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Schuyler, James (1923-1991)  
 
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In an interview given many years later, Schuyler recalled that he found Auden's poetry both "inspiring" and "inhibiting," and thought at the time, "If this is what poetry is like, it is something far beyond my powers."

One night while at Auden's house, Aalto, violently drunk, attacked Schuyler with a carving knife. In the poem "Dining Out with Doug and Frank," published in 1980, Schuyler refers to this incident and describes Aalto as "A dark / Finn who looked not unlike / a butch version of Valentino." The two men subsequently broke up.

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After returning to New York in 1950, Schuyler suffered the first of a series of nervous breakdowns, and was hospitalized at a sanitarium in White Plains, New York. He was also later hospitalized at the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

In 1951, through John Bernard Myers, an art dealer and friend of Auden's, Schuyler was introduced to Ashbery and O'Hara, who quickly became close friends, frequent collaborators, and, off and on, roommates throughout the mid-1950s.

Myers also introduced Schuyler to the dance critic Edwin Denby, with whom he began a relationship. Denby in turn introduced Schuyler to the pianist Arthur Gold. Much to Denby's chagrin, Gold and Schuyler soon embarked on an affair that lasted almost five years.

During this period, Schuyler devoted most of his time to writing. In 1952, his one-act play, Presenting Jane, was produced at Poet's Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts; a year later another one-act play, Shopping and Waiting: A Dramatic Pause, was produced at New York's American Theatre for Poets.

Additionally, in response to a commission arranged by Gold, Schuyler wrote the libretto for Paul Bowles's "A Picnic Cantata" in 1955.

That same year, Schuyler began working at the influential magazine Art News as an art critic and associate editor. He remained with Art News for nearly ten years. A selection of his articles was published in 1998 as Selected Art Writings: James Schuyler, edited by Simon Pettet.

From 1955 to 1961, Schuyler also worked at the Museum of Modern Art, organizing exhibitions that circulated throughout the United States and Europe.

He later collaborated with Kenward Elmslie on the one-act plays Unpacking the Black Trunk and The Wednesday Club, which were presented at the American Theatre for Poets in 1965.

Due to a relapse of his mental illness and because of financial difficulties, from 1961 until 1973 Schuyler lived with his close friend the artist Fairfield Porter and his family in Southampton, Long Island, and at their summer home on Great Spruce Head Island off the coast of Maine.

He then returned to New York City and lived a relatively reclusive life until his death in 1991.

A Nest of Ninnies and Other Novels

Schuyler published his first book, Alfred and Guinevere, in 1958. The novel, about two children who are sent by their parents to spend the summer at their grandmother's house in the country, is told entirely through fragments of dialogue and passages from the young girl's diary. Illustrated with simple line drawings, the work was mistakenly classified by the New York Times Book Review as a children's book.

Schuyler's friend and fellow New York School poet Kenneth Koch, in his review for Poetry, found a connection between the novel's prose and Schuyler's poetry, which had yet to be widely published, noting that the writing was "prose as poetry really should be: among other things fresh, surprising, artful, and clear."

In 1969, the experimental novel A Nest of Ninnies, co-written by Schuyler and John Ashbery, was published. The two men had begun the book in the summer of 1952 in the backseat of a car returning to New York City from a weekend in the Hamptons.

The novel, which satirizes the uneventful lives of two suburban families, received a mixed critical response. Some reviewers, such as Sara Blackburn of Nation, found the novel's lack of plot and the ordinariness of the characters' lives both "maddening" and "boring."

The poet and critic John Koethe, however, in his review for Poetry, warned against reading the book "as another heavy-handed exposé of the emptiness of the middle class," and noted that "the disarming thing about the ninnies is that despite their vacuity they live pretty much like most of us do." Koethe went on to suggest that "the situation in which we and the other ninnies find ourselves may be either more earth-shakingly banal than we know, or an unrecognized heaven."

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