Richard Yates (novelist)

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Richard Yates
Yatesrichard.jpg
Richard Yates in 1960
Born February 3, 1926
Yonkers, New York
Died November 7, 1992(1992-11-07) (aged 66)
Birmingham, Alabama
Occupation novelist, short story writer
Nationality United States
Literary movement Realism

Richard Yates (February 3, 1926 – November 7, 1992) was an American novelist and short story writer, known for his exploration of mid-20th century life.

Life[edit]

Born in Yonkers, New York, Yates came from an unstable home. His parents divorced when he was three and much of his childhood was spent in many different towns and residences. Yates first became interested in journalism and writing while attending Avon Old Farms School in Avon, Connecticut.

After leaving Avon, Yates joined the Army, serving in France and Germany during World War II. By the middle of 1946, he was back in New York.[1] Upon his return to New York he worked as a journalist, freelance ghost writer (briefly writing speeches for Attorney General Robert Kennedy) and publicity writer for Remington Rand Corporation.[2] His career as a novelist began in 1961 with the publication of the widely heralded[citation needed] Revolutionary Road. He subsequently taught writing at Columbia University, the New School for Social Research,[1] Boston University (where his papers are archived),[3] at the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop, at Wichita State University, the University of Southern California Master of Professional Writing Program, and at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.[4]

In 1962, he wrote the screenplay for a film adaptation of William Styron's Lie Down in Darkness.

In 1948, he married Sheila Bryant, the daughter of Marjorie Gilhooley Bryant and British actor Charles Bryant, who had lived with Broadway actress and silent-film star Alla Nazimova during the height of her wealth and fame, from 1912 to 1925. Richard and Sheila Yates had two daughters, Sharon and Monica, before divorcing in 1959. He remarried in 1968 to Martha Speer, with whom he had a daughter named Gina.[5] In 1992, he died of emphysema and complications from minor surgery in Birmingham, Alabama.[6]

The character of Elaine Benes on Seinfeld was loosely based on his daughter Monica, who had been the girlfriend and later friend of co-creator Larry David. David's first meeting with the writer was the basis for "The Jacket" episode of Seinfeld's second season, in which Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza meet Elaine's curmudgeonly novelist father.[7][8]

Novels[edit]

Yates's fiction was autobiographical in nature, as his fiction included much of his own life. Yates was born in 1926, making him 17 in 1943, the same age in that year as William Grove in A Good School; and he was 29 in 1955, the same age in that year as Frank Wheeler in Revolutionary Road; and 36 in 1962, the age Emily Grimes was that year in The Easter Parade.[9]

Yates's first novel, Revolutionary Road, was a finalist for the National Book Award that year (alongside Walker Percy's The Moviegoer, which won, Joseph Heller's Catch-22, and J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey). Yates was championed by writers as diverse as Kurt Vonnegut, Dorothy Parker, William Styron, Tennessee Williams and John Cheever. Yates's brand of realism was a direct influence on writers such as Andre Dubus, Raymond Carver and Richard Ford.[1]

For much of his life, Yates's work met almost universal critical acclaim, yet not one of his books sold over 12,000 copies in hardcover first edition.[10] All of his novels were out of print in the years after his death, though his reputation has substantially increased posthumously and many of his novels have since been reissued in new editions. This current success can be largely traced to the influence of Stewart O'Nan's 1999 essay in the Boston Review, "The Lost World of Richard Yates: How the great writer of the Age of Anxiety disappeared from print".

With the revival of interest in Yates's life and work after his death, Blake Bailey published the first in-depth biography of Yates, A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates (2003). Film director Sam Mendes directed Revolutionary Road, a 2008 Anglo-American drama film, based on the 1961 novel of the same name by Richard Yates. The film was nominated for BAFTAs, Golden Globes, Academy Awards, and others. Kate Winslet thanked Richard Yates for writing such a powerful novel and providing such a strong role for a woman while accepting a Golden Globe for Best Actress Award for the film.[11]

Short fiction[edit]

Yates was also an acclaimed author of short stories.

Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, Yates' first collection, followed the publication of his famed first novel Revolutionary Road by a single year. It was compared favorably to James Joyce's Dubliners (all but one of its stories take place in and around the boroughs of New York City as opposed to Joyce's Dublin) and eventually achieved a kind of cult status among fiction writers despite its relative obscurity. One later New York Times essay praised Yates' "exposure of the small fiercely defended dignities and much vaster humiliations of characters who might have been picked almost at random from the fat telephone book of the Borough of Queens."[12]

Yates' second collection, Liars in Love, appeared nearly twenty years later, in 1981, and was again met with a positive critical reception. Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, writing for the Times, called the stories "wonderfully crafted," and concluded that "every detail of this collection stays alive and fresh in one's memory."[13]

Despite this, only one of Yates' short stories ever appeared in The New Yorker (after repeated rejections), and none during his lifetime. This story, "The Canal," was published in the magazine nine years after the author's death to celebrate the 2001 release of The Collected Stories of Richard Yates, a collection that was again met with great critical fanfare.

Popular culture[edit]

  • Richard Yates was godfather to the veteran character actor John Lacy.

Films

Novels

Other

  • Singer Tanita Tikaram's 1992 album title, Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, was borrowed from Yates's 1962 collection of short stories.
  • Daughter Gina Yates runs the eclectic vintage fashion boutique Frock Star Vintage in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
  • In Seinfeld, the character Alton Benes, Elaine Benes's father, was inspired by Richard Yates, since Larry David did once date his daughter Monica. The suede jacket incident depicted on the episode "The Jacket" really happened.[8]

Bibliography[edit]

Filmography[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates. 2003. 
  2. ^ Ford, Richard (2000-04-09). "Essay; American Beauty (Circa 1955)". The New York Times Book Review (The New York Times Company). Retrieved 2008-03-31. 
  3. ^ "Drinking With Dick Yates". The North American Review: 75. May–August 2001. 
  4. ^ Bradfield, Scott. "Follow the long and revolutionary road". 
  5. ^ Naparsteck, Martin, Richard Yates Up Close: The Writer and His Works, McFarland, Dec 22, 2011
  6. ^ Pace, Eric (1992-11-09). "Richard Yates, Novelist, 66, Dies; Chronicler of Disappointed Lives". The New York Times (The New York Times Company). Retrieved 2008-03-31. 
  7. ^ Bailey, Blake. A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates. Picador, 2003.
  8. ^ a b (December 1, 2011). "Larry David's Rough Night Out With The Aging Literary Lion". The Awl. Retrieved on May 21, 2014
  9. ^ Naparsteck, Martin (2012). Richard Yates Up Close. NC, uSA: McFarland. p. 15. ISBN 978-0-7864-6059-5. 
  10. ^ "A Fresh Twist in the Road For Novelist Richard Yates, a Specialist in Grim Irony, Late Fame's a Wicked Return". Los Angeles Times. July 9, 1989. 
  11. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0959337/awards
  12. ^ Tower, Robert (November 1, 1981). "Richard Yates and His Unhappy People". The New York Times. 
  13. ^ Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher (October 15, 1981). "Books of the Times". The New York Times. 
  14. ^ Film Review: Revolutionary Road, Peter Bradshaw, Guardian, 2009 Jan 30
  15. ^ Williams, John (July 17, 2013). "Slippery Nate: Adelle Waldman Talks About ‘The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.'". The New York Times. 

Further reading[edit]

Charlton-Jones, Kate, Dismembering the American Dream: the Life and Fiction of Richard Yates, The University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, 2014

External links[edit]