James Purdy's Writing Life

29th December 2004

I visited the writer James Purdy a couple of times last November. Now 81, he still writes every day in the same Brooklyn studio apartment he's lived in for forty years. I'm writing my interviews up into articles, and will be embedding some of it into my PhD thesis. As the year is set to turn, however, it seems good to post one interview extract here.

"I taught writing for a while and I told the students you know there are two kinds of writers. Thereís the popular writers. They just write about what everybody knows. Theyíre really journalists you know, they write what they see and hear. Then thereís the other kind. They do not know what they know. Till they finally learn it. But society doesnít want that kind of writer. They donít believe you donít know what you know. But most writers never find it out what it is they donít know. Of course this is the only thing they do know if they could dig deep enough. But that I think is true of everyone. We live in all these lies. We donít get in touch with what we really know. Itís forbidden."

He repeated the same lesson in a number of ways during out talks, just to make sure I took it to heart. I did. If the words resonate with you, you might like to try his novels. Carol and Graf are just issuing a run of them in the US - I've treated myself to reading and re-reading all his books over the last few months. Take a look at James Purdy's Eustace Chisholm and the Works and James Purdy's Moe's Villa and Other Stories. Whenever your own genius is running tired, it's good to draw on someone else's. Have a happy and creative new year starting whenever you read this - plumb those depths as well as soar to those heights!

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