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literature

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Schuyler, James (1923-1991)  
 
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Schuyler returned to a suburban setting for his third novel, What's for Dinner?, published in 1978. The story revolves around the commonplace, anonymous lives of three suburban families, and is told almost entirely in dialogue, with little narration.

Eve Ottenberg, writing in the Village Voice, observed that "it is the surface of life that Schuyler is after: the deliberate, yammering silliness of these characters persists through the tragedies of their lives, and in the end it makes them more than ninnies and even helps them endure."

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Schuyler's Poetry

Although he had published a few poems in limited-edition chapbooks and literary magazines, Schuyler did not publish his first major collection of poetry, Freely Espousing, until 1969 when he was 46 years old.

Freely Espousing introduced readers to a fully developed poet who had been writing for almost twenty years. John Koethe, reviewing the collection in Poetry, remarked that "coming upon a mature body of work without much prior warning is always a perplexing experience." He further observed that "not only is Freely Espousing a collection of extremely good poems, but it also embodies the sort of vision that periodically awakens us to the infinite range of possibilities open to the poet."

Included in the collection is the poem "Buried at Springs," Schuyler's elegy for his friend Frank O'Hara who had been killed in a dune buggy accident on Fire Island in 1966. Schuyler's emotional reaction to the tragedy is filtered through a meditation on nature and the mutability of life.

As Schuyler recalled in a 1992 interview, "[The elegy] was written in Maine. The things described in it are what I was seeing out the window in the house in Maine. You know, Frank died in the summer . . . and it was shattering."

Schuyler published his next collection of poetry, Crystal Lithium, in 1972. His focus in these poems is on the minutiae of daily life, such as the smell of coffee on an early winter morning, which reveal, according to the Virginia Quarterly Review, his "meticulous . . . devotion to the physical world." In the New York Times Book Review, David Kalstone contended that "these are the best poems that [Schuyler] has ever written."

Schuyler published several more volumes of poetry throughout the 1970s, including A Sun Cab (1972); Hymn to Life (1974); Song (1976); The Fireproof Floors of Witley Court: English Songs and Dances (1976); and The Home Book: Prose and Poetry, 1951-1970 (1977).

In 1980, he published The Morning of the Poem, for which he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1981. Joseph Conte, in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, observes that the collection's sixty-page title work is a "poem of recovery--of the self, of one's family and friends, of a meaningful existence." He contends that it is Schuyler's "masterwork" and "among the best long poems of the postmodern era."

Schuyler published his last completed volume of poetry, A Few Days, in 1985. The long title poem, which Conte calls a "significant contribution to the autobiographical epic," is Schuyler's elegy for his mother.

Posthumous Publications

Schuyler died in New York City of a stroke on April 12, 1991.

Schuyler's Collected Poems were published in 1993. As a reviewer for Publishers Weekly noted, "Rarely has a poet imparted so much of his experience as honestly and engagingly as Schuyler does here."

The Diary of James Schuyler, which he began writing in the late 1960s, was published in 1997, edited by Nathan Kernan. In 2004, Just the Thing: Selected Letters of James Schuyler, was published, followed a year later by James Schuyler's Letters to Frank O'Hara, both edited by William Corbett. Together, these publications, which include meditations on music, literature, painting, and nature, as well as witty, gossipy portraits of the gay and literary scenes in New York, provide great insight into Schuyler's life and works.

Schuyler's manuscripts, covering the years 1947 to 1991, are housed at the Mandeville Department of Special Collections at the University of California, San Diego.

Craig Kaczorowski

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    Bibliography
   

Clark, Tom. "Schuyler's Idylls: Notes and Reflections on the Collected Poems." The American Poetry Review (May-June 1994): 7-14.

Conte, Joseph M. "James Schuyler." Dictionary of Literary Biography. Volume 169: American Poets Since World War II, Fifth Series. Joseph M. Conte, ed. Detroit: Gale Research, 1996. 235-243.

Howard, Richard. "The Real World." The New York Times Book Review (April 20, 1997): 12.

Lehman, David. The Last Avant-Garde: The Making of the New York School of Poets. New York: Doubleday, 1998.

Moss, Howard. Whatever Is Moving. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1981.

Ross, Jean W. "CA Interviews the Author." Contemporary Authors. Vol. 101. Frances C. Locher, ed. Detroit: Gale Research, 1981. 445-47.

Ward, Geoff. Statutes of Liberty: The New York School of Poets. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Kaczorowski, Craig  
    Entry Title: Schuyler, James  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2008  
    Date Last Updated April 13, 2009  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/schuyler_j.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
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Chicago, IL   60607
 
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    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2008 glbtq, Inc.  
 

 

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