The James Purdy Society

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Minutes of Meeting

James Purdy Society

30 May 2004


PRESENT: Darryl Hattenhauer, Dennis Moore, and Cathy Schlund-Vials.

NOT PRESENT: Martin Kich, Joseph E. Kraus, Christopher Lane, Victoria Linchon, Shawn Miller, Donald E. Pease, Jr., Edmund M. Scheer, and Joseph T. Skerrett, Jr.



The meeting was scheduled for Sunday, May 30th, 2004, from 11:00 a.m.–12:30 p.m., during the 15th Annual Conference of the American Literature Association (ALA) in San Francisco, on May 27th – 30th. Over 900 people attended the conference, primarily faculty and postgraduate students affiliated with colleges and universities, but also some independent scholars and writers. Dennis Moore attended the ALA’s Business Meeting for Representatives of the Author Societies on Saturday.


Session 26-E: Organizing Meeting for a James Purdy Society was during the last session of the conference. The Society had advance notice that there would not be a quorum of the Board present and that there were no resolutions to be presented, or any actions considered, that would need approval of the Board. Indeed, with only the three board members present, the ostensible meeting was not called to order; and an informal discussion took place instead. (Cathy Schlund-Vials offered to take notes.)




Prior to the conference, Dennis sent a flyer, with information about the meeting and the James Purdy Society contact information, to thirteen independent bookstores in the Bay area, from a list suggested by various contacts. The same flyer had been sent by email for use and distribution to the members of the Society and other contacts.


A display at the book fair had a version of the flyer standing on a table with sheets for people to fill-in to join the Society. Dennis added a photocopy of the page in Avalon Publishing Group’s Fall 2004 Catalog for Moe’s Villa – and other stories [Carroll & Graf Publishers: October 4, 2004]. Dennis spent several hours throughout each day at the display, with “James Purdy Society,” as designated affiliation, on his name badge. He was also listed as with the JPS in the conference program serving as Chair for the Shirley Jackson session. (In which Darryl Hattenhauer presented his paper “Steven Spielberg’s Adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House: A Reconsideration.”) No new members signed up at the display. (Postscript: at this writing no attendees have made contact via the website either.)


The JPS newsletter was not distributed. Primarily because several mistakes in the original work by James were discovered, it was decided it would be best to redo the newsletter. The newsletter will go out to members in July and extra copies will be printed to have for distribution at future conferences.




Dennis reported that he combed through the selection of books that various publishers and university presses the venders had on display at the book fair. Primarily new releases and largely books for use in university English and writing courses, there were also titles by single authors – depending on the publisher and a scattering of journals by other author societies. Concentrating his search in collections of short fiction, poetry and plays, books on writing fiction and modern American authors (anything that looked like a possibility to find James in, at least in the index), the only reference to James he could find, besides the page in the Avalon catalogue, was in the interview with Matthew Stadler in Hear Us Out: Conversations with Gay Writers by Richard Canning [Columbia University Press: 2003]. (Mathew managed to bring the conversation back to James around 6 or 7 times. There are 11 other interviews he did not look at to see if others mentioned James; Dennis did not recall if he looked in the index.)


Note: Richard interviewed James in a previous volume Gay Fiction Speaks: Conversations with Gay Writers. [Columbia University Press: 2001] In "Hear Us Out" Matthew thinks others mention James, but he can't remember whom. Dennis Cooper probably mentions James in his interview in "Gay Fiction Speaks."


Dennis met a Sales Associate for Avalon Publishing, who has forwarded contact information for the JPS to the Publicity Department in New York. Since the meeting, Dennis has confirmed the generous opportunity arranged at the conference to provide a discount for the Society. The terms for purchasing books are: 50% off retail [$7.00 per copy of Moe’s Villa]; shipping at our expense by Fed Ex ground from Indianapolis, for delivery in 2 weeks; prepaid with a credit/debit card; for a minimum quantity of 10 books per order.


Dennis also reported that, throughout the conference, he didn’t meet very many people who knew who James Purdy was, and fewer who were familiar with his work. Cathy and Darryl had brought up the same issue – in its larger context as well; and those present began to discuss and speculate about reasons why and possible strategies to address this pervasive conundrum. The lack of Purdy's work in print, coupled with the paucity of criticism about his work, has contributed to the unfamiliarity with his work on a large scale. Still, as at Amherst, there was a general feeling of incredulity, and a genuine sense of wanting to understand the factors and reasons why James has remained relatively obscure. (After the conference, Dennis asked the Executive Director of the ALA about this. “It is hard to gauge the reputation of any contemporary writer,” he said. “Societies can make a huge amount of difference, but they also entail a great amount of time and work.”) 




The society has been working to publicize Purdy's work; and those present discussed the ways in which calls for papers, conferences, providing examples of curricula, and the web site/newsletter could be used as ways to increase interest in Purdy's body of work. It was clear that hosting a panel at the next ALA conference would go a long way to expose some of their membership, and members of the affiliated societies, to [the merits of] James’s work.


Darryl asked about other collections and dissertations that dealt specifically with James Purdy's work. This was, at the meeting, a question that could not be answered; and it was agreed upon by those present that a follow-up would be conducted. Dennis related that he gets various requests for more information about James, his work and where to find things from people who find the website at Furthermore, in addition to the continued development of the bibliography, it seemed clear that the Society would have an important role as archivists.


The conversation then shifted to a discussion about the upcoming Dartmouth conference, which is slated to occur in Spring 2005. There was no new information to share with the group. It seemed the prevailing general inquiry suggests a possible theme could be an exploration as to why James has remained such a secret pleasure. If not, then perhaps that would make for a good panel or roundtable at the next ALA conference. Dennis also suggested an idea based on his reflection of Donald Pease’s paper, presented at this conference in his absence, “The Mexican American War in Song of Myself: The Limits to Globalizing Whitman.” Notably, upon reflection about his discussion about how people from other cultures characterize “Leaves of Grass.” Given that James has so many admirers outside the US (he has been translated into about 30 languages), how might interpretations of James’s work in different cultures differ, and what qualities in particular do people from other countries appreciate?


The conference at the New School University was also asked about. Dennis reported that Matthew Stadler was involved in the event and has agreed to be our liaison. The consensus, from the board members Dennis has heard from and those present, is that the JPS should at the very least offer a link on the website to the URL for the event on the New School’s website.


The issue of the newsletter arose, and Cathy talked specifically about the need to be able to share formatted text files with others in a way that would be both expedient and productive. Currently, the files are just too large to send via e-mail. The website could be used to solve this problem – the newsletter could be stored in draft format on the website (protected by a password and not "live") so that other members of the Society (mainly those on the Board) could review and provide feedback on the document.


Dennis said he had already been in contact with Martin Kich about creating limited-access areas for the website, both for use by the Board to accomplish the work of the organization and, eventually, as a “premium” [area] for members. Marty has said it is something he could do, but that he would need technical support to get it working. Marty has been very swamped with other things lately, but has assured Dennis that he will have some time this summer to devote to the website and complete the bibliography. (His biggest project is a half-million word reference book An Encyclopedia of Emerging Writers [Facts on File: 2006].)




The status of an anthology of the papers submitted to the conference in Amherst was not confirmed, and Cathy volunteered to contact Joseph Skerrett. Whatever the case, publication of a literary journal by the Society was discussed briefly.




Those present left with a final impression of how germane the mission of the James Purdy Society is, and an affirmed belief in the exigency of the work ahead of us. Along with a sense of how far there is to go to achieve our vision, there is also a real awareness of the important contribution the Society can make – its potential impact. So, there was also a palpable exhilaration around how real the difference, the Society can make, is. 



Respectively submitted,


Dennis Moore,


James Purdy Society





The next JPS meeting is planned for spring 2005 during the James Purdy conference in Hanover, New Hampshire at Dartmouth College.




“Bristling Impossibilities” on December 3rd, 2004, in New York City. This conference at the New School University will feature a roundtable of writers with Gordon Lish, James McCourt, and Matthew Stadler. There will be two academic panels devoted to such possible subjects as neglected aspects of Purdy's oeuvre. (Contact Nicholas Birns, Ph.D., at; abstracts are due by August 1st.)


MLA Convention on December 27th–30th, 2004, in Philadelphia. The Society does not plan to be a part of this convention. However if there is a member planning to attend, we should explore the possibility of promoting the JPS at the event, primarily by distributing the newsletter if possible.


MLA Call For Papers for the 2005 convention will be due the first of January 2005. (To request a session the JPS would need a board member who was also a member of the MLA to sponsor the session.)


ALA Conference on May 28th–30th(?), 2005, in Boston. To request a session, we need to contact the conference director before January 30th -- one slot will be granted automatically. (The Conference Director might be Maria Karafilis, but that will not be confirmed until early January.)




On behalf of the James Purdy Society, Dennis would like to thank Alfred Bendixen, Ph.D. (California State University, Los Angeles), who serves on the Board and as Executive Director of the ALA, and served as the ALA Conference Director for 2004. Dr. Bendixen has been very helpful working with Dennis around formation of the Society. He also deserves our appreciation for accommodating the JPS, at a late date, and helping us to be a part of, and prepare for, the conference. (As it turns, “ages ago” Dr. Bendixen used to be neighbors with Wendell Wilcox, in Chapel Hill, NC, who was said to be the model for the character of Malcolm. He says, “Wendell was a graceful gentleman who got his first job at the age of 60 something and knew Gertrude Stein in his youth -- she called him the best letter writer in the world or something like that.”)


Special thanks to Cathy Schlund-Vials, who made a heroic effort to prepare and edit the newsletter on such a short schedule and who has been so very conscientious at the task. The Society is also very thankful for John Uecker’s help with content for the newsletter, especially his prompt editing and proofing of James’s original work, making it possible to have those pieces ready for us to use so soon after James wrote them. Naturally, we are also very grateful to James for contributing “Adeline” and “Nipples” to our inaugural issue.




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