Patricia Highsmith (née Mary Patricia Plangman) was born in Fort Worth, Texas, on January 19, 1921, to Jay Plangman and Mary Coates. Highsmith’s parents separated five months prior to her birth, and in interviews Highsmith has revealed that her mother tried to terminate her pregnancy by drinking turpentine.
Highsmith was initially raised by her maternal grandmother. She moved to New York in 1927 when her mother wed Stanley Highsmith. Their tempestuous marriage involved multiple separations. At age ten, Patricia learned Stanley was not her biological father, and at twelve she met her biological father for the first time. Although Stanley eventually adopted Patricia in 1944, the girl’s early life was characterized by feelings of abandonment and alienation.
After graduating from New York’s Julia Richman High, Highsmith attended Barnard College, earning a B.A. in English, Latin, and Greek in 1942. Highsmith began her literary career writing story lines for comic books. In 1945 she published “The Heroine” in Harper’s Bazaar—the story was included in the O. Henry Prize Stories of 1946. Highsmith’s early success (and the help of Truman Capote) won her acceptance into the Yaddo Artists’ Colony in Saratoga Springs, New York, where she wrote most of her first novel, Strangers on a Train (1950).
Highsmith discovered her authorial voice and genre of choice with a series of successful suspense...
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