James Amos Purdy’s considerable body of work—including novels, short fiction, poetry, and plays—is remarkable for several consistent characteristics: an unrelentingly grim depiction of the American experience, a reliance on the macabre and the grotesque, an unconstrained exploration of sexuality, and an idiosyncratic stylistic fusing of overwrought eloquence and automatic banality. For his writing, which has elicited critical comparisons with Flannery O’Connor, Nathanael West, and John Hawkes, Purdy won recognition from the National Institute of Arts and Letters and the Guggenheim Foundation. He did not court public recognition and, in fact, remained circumspect about the details of his personal history.
His parents were divorced when he was eleven, and after that he lived for various periods with his father, his mother, and his grandmother in several Ohio towns. When he was sixteen years old he escaped his family situation and Ohio by moving to Chicago, where he experienced a series of nightmarish misadventures that later served as the basis for many of the incidents in his fiction; in fact, he said that his fiction conveys his life’s experiences more accurately than any biography might describe them. Eventually Purdy entered the army, and he later attended the University of Chicago, the University of Madrid, and the University of Puebla in Mexico. Between 1946 and 1949 he worked as an interpreter and as a schoolteacher in Mexico, Cuba, Spain, and France. From 1949 to 1953 he taught at Lawrence College in Appleton, Wisconsin. After leaving that position he devoted himself full-time to his writing, which appeared in such magazines as New Directions, Esquire, and The New Yorker.
It was not until a privately printed edition of Color of Darkness came to the attention of Edith Sitwell that Purdy was able to acquire a publisher in Great Britain. Enthusiastic...
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