yates wooded


In April, 1951, Richard Yates sailed from New York to Paris. He had been there twice before, as a child and, later, as a soldier, but for him, as for so many American writers, it was less a place than a laurelled idea—the silvery and careless city of Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Careless, but a literary workshop, too: Yates said that he was determined to produce short stories there “at the rate of about one a month.” Then twenty-five years old, he was beginning an indenture that would last until his death, in 1992. Around the compulsion of writing he shaped everything else. There were two other compulsions, smoking and drinking, but they only killed him, while writing plainly kept him alive. (He was an alcoholic, but he rarely wrote while drunk.) He lived in New York, in Iowa, in Los Angeles, in Boston, and, finally, in Alabama, yet his homes were identical in their shabby discipline of neglect. In each there was a table for writing, a circle of crushed cockroaches around the desk chair, curtains made colorless by cigarette smoke, a few books, and nothing much in the kitchen but coffee, bourbon, and beer. Friends and colleagues found these accommodations appallingly bleak; for Yates they were accommodations for writing.

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