James Purdy Analysis

Other Literary Forms

Although he wrote poems and plays throughout his career, James Purdy’s reputation rests primarily on his work as a novelist and writer of short stories. His first two novels, Malcolm (1959) and The Nephew (1960), caused the most critical stir. In fact, Malcolm was adapted for the stage in 1966 by American dramatist Edward Albee. In the 1960’s, Purdy was touted as one of the United States’ most promising writers, especially because of his experimentation with the conventions of the fiction genre.

By the end of that decade, however, the critical response to Purdy’s work had become increasingly fractured. Purdy himself claimed that his public unhappiness with the literary establishment was the reason for this mixed response; others point to his controversial themes and grotesque characters and plots. Although Purdy continued to have his ardent admirers, frequently his works have been disparaged and ignored.


Some commentators have asserted that James Purdy’s work has found greatest acceptance in Europe, especially in England and the Netherlands. In reality, his native America has not failed to recognize his creative output. He was the recipient of many grants, including a National Institute of Arts and Letters grant in 1958, Guggenheim Fellowships in 1958 and 1962, and a Ford Foundation grant in 1961. Purdy was also nominated for a PEN-Faulkner Award in 1985, and he won the Morten Dauwen Zabel Fiction Award from the Academy of Arts and Letters in 1993.

Other Literary Forms

James Purdy, in more than four decades of literary work, beginning in the 1950’s, wrote—besides his short fiction—a number of novels (including Malcolm, published in 1959, and In a Shallow Grave, published in 1976) several collections of poetry, and numerous plays, some of which have been staged in the United States as well as abroad.


James Purdy received a National Institute of Arts and Letters grant in literature (1958), John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowships (1958, 1962), and a Ford Foundation grant (1961). On Glory’s Course was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award (1985). He also received a Rockefeller Foundation grant, a Morton Dauwen Zabel Fiction award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1993), and an Oscar Williams and Gene Derwood award for poetry and art (1995).

Other literary forms

In addition to his novels, James Purdy wrote in a variety of genres, including poetry, the short story, and drama. The most important of these other works are Sixty-three: Dream Palace (1956); Color of Darkness: Eleven Stories and a Novella (1957); Children Is All (1961), a collection of ten stories and two plays; and a volume of poetry, The Running Sun (1971).


James Purdy is considered one of the most important of the postmodern American writers. Along withThomas Pynchon, John Barth, and John Hawkes, Purdy is acknowledged as one of the best of the generation of post-Joycean experimental writers. His writing is unique and powerful, and his vision remains etched in the reader’s mind. Like other postmodern writers, Purdy took delight in experimenting with the texts and subtexts ofnarratives and treated his themes with humor and irony. In essence, Purdy’s characters are motivated by irrationality; his style is ornate and complex, and his themes are surreal. Purdy is a writer whose works must be examined if the textures and ideas of the postmodern novel are to be appreciated.


Adams, Stephen D. James Purdy. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1976. Adams’s study covers Purdy’s major work from the early stories and Malcolm up through In a Shallow Grave. Of particular interest is his discussion of the first two novels in Purdy’s trilogy Sleepers in Moon-Crowned Valleys.

Canning, Richard. Gay Fiction Speaks: Conversations with Gay Novelists. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000. The extensive interview contained in this twelve-author volume focuses primarily on Purdy’s identity as a gay novelist, but it does include some material on his plays. In particular, Purdy...

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