold J. Leavitt, a professor, and Gloria Rosenthal, a housewife, he grew up in Palo Alto, California. He attended Yale University, where he studied creative writing under such editors and writers as John Hollander, Gordon Lish, John Hersey, and Michael Malone. After graduation in 1983 he worked for a year as a reader and an editorial assistant for Viking-Penguin Press in New York, before devoting himself to his writing full-time. Leavitt published his first short story in The New Yorker when he was twenty-one years old and still a student at Yale University. The story, “Territory,” which is included in his first book, Family Dancing, created a minor controversy among readers of the magazine because of its focus on homosexuality. The story deals with a young man who brings his homosexual lover home for a vacation. Although the boy’s mother, still a peace worker in the spirit of the 1960’s, accepts his homosexuality intellectually, she has not yet accepted it emotionally. The conflicts arise over such matters as the two men’s sleeping together and showing affection in public. While some conservative readers were dismayed by the story’s theme, more liberal readers praised Leavitt as a spokesperson for a previously suppressed group.

The story is characteristic of one of Leavitt’s principal thematic concerns: the varieties of love and sexual attraction, most often revealed through the crucible of the family. In his first novel, The Lost Language of Cranes, the central characters are three family members: a husband who has unhappily concealed his homosexuality throughout the twenty-seven years of his marriage, a gay son who has embarked on his first serious relationship, and a wife and mother who is unprepared and unwilling to face the men’s imminent revelations. While this novel employs one of Leavitt’s basic themes, his short story “Counting Months,” which won an O. Henry prize in 1984, is typical of Leavitt’s technique. Leavitt has admitted in an interview that...

(The entire section is 889 words.)