University of Delaware Library

Special Collections Department

James Purdy Manuscripts

1961 - 1978

Manuscript Collection Number: 370
Accessioned: Purchase, June 1998
Extent: .3 linear feet
Content: Typescripts, postcard
Access: The collection is open for research.
Processed: July 1998, by Meghan J. Fuller

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Table of Contents

Biographical Note

Born in Ohio on July 17, 1923, James Purdy is one of the United States' most prolific, yet little known writers. A novelist, poet, playwright and amateur artist, Purdy has published over fifty volumes. He received his education at the University of Chicago and the University of Peubla in Mexico. In addition to writing, Purdy also has served as an interpreter in Latin America, France, and Spain, and he spent a year lecturing in Europe with the United States Information Agency (1982).

From the outset of his writing career, Purdy has had difficulty attracting the attention of both publishers and critics. His first several short stories were rejected by every magazine to which he sent them, and he was forced to sign with a private publisher for his first two books, 63: Dream Palace and Don't Call Me by My Right Name and Other Stories, both published in 1956. Hoping to increase his readership, Purdy sent copies of these first two books to writers he admired, including English poet Dame Edith Sitwell. Sitwell raved about Purdy's work and helped convince an English publisher, Gollancz, to publish and distribute Purdy's books in England. Purdy's writing was introduced in the United States a year later when his previous books were published together in one volume, Color of Darkness: Eleven Stories and a Novella (1957).

Purdy has since published more than seventeen novels, including Malcolm (Farrar Straus, 1959); Cabot Wright Begins (Farrar Straus, 1964); I am Elijah Thrush (Doubleday, 1972), On Glory's Course (Viking, 1984), Candles of Your Eyes (Viking, 1986), and Out with the Stars (City Lights Books, 1992). His 1976 novel, Shallow Grave (Arbor House, 1976), was produced as a major motion picture in 1988 starring Michael Biehn and Patrick Dempsey. Purdy is also the author of several collections of short stories, and many of his plays have been performed in various theaters off-Broadway.

Despite a lack of commercial popularity in the United States, Purdy is not entirely without critical success. He won a National Institute of Arts and Letters grant in literature in 1958, followed by Guggenheim fellowships in both 1958 and 1962. Purdy is also the recipient of a Rockefeller grant, a Ford Foundation Grant (1961), and a P.E.N.-Faulkner Award nomination in 1985 for On Glory's Course. Most recently, he was awarded a Morten Dauwen Zabel Fiction award from the Academy of Arts and Letters (1993).


Metzger, Linda, Ed. Contemporary Authors. New Revision Series, Volume 19. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1984. pp.389-395.

Scope and Content Note

The James Purdy Manuscript Collection spans the years 1961 to 1978 and contains three items: a short story, Everything Under the Sun; and two novels, I am Elijah Thrush, and Narrow Rooms.

Originally published in Partisan Review, Everything Under the Sun was included in Purdy's 1961 collection Children is All (New Directions). This ten page carbon typescript includes several minor corrections by the author.

Purdy began writing Narrow Rooms in 1975 in Brooklyn and finished the novel two years later while staying in Berkeley. His inscription on the title page indicates that it was based upon a true story. The 234-page typescript is the printer's final copy and includes only minor corrections by the author.

The typescript of I am Elijah Thrush is perhaps most interesting from a scholarly standpoint because it contains extensive corrections and additions by the author. Pages eight through ten were almost entirely reworked, and Purdy inserted an additional page of material which he labeled "48a" for the printer. I am Elijah Thrush was first published by Doubleday in 1972.

Related collection:

Ms 369 Robert A. Wilson Collection Related to James Purdy

Series Outline

1.  Everything Under the Sun, 1961
2.  I Am Elijah Thrush, 1972
3.  Narrow Rooms, 1978

Contents List

Folder -- Contents

F1   Everything Under the Sun, 1961
     carbon typescript,  10 pp.
     some holograph notations
     inscribed on title page "original typescript / James Purdy / appeared first in Partisan
     Review then in hard cover Children is All"

F2   I Am Elijah Thrush, 1972
     carbon typescript,  124 pp.
     extensive holograph notations throughout

F3   Narrow Rooms, 1978
     photocopied typescript,  234 pp.
     inscribed on title page "based on a true story / final corrected typescript / James Purdy /
     finished in Berkeley, California 1977 / begun in Brooklyn 1975"
     stored in cardboard box inscribed by the author "Narrow Rooms / by James Purdy / final    
     printer's copy"
     also enclosed is a postcard dated August 17, 1971, addressed to Purdy, and inscribed
     "Dear Jim--I've turned into an aging American teenaged beatnik traveling from one
     European city to another.  Stockholm, where I'm presently lounging, is rather a
     bore--Jan P."

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