The James Purdy Society

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James Purdy Society at 2008 ALA Conference




“James Purdy and Others”


American Literature Association (ALA) Conference

San Francisco, California

Hyatt Regency, Embarcadero Center

May 22-25, 2008


The James Purdy Society seeks proposals of 15-20 minute presentations for their session at the 19th annual ALA conference.  As often remarked by his admirers, the work of James Purdy (Malcolm, The Nephew, Eustace Chisholm and the Works, Moe’s Villa) is now woefully neglected both by popular and academic readers, his recognition wildly incommensurate with his vision, talent, and achievement.  This year the Society seeks to involve scholars working on other authors who bear some similarity, family resemblance, or parallel to Purdy’s novels, plays, or poems, in order to shed light on, or expand the interpretive possibilities of each author’s works.  Another goal is to create awareness and expand discourse on this singular, under-appreciated author. 


Purdy’s oeuvre spans over fifteen novels, forty short and long plays, and scores of poems.  His work blends elements of realism, surrealism, and “American gothic,” engaging with the grotesque, violence, the family, same-sex desire, and American origins and identity.  Purdy’s aim is to get “under the skin,” under the surface of his characters, and is profoundly concerned with souls. 


That we are asking comparative work to such a singular writer may seem paradoxical, but successful work has been done in the past linking Purdy to another author, for example Sherwood Anderson (Frank Baldanza) and Kafka (Patrick Brantlinger). 


The following “Others” in one way or another, bear some similarity or parallel to Purdy in style, themes, concerns, sensibility, setting, or tone; or, they have been acknowledged by Purdy as important influences:


Truman Capote, Samuel Beckett, Herman Melville, Carson McCullers, Nathanael West, Paul Bowles, Edward Albee (who adapted Purdy’s novel Malcolm to the stage), Djuna Barnes, Harold Pinter, J.D. Salinger, Miguel de Cervantes, Dennis Cooper, Flannery O’Connor, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Mark Twain, Ronald Fairbanks, Saul Bellow, James Leo Herlihy, Franz Kafka, Gore Vidal, J.P. Donleavy, Don DeLillo, William S. Burroughs, Euripides


And these “Others” have championed Purdy in essays, reviews, or public statements:

Dorothy Parker, Jonathan Franzen, Joan Didion, Langston Hughes, Marianne Moore, Matthew Stadler, Dame Edith Sitwell, Carl Van Vechten, Paul Bowles, Katherine Ann Porter, Filmmaker John Waters, Quentin Crisp, Philosopher of language George Steiner, Angus Wilson, Guy Davenport, Hope Hale Davis, John Cowper Powys, Gore Vidal, Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee


Presentations on “Purdy and Others” may address, but are not limited to, the following:


Genre questions (Realism? Black Humor? Surrealism? Fantasy? Gothic? Camp? Tragedy? Postmodernism?)

The Family (dysfunction, maternal and fraternal love, the absent father, incest)

Same-sex desire (repression, expression, tonality, representation)

The grotesque body / disability

Queer / androgynous / sexually indeterminate characters

“I Can’t Go On.  I’ll Go On”

Author as Outsider / Outsider characters

The veteran figure

Midwestern literature and idiom / American real speech

Violence / Suicide / Torture


The Picaresque

The Lost Boy / Orphan / “Half-Orphan”

African American characters

Narrative frames

Performativity / Performance

Gay / Queer aesthetics

Critical reception (homophobia, “New York Literary Establishment,” genre)


Please send questions or 250-500 word titled abstracts to the program chair, Michael Snyder. Queries invited. If you plan to submit a proposal, please send first notice of your intent ASAP.


Deadline for Proposals: December 5, 2007


Michael Snyder

University of Oklahoma

Department of English

Gittinger Hall

Norman, OK 73019-0240


For further general information about the conference, please consult the ALA website at or contact the conference director, Professor Maria Karafilis of California State University, Los Angeles at  with specific questions.


Information about the James Purdy Society: or






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