David Slavitt Biography


David Slavitt, the son of Samuel Saul Slavitt and Adele Beatrice Rytman Slavitt, was born in White Plains, New York. He attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, during which time he published his first poem, a parody of John Greenleaf Whittier’s “Snowbound,” in The Providence Journal. In 1952, he entered Yale University, where he studied with Cleanth Brooks, Robert Penn Warren, Richard Sewall, and Paul Weiss. Slavitt was Scholar of the House at Yale and followed William F. Buckley, Jr., as anchor of the Yale debate team. Slavitt graduated magna cum laude in 1956. That year he married Lynn Nita Meyer, with whom he had three children, Evan, Sarah, and Joshua. After divorcing Meyer in 1977, Slavitt married Janet Lee Abraham, a physician, in 1978.

In 1957, Slavitt received an M.A. at Columbia University, writing his master’s thesis on the poetry of Dudley Fitts, who had taught Slavitt at Phillips Academy. Slavitt taught in the English Department of Georgia Technological University in 1957-1958 prior to taking a job at Newsweek. Since then, Slavitt has taught, lectured, given poetry readings, and led writing workshops at such institutions as Yale, Harvard University, Bennington College, Hollins College, the University of Texas, American University, the Folger Shakespeare Library, and the Library of Congress. In 1977, he was a visiting lecturer at the University of Maryland; from 1978 to 1980, he was a visiting associate professor at Temple University. In the years since, he has taught at Columbia and Rutgers, and in 1991, he began his tenure teaching English and classics at the University of Pennsylvania. In 2006, he was a Republican candidate for the Massachusetts state legislature but was defeated in a landslide.


David Rytman Slavitt has had four writing careers: as a poet, as a translator of Latin poetry, as a respected (if not widely read) novelist, and (briefly and pseudonymously) as a best-selling pop trash writer in the 1960’s.{$S[A]Sutton, Henry;Slavitt, David}{$S[A]Lazarus, Henry;Slavitt, David}{$S[A]Benjamin, David;Slavitt, David}

Slavitt was born in 1935, the son of attorney Samuel Saul Slavitt and the former Adele Beatrice Rytman. From childhood, David was told it was his duty to fulfill a failed dream of his father’s: Samuel Slavitt had been admitted to Yale University and spent two happy years there, then was forced to withdraw because his parents could no longer afford the tuition. Samuel persevered, attending New York University at night while working, and became a successful lawyer. He vowed, however, that his son would follow the path he had wanted: prep school at Phillips Andover, undergraduate study at Yale, followed by Harvard Law School.

David Slavitt followed orders, graduating from Andover in 1952 and proceeding to Yale, which he found, to his surprise, he actually enjoyed, despite the aspects of filial duty. He graduated magna cum laude in 1956 but refused to go on to law school and took a job in the personnel department at Reader’s Digest. He stayed there long enough to buy two ship tickets, then, on August 27, 1956, he married Lynn Nita Meyer, and they sailed on the Queen Elizabeth. The trip ended badly, however: After they had been on their honeymoon for only a week, they learned that Lynn’s mother had died, and they had to return home immediately.

Slavitt returned to school, gaining an M.A. in English from Columbia University in 1956 for a dissertation on the poetry of Dudley Fitts. His son, Evan Meyer Slavitt, was born that year. (Slavitt and his wife later had two more children, Sarah Rebecca and Joshua Rytman.) Slavitt accepted a teaching job at Georgia Institute of Technology. He hated his year there, blaming the low level of educational development of his students and the lack of esteem for literary...

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