Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

James Schuyler (SKI-lur) wrote (or cowrote) three novels. Beginning with Alfred and Guinevere (1958), the novels deal with the upper middle class and show a good ear for the comic trivialities of ordinary conversation, whether of children and adolescents, sophisticated young adults, or middle-aged couples. They also demonstrate, with their precision in naming, Schuyler’s connoisseur’s eye for furniture, design, and objects used or displayed in the household. The satiric A Nest of Ninnies (1969), cowritten with John Ashbery, lacks the plot and fully developed characters of What’s for Dinner? (1978), his most substantial novel, giving rich evidence of true command of the form as it traces an alcoholic’s recovery in a mental hospital, her husband’s simultaneous affair with a widowed friend, and the progress of several other patients on short-term stays in the hospital.

Three of Schuyler’s plays have been produced: the one-act pieces Presenting Jane (pr. 1952) and Shopping and Waiting (pb. 1953), and Unpacking the Black Trunk, another collaboration with a fellow poet (Kenward Elmslie), produced off-Broadway in 1965. He wrote the libretto (“mostly collage from newspapers,” he says) for A Picnic Cantata: For Four Women’s Voices, Two Pianos, and Percussion (pr. 1953), for which the writer Paul Bowles composed the music; it was recorded by Columbia Records.

Like fellow New York poets Ashbery and Frank O’Hara, Schuyler also wrote art criticism—particularly for Art News, where he served for a time as associate editor.