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Schuyler, James (1923-1991)  
 
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James Schuyler is the author of novels, one-act plays, and numerous essays on modern art, but he is best known for his poetry, of which he published some twelve volumes in his lifetime.

Schuyler, a prominent member of what has become known as the New York School of poets and painters, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1981 for his collection The Morning of the Poem.

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Schuyler's poems celebrate the small details of daily life. They are intimately observed, conversational in tone, and suggest a seemingly effortless immediacy. As a reviewer for Publishers Weekly once noted, "His poems often read like elegant journal entries."

Schuyler's foremost subject was his own life, and he wrote openly about his homosexuality. In fact, his sexual frankness was pointed out for particular admiration by the poet and critic Howard Moss, who observed that "[Schuyler] is in touch with parts of himself not usually available for examination and not often handled by most writers."

Schuyler led a peripatetic childhood, moving frequently with his family, and lived a similarly difficult and unsettled life as an adult. He suffered from manic depression and was occasionally hospitalized. He candidly addresses his illness in his series known as "The Payne Whitney Poems."

The New York School

Along with John Ashbery, Frank O'Hara, and Kenneth Koch, James Schuyler is generally considered one of the "first generation" poets of the New York School, a loosely connected circle of writers and artists who socialized together and influenced one another's work during the 1950s and 1960s.

The New York School of poetry, a term used primarily by critics and scholars and only rarely by the poets themselves, is characterized by an observational, anecdotal, and spontaneous rhetoric, as well as by an urban sensibility and a concern for the personal. The New York School poets often took inspiration from travel, painting, music, and their own friendships.

Abstract expressionist art was also a major influence, and the New York School poets had strong artistic and personal relationships with such painters as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.

They also collaborated on a variety of projects, including plays, operas, and illustrated books, with many "second generation" New York School painters, including Larry Rivers, Jane Freilicher, and Fairfield Porter.

The three gay New York School poets--Schuyler, Ashbery, and O'Hara--frequently refer to their sexuality, with varying degrees of candor, in their works. And while Koch was the sole heterosexual of the group, his friend and frequent collaborator Larry Rivers once recalled that he "talked and acted as gay as the rest."

Biographical Details

James Marcus Schuyler was born on November 9, 1923 in Chicago, Illinois. His parents divorced when he was six years old. Three years later his mother remarried.

His new family moved often and Schuyler lived for a time in Downers Grove, Illinois, then Washington, D.C., and later Chevy Chase, Maryland. When he was twelve years old, his mother and stepfather moved to Buffalo, New York, and finally settled, two years later, in East Aurora, a suburb outside of Buffalo.

Schuyler frequently fought with his stepfather, who disapproved of his stepson's love of reading, and whom Schuyler later claimed to "loathe." These frequent disputes contributed to Schuyler's unhappiness at growing up gay and sensitive in a small town.

He entered Bethany College in West Virginia in 1941. He studied literature, architecture, and history, but he was not successful academically. "I just played bridge all the time," he later recalled.

In 1943, Schuyler left college without graduating to join the U.S. Navy. While on leave in New York in 1944, Schuyler got drunk, missed his ship, and was declared AWOL. During the hearing that followed, Schuyler's homosexuality was revealed, which led to his dishonorable discharge.

He returned to New York and began a relationship with Bill Aalto, a former soldier and struggling writer. Although Aalto had a problem with alcohol and was frequently violent when drunk, the two men remained together for nearly five years.

While in New York, Schuyler was also befriended by Chester Kallman and his lover, the poet W. H. Auden.

In 1947, Schuyler inherited a farm in Arkansas from his paternal grandmother. He promptly sold the farm. With the proceeds he and Aalto moved to Italy, where he planned to write short stories.

In Italy, Schuyler attended the Università degli Studi di Firenze, in Florence. He later served as Auden's secretary and typist in Auden's villa on Forio d'Ischia, an island in the Bay of Naples.

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