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Leavitt, David (b. 1961)  

Novelist and short story writer David Leavitt is one of the brightest stars of the gay literary world today.

Leavitt was born on June 23, 1961, in Pittsburgh, the son of Harold Jack Leavitt, a professor who later taught at Stanford University, and Gloria Rosenthal Leavitt, a housewife and liberal political activist. He grew up in Palo Alto, California, and attended Yale University, graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1983 with a B.A. in English.

Leavitt achieved early notice. While still a student at Yale, he published a short story, "Territory," in The New Yorker; another New Yorker story, "Out Here," followed shortly. These two stories along with seven others formed his first collection, Family Dancing (1984), which was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award and for the PEN-Faulkner Award.

Family Dancing is particularly interesting for the way in which Leavitt is able to integrate gay issues into the fabric of contemporary American life and for his skill in depicting middle-aged women.

His first novel, The Lost Language of Cranes (1986), tells a double "coming out" story, that of a young New Yorker whose increasing openness about his homosexuality forces his middle-aged father finally to confront his own sexuality.

His next novel, Equal Affections (1989), is another story with intergenerational concerns. Its main character, a gay lawyer, must deal with his remarkable mother's two-decade-long fight with cancer. The novel also features a lesbian sister and a father who, like Leavitt's own, is a professor at a California university. Equal Affections is often read as an autobiographical book, but Leavitt himself dismisses such approaches.

In 1989, Leavitt received a Guggenheim fellowship and was foreign writer-in-residence in Barcelona at the Institute of Catalan Letters.

With his second short story collection, A Place I've Never Been (1990), Leavitt breaks new ground. Leavitt's stories of Americans in Europe invite comparison with Henry James. In these tales, Leavitt leaves the world of urban American gay life for other territory.

His more recent novel, While England Sleeps (1993), goes even farther away from the milieu of his early work, tracing the politically charged homosexual romance between an upper-class writer and a working-class Communist in 1930s England.

The novel was the center of a scandal when Stephen Spender filed suit, alleging that the novel's plot was taken directly from his memoir, World Within World (1951). The suit was settled when Leavitt's publisher agreed to withdraw the novel and reissue it with minor changes made to distance it from Spender's work; Leavitt himself has charged that Spender's objections are motivated by .

Leavitt has overcome the problems attendant on early success. Though his recent books have received decidedly mixed reviews, he has continued to produce new work regularly. His reputation is greater in Europe than in America, witness the BBC production of a film based on The Lost Language of Cranes.

He has been involved actively in the contemporary literary world, editing a special issue of Mississippi Quarterly devoted to the work of younger writers and serving as coeditor of The Penguin Book of Gay Short Stories.

Still a young man, Leavitt has produced fiction of quality and intelligence. He is one of the brightest stars of the gay literary world today.

Don S. Lawson


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David Leavitt. Photograph by Tanya Tribble.
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Iannone, Carol. "Post-Counterculture Tristesse." Commentary 85.5 (February 1987): 57-61.

Lawson, D. S. "David Leavitt." Contemporary Gay American Novelists: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. Emmanuel S. Nelson, ed. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1993. 248-253.

Lilly, Mark. Gay Men's Literature in the Twentieth Century. New York: New York University Press, 1993.

Weir, John. "Fleeing the Fame Factory." Advocate (October 19, 1993): 50-55.


    Citation Information
    Author: Lawson, Don S.  
    Entry Title: Leavitt, David  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated October 11, 2007  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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