David Leavitt

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David Leavitt
Born (1961-06-23) June 23, 1961 (age 60)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, US
  • Short story writer
  • novelist
  • essayist
  • professor
Education Yale University
Literary movement Minimalism, Gay literature
Notable worksFamily Dancing, The Lost Language of Cranes , While England Sleeps

David Leavitt ( /ˈlɛvɪt/ ; born June 23, 1961) is an American novelist, short story writer, and biographer.



Leavitt was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Harold and Gloria Leavitt. Harold was a professor who taught at Stanford University and Gloria was a political activist. Leavitt graduated from Yale University with a B.A. in English in 1983. After his first book's success, he spent much of the 1990s living in Italy working and restoring an old house in Semproniano in Tuscany with his partner. He has also taught at Princeton University. [1]

While a student at Yale, Leavitt published two stories in The New Yorker, "Territory" and "Out Here", both of which were included in his first collection, Family Dancing (nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award and finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award). Other published fiction includes the short-story collections A Place I've Never Been, Arkansas: Three Novellas and The Marble Quilt and the novels The Lost Language of Cranes, Equal Affections, While England Sleeps (finalist for the Los Angeles Times Fiction Prize), The Page Turner, Martin Bauman, The Body of Jonah Boyd and The Indian Clerk (finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and shortlisted for the IMPAC Dublin Award).

In 2000, Leavitt moved to Gainesville, Florida, and became a member of the Creative Writing faculty at the University of Florida as well as the founder and editor of the literary journal Subtropics .

Leavitt, who is gay, has frequently explored gay issues in his works. [2] As a teenager, he was frequently frightened by gay novels that emphasized the ideal male body. He found this theme, and its suggestion that homoerotic fulfillment was reserved for the exceptionally beautiful young men, intrusive. [3] His writing explores universal themes such as complex family relationships and class and sex exploitation. [4] Illness and death are also recurrent themes in his work, inspired by his experience with his mother's cancer and death when he was growing up. [5]

Despite writing many novels, Leavitt has said he feels more confident as a short story writer. [5] He has been criticized for writing too quickly, which he attributes to early experiences with death convincing him that his life as a writer would be short. [5] His work has been considered both minimalist as well as part of the literary Brat Pack, but he has made "a fierce effort to disassociate" himself from both. He considers his works too long, emotional and descriptive to be minimalist. [5]

Leavitt’s favorite novelist is Penelope Fitzgerald, his favorite works of hers being The Beginning of Spring , The Gate of Angels and The Blue Flower . He has also been influenced by John Cheever, Alice Munro, Cynthia Ozick, Joseph Roth, W. G. Sebald, and Grace Paley, whom he credits for teaching him the importance of humble experiences in great fiction. [6]

In 1993, the English poet Stephen Spender sued Leavitt for copyright infringement over the publication of his novel While England Sleeps, accusing him of using elements of Spender's memoir World Within World in the novel. [7] Viking-Penguin, Leavitt's publisher at the time, withdrew the book. In 1995, Houghton Mifflin published a revised version with a preface by Leavitt addressing the controversy.

In "Courage in the Telling: The Critical Rise and Fall of David Leavitt", Drew Patrick Shannon argues that the critical backlash that accompanied Spender's suit "allowed [critics] to reinforce the boundaries between gay and mainstream literature that Leavitt had previously crossed". [8] Subsequent reviews of Leavitt's work were more favorable. [9] [10] The episode provided Leavitt with the basis for his novella The Term-Paper Artist. [11]


Two of Leavitt's novels have been filmed: The Lost Language of Cranes (1991) was directed by Nigel Finch and The Page Turner (released under the title Food of Love) was directed by Ventura Pons. The rights to a third, The Indian Clerk , have been optioned by Scott Rudin.





Co-authored and edited collections

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  1. Lawson, Don (January 1, 2001). "David Leavitt". GLBTQ Literature via EBSCO.
  2. Lawson, Don. "Leavitt, David". Archived from the original on 19 October 2006. Retrieved 1 February 2015.
  3. Schwartz, Michael (January 1, 1995). "David Leavitt's Inner Child". Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review. 2: 1, 40–44.
  4. Coman, Jennifer. "David Leavitt: Overview". Contemporary Popular Writers. Literature Resource Center.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Staggs, Sam (Aug 24, 1990). "David Leavitt: the writer of short stories and novels talks about the pitfalls of having achieved early success". Publishers Weekly. Academic ASAP: 47.
  6. "By the Book: David Leavitt". The New York Times Book Review. Arts and Entertainment. June 29, 2014 via Literature Resource Center.
  7. Spender, Stephen. "My Life is Mine: Not David Leavitt's". New York Times. Retrieved 1 February 2015.
  8. Shannon, Drew Patrick (October 2001). "Courage in the Telling: The Critical Rise and Fall of David Leavitt". International Journal of Sexuality and Gender Studies. 6 (4): 305–318. doi:10.1023/A:1012221326219. S2CID   140307128.
  9. Taylor, DJ (January 25, 2008). "Adding up to a life". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 23 February 2013.
  10. Freudenberger, Nell (September 16, 2007). "Lust for Numbers". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 February 2013.
  11. Bleeth, Kenneth; Julie Rivkin (October 2001). "The 'Imitation David': Plagiarism, Collaboration and the Making of a Gay Literary Tradition in David Leavitt's "The Term-Paper Artist". PMLA. 5. 116.