David Leavitt Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

David Leavitt demonstrates that so much of what people assume to be true in human relationships is based on false assumptions, beliefs that they often accept and preserve because they fear peering beneath the surface to confront the reality of the situation. Can you find examples in his work?

A major genre in gay and lesbian literature is the “coming out” story. How does Leavitt address the situation of a gay child’s “coming out” to his or her parents and siblings and then reclaiming and redefining his or her place in the family unit?

The small gestures in life, the little everyday things are so fraught with meaning in Leavitt’s fiction. Can you find examples in his work?

Leavitt very often explores the situation of the outsider. What are some of the ways in which a person can become an outsider? What are the handicaps and the compensations of such a condition?

Many of the problems that one finds in heterosexual relationships are, in Leavitt’s work, mirrored in the committed relationships between gay people. What are some of those problems? Do gay people seek solutions that are different from those explored by straight people?

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

In addition to his short-story collections, David Leavitt writes novels: The Lost Language of Cranes was published in 1986, Equal Affections in 1989, While England Sleeps in 1993 and revised in 1995, The Page Turner in 1998, and Martin Bauman: Or, A Sure Thing in 2000. He edited Pages Passed from Hand to Hand: The Hidden Tradition of Homosexual Literature in English from 1748 to 1914 (1997; with Mark Mitchell).


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

While still a student at Yale University, David Leavitt won the Willets Prize for fiction in 1982 for his story “Territory,” and a subsequent story, “Counting Months,” won the 1984 O. Henry Award. His first published collection of short fiction, Family Dancing, was nominated for best fiction from the National Book Critics Circle in 1984, and in 1985 it was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. Leavitt received National Endowment for the Arts grant in 1985 and a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in 1989; he was also foreign writer-in-residence at the Institute of Catalan Letters in Barcelona, Spain.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bleeth, Kenneth, and Julie Rivkin. “The ‘Imitation David’: Plagiarism, Collaboration, and the Making of a Gay Literary Tradition in David Leavitt’s ‘The Term Paper Artist.’” Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 116 (Winter, 2001): 1349-1363. Analyzes Leavitt’s novella as a response to Steven Spender’s accusations of plagiarism in While England Sleeps.

Bohlen, Celestine. “Writer on the Rebound: This Time, He Takes Liberties with His Own Life.” The New York Times, February 25, 1997, p. C11. Notes that while Leavitt’s book While England Sleeps was pulled from the presses after the English poet Stephen Spender filed a plagiarism suit because of sexual suggestions concerning his autobiography, Leavitt’s story “The Term Paper Artist” features a character called David Leavitt who has gone home to his father’s house to brood over a vengeful English poet’s accusation of plagiarism.

Heller, Dana. Family Plots: The De-Oedipalization of Popular Culture. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995. One chapter analyzes The Lost Language of Cranes in terms of its positioning of female characters within the family framework as it is reimagined in a homosexual context.

Iannone, Carol. “Post Counter-Culture Tristesse.” Commentary 84 (February, 1987): 57-61. Iannone’s article discusses representative themes of Leavitt’s work, including his short stories and his first novel, The Lost Language of Cranes.

Klarer, Mario. “David Leavitt’s ‘Territory’: René Girard’s Homoerotic ‘Trigonometry’ and Julia...

(The entire section is 733 words.)