||The James Purdy papers represent the years 1953 through 1984 and include manuscripts,
correspondence, photographs, art works, proofs, journals, clippings, and printed
material belonging to the American writer James Purdy (1914-2009). The professional
and personal papers document Purdy’s evolution as a writer of novels, short stories,
poetry, and plays. The papers are organized in four series: I. Works by Purdy,
1955-1984, undated; II. Correspondence, 1953-1984; III. Personal and Career-Related
Material, 1958-1984; and IV. Works by Others, 1958-1984. A portion of this
collection (boxes 1-25) was previously accessible through a card catalog, but
described in this finding aid along with materials received in later accessions.
During rehousing of the materials, Purdy’s labeled file folders were retained
they contain additional notes in his hand. His file titles are indicated in the
finding aid’s container list by single quotation marks.
||Series I. Works is comprised primarily of notebooks, drafts, proofs, and other
materials related to Purdy’s novels, short stories, plays, and essays. These
materials date from 1955 to 1984, and are arranged alphabetically by title. Also
included are Purdy’s anonymous hoax letters, artwork, autobiographical statements,
blurbs for works by other writers, poetry, satirical sketches of literary critics
and figures, and statements or essays on various topics written for publications.
||Of particular interest are notebooks containing drafts for Purdy’s plays Madonna and Wedding
Finger and his novels Cabot Wright
Begins, Jeremy’s Version, Eustace Chisholm and the Works, The House of the Solitary Maggot, I Am Elijah
Thrush, In a Shallow Grave, Malcolm, Narrow Rooms,
and The Nephew. Also present in the notebooks are
draft fragments of other plays, poems, and short stories; story ideas; notes;
quotations; doodles; publication information on stories; financial notes; and
appointment and contact information.
||Purdy often sent what he called anonymous and anomalous letters to friends and other
recipients. These creative pieces included hoax news stories or press releases,
satirical advertisements, and letters sent anonymously or purporting to be from
someone else. Most of these are located together in the papers as
Anonymous/Anomalous Letters, but because Purdy sometimes sent drafts of the letters
to confederates in other locations who would then type and mail the letters to
intended recipients, a few are located in his personal correspondence. Among the
nicknames given to friends in these mock letters are Adonis Whiteacre (Douglas
Turnbaugh), Anthony of London (Anthony Harvey), Babe Helps (Robert Helps), and
B (Richard Hundley).
||Under the heading of Artwork are drawings by Purdy, including a sketchbook and loose
sketches for The Running Sun.
||Purdy’s poetry is filed together and arranged by title of individual poem or group
poems. Some poems, such as "The Sea Is Swimming
Tonight" and "Straightway Beauty on Me
Waits," were set to music by composer Richard Hundley. Robert Helps also
composed music for poems by Purdy, most notably from Purdy’s collection The Running Sun (1971); typescript and handwritten
poems, a typesetting copy, artwork, and printer’s paste-ups for The Running Sun are present. Other early versions of
poems from that work are located elsewhere in the poetry files; for example, several
poems of a group dating from 1971 were later revised and included in The Running Sun. Of particular note is an undated
hand-bound book of typescript poems and drawings by Purdy. A drawing also
accompanies a group of handwritten poems dating from 1970 to 1976.
||Among unidentified or untitled works are several statements or essays by Purdy
regarding his own work, literary success, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four, the Vietnam War, and other topics, intended for
publication in various periodicals. Also present are handwritten notes and a
typescript of an article for LIFE about Edward
Albee’s dramatization of Malcolm. While composing his
novels, Purdy would sometimes employ a stream-of-consciousness method of typing
writing a few pages to aid his thought processes. Although a few of these are
among drafts for particular works, most of these "driftings" or practice writing pages are located with unidentified
typescript fragments at the end of the Works series. One such fragment (folder
contains a note that it is "gibberish but the books come
out of it."
||Series II. Correspondence represents the years 1953 to 1984 and runs to nearly 48
boxes. Most of this material is related directly to Purdy’s career as a writer
represents correspondence with publishers, editors, literary agents, scholars,
writers, and fans. While there is little material here of a fundamentally
biographical or personal nature, there are letters from friends dating from his
years in Chicago and Appleton, Wisconsin, and even some with family or other Ohio
||Among the people Purdy knew from his time in Chicago or Appleton who are represented
by a significant correspondence are Gertrude Abercrombie, Miriam Andreas, Hastings
Brubaker, Jeannette Druce, Norman MacLeish, Jorma Sjoblom, and Samuel Steward.
Critics, book people, and literary scholars like Len Berkman, Frank Daniel, Donald
Gallup, Gordon Lish, Irving Malin, and Bettina Schwarzschild appear here, as do
writers Stephen D. Adams, Paul Bowles, Gerald Brenan, Paula Fox, and James L.
||Purdy’s relationships with publishers were often strained and his correspondence
presented here with Doubleday, Esquire, Farrar,
Straus, and Giroux, and New Directions Publishing sometimes bears this out. These
strains, as well as his generalized antagonism toward the New York critical
community, are documented primarily as passing (but not uncommon) references in
own outgoing correspondence with friends and fellow writers.
||Copies and drafts of Purdy’s outgoing correspondence for the period 1953 to 1972 are
filed as Subseries A. For the years 1972 to 1984 outgoing correspondence is
interfiled with the recipient in Subseries B where possible; otherwise they are
found in Subseries A. There is also a significant amount of third-party
correspondence. Such letters for the years 1953 to 1972 are present as Subseries
For the years 1972 to 1984 third-party is interfiled with either Subseries A or
originally found with correspondence filed in those series, but otherwise it will
in Subseries C. Correspondence from throughout the collection is listed in the
of Correspondents at the end of this finding aid.
||Series III. Personal and Career-Related Material is a variegated group comprising
autobiographical statements; catalogs and brochures; clippings; daybook and calendar
pages; financial material; flyers; printed invitations, advertising cards, and
pamphlets; menus; notes and jottings; periodicals; programs and ticket stubs;
material related to readings and lectures by Purdy; review clippings and
advertisements; small press keepsakes; snapshots; and unused postcards and greeting
cards, all dating from 1958 to 1984. Similar items received with early accessions
were separated from the papers at that time and transferred to the Center’s Vertical
||Catalogs and brochures include those relating to art exhibitions, bookseller and
manuscript dealers, housewares, and publishers. Among artists represented by
exhibition catalogs are Alice Pike Barney, Clarence H. Carter, Gloria Vanderbilt,
and Clifford Wright. Images of Edith: An Exhibition of
Portraits of Dame Edith Sitwell (1977) includes a foreword by
Sacheverell Sitwell. Booksellers and manuscript dealers include Bertram Rota,
Book Mart, David Schulson, Joseph the Provider, and Sylvester & Orphanos.
Among publishers are Albino, Arbor House, Black Sparrow Press, Vincent FitzGerald,
New Directions, Plain Wrapper Press, Ram Publishing Company, Viking Press, and
Allen. Purdy’s books are found in some of these catalogs.
||Clippings dating from 1969 to 1983 and sent to Purdy by friends and correspondents
cover a variety of subjects; of note are a large group regarding artist Clifford
||Financial material consists of contracts, expense notebooks from 1972 to 1976,
invoices and receipts, a 1972 lease, and royalty statements from 1958 to 1983.
Invoices and receipts range from household bills to charges for purchases from
Gotham Book Mart. New York City transit tickets are also present.
||The numerous pages of Purdy’s notes and jottings present here include those with
names and contact information for various individuals or organizations, as well
lists of plants, grocery lists, quotations, and other subjects. These date from
to 1984 and are arranged by year. In addition, a notebook dating from 1972 to
contains notes on plants, art, and sculpture.
||Whole issues of periodicals include Angwamas Minosewag
Anishinabeg (Time of the Indian), Atticus Review, Audit/fiction (Anne Pitrone From The Recession
Diary), bits, Bright Lights, Clandestine America,
Coda: Poets & Writers Newsletter, Contact II, East River
Review, Footnotes*, Kick, Lunch, The Morning Star People, Music
Journal, Nuovi Argomenti, Paris Review, Le
Promeneur, Sequoia, Sparrow, and Toucan.
||Printed invitations, flyers, advertising cards, and pamphlets date from 1971 to 1984
and are arranged by year. Most of these relate to art exhibitions, readings,
performances, and similar events. Those bearing handwritten notes to Purdy have
moved to the correspondence files and are included in the Index of Correspondents.
||Programs and ticket stubs document attendance at film screenings; opera and other
music performances; and theater and dance productions. Within those categories,
arrangement is by year. Of note among film screening programs are those for Virgil Thomson Composer (1980) and You Are Not I: A Film by Sara Driver, A Story by Paul
||Music programs relate to performances Purdy attended as well as those connected to
his work. Venues include Carnegie Recital Hall, Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church,
the Kitchen Center, Lincoln Center, the Montauk Club, the 92nd Street Y, the Village
Presbyterian Church, and others. Many of the Purdy-related music performances
featured his poems set to music by Robert Helps and Richard Hundley; among these
Helps’s music for five poems from The Running Sun and
Hundley’s songs for "Birds, U.S.A.,"
"Come Ready and See Me,"
"Jenny Wren," and "Over
Green Leaves." Joseph Fennimore’s opera Eventide, based on the short story by Purdy, was performed at The After
Dinner Opera Company in New York.
||Of note among theater and dance programs are those for the 1979 New York premiere
Tennessee Williams’ A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur
at the Hudson Guild Theater, the 1972 premiere of Williams’ Small Craft Warnings at the Truck and Warehouse Theatre, and the 1980
Harold Clurman Theatre production of Williams’ The
Two-Character Play. Other playwrights represented include Edward Albee,
Edward Gallardo, Henrik Ibsen, William Inge, Paul Stephen Lim, William Mastrosimone,
Maxim Mazumdar, Leonard Melfi, Poty Oliveira, Luigi Pirandello, David Rabe, Gus
Weill, and Romain Weingarten. In addition, there are programs from a WPA Theatre
production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and several
Shakespeare productions. Programs for Aegis Universal Dance and Performance Group,
the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain, and the Pauline Koner Dance Consort
also present. Annotations by Purdy on some programs record his opinion of the
performance, with whom he attended, or information about actors.
||Also documented here are plays written by Purdy or adapted by others from his work.
Edward Albee directed his adaptation of Purdy’s novel Malcolm at Southwestern University in 1983, and a program from that
production is present, as are a contact sheet and prop list for How I Became a Shadow and a flyer advertising the
premiere of True. Materials relating to the HB
Playwrights Foundation 1979 production Out of a Clear Blue
Sky (the one-act plays What Is It, Zach?
, Now, Adeline, and Wonderful Happy Days) include a
flyer, program, Purdy’s typed biographical information, and his handwritten notes
the musical accompaniment. The Iowa Theater Lab produced several of Purdy’s plays,
and their newsletters, a Stories of Darkness program,
and a handout for Proud Flesh are present. Programs
from the Ensemble Studio Theatre’s production of Daddy
Wolf and a postcard advertisement of Nightshift’s presentation of True, The Berry Picker,
and What Is It, Zach? complete this group.
||Readings, lectures, and appearances by Purdy between the years 1971 and 1984 are
represented by flyers, press releases, clippings, and programs. Also found here
itineraries from Purdy’s participation in the University of Notre Dame Literary
Festival and his international lecture tour sponsored by the International
Communication Agency in 1982.
||Review clippings of Purdy’s books are arranged alphabetically by title and encompass
the years 1964 to 1982. Reviews of stage adaptations of Eustace Chisholm and the Works and The
Nephew accompany reviews of the novels, and a large group of German
press clippings regarding The Nephew are also
present. A Dutch review of 63: Dream Palace by Jan
Siebelink was published in Hollands Maandblad. An
article, advertisement, and interview with Ric Zank relate to the Iowa Theatre
production of three of Purdy’s plays as Proud Flesh
||Keepsakes and printed greeting cards were sent to Purdy by small presses such as
Bellevue Press, Cadmus Press, New Directions, Phoenix Bookshop, Plain Wrapper
and Red Ozier Press. These printed items include poems by Federico García Lorca,
Bradford Morrow, Kenneth Rexroth, and Gil Williams, as well as artwork by Fiske
Boyd, Allen Lewis, and Lynd Ward. Copies of "Tea with
Alice [Toklas]" and "Mushrooms," both
by Robert A. Wilson, are present. "A Christmas
Recipe," written by Anthony Burgess and illustrated by Fulvio Testa, was
printed by Plain Wrapper Press as a holiday greeting in 1977. A New Year’s greeting
from Red Ozier Press in 1983 was written by Edouard Roditi.
||A small number of snapshots of various individuals that were sent to Purdy by friends
and correspondents but separated from the correspondence are grouped together
||Series IV. Works by Others contains materials created by writers and artists other
than Purdy and is divided into two subseries: A. Works about Purdy and His Writing,
1952-1982, and Subseries B. Other Works, 1958-1984. Both subseries are arranged
alphabetically by author. Among notable manuscripts on Purdy and his work are
by Stephen Adams, Warren French, Donald Pease, Bettina Schwarzschild, and Joseph
Skerrett. A typescript blurb by Paul Bowles for Purdy’s novel Jeremy’s Version, a typescript review of Malcolm by Dorothy Parker, and Edith Sitwell’s typescript preface to
Purdy’s Colour of Darkness are also present. Robin
Gaither, a former student who had extensive correspondence with Purdy from 1979
1980, sent him her typescript of An Editing Project: The
||Articles about and interviews with Purdy, as well as bibliographies of his work, are
also included in this subseries. Among the interviews are a copy of Jan Siebelink’s
"James Purdy" published in HP in 1981 and typescripts by Charles Stetler and Gerald
Locklin (1980) and Stephen Varble (1972).
||Subseries B. Other Works comprises manuscripts, printed broadsides, tearsheets,
offprints, proofs, artwork, and similar material by Purdy’s friends, colleagues,
others. Edward Albee’s stage adaptation of Purdy’s novel Malcolm is represented by a 1965 typescript containing extensive notes
and comments by Purdy. A typescript of Richard Ede’s teleplay adaptation of Purdy’s
Colour of Darkness dates from 1968. Page proofs
of Three Tales (1975) by Paul Bowles and poems
handwritten by Edith Sitwell in 1958 titled "The Death of
a Giant" and "The Outcasts" are of
special interest. A printed insert from the sound recording Façade, a reading by Sitwell of her poems to music by William Walton,
includes the text of the poems. Drawings made by Ian Campbell for The Running Sun in 1971 are included in the series, as
is artwork by Donald Gosaynie, Steven Osterlund, and Mylo Quam. Also noteworthy
two duplicated handwritten song scores of Richard Hundley’s music setting for
Purdy’s poem "Come Ready and See Me."