(Source: University of California, San Diego, Geisel Library and Mandeville Special Collections Library)
James Schuyler, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and member of the
New York School circle of poets and painters was a New York City resident
since 1950. Schuyler moved among prominent artists and writers of the
period and worked as an art critic and associate editor for Art News
from 1955 to circa 1962, and in the Museum of Modern Art beginning in
1957. He published his first novel, Alfred and Guinevere, in 1958 and
continued a distinguished career, publishing twelve books of poetry and
two additional novels, including A Nest of Ninnies with John Ashbery.
Schuyler's collection of poems entitled The Morning of the Poem won a
Pulitzer Prize in 1981.
Born on November 9, 1923 in Chicago, Illinois, James Marcus Schuyler
experienced a peripatetic childhood. His family lived for a time in
Downer's Grove, a suburb of Chicago, then Washington, D.C., and later
Chevy Chase, Maryland. His parents divorced early in Schuyler's
childhood and he remained with his mother and step-father. At the age
of twelve, his family moved to Buffalo, New York, and two years later to
East Aurora, a suburb outside of Buffalo.
Schuyler attended Bethany College in West Virginia from 1941 to 1943.
There he pursued interests in history, architecture, and literature.
During World War II, in 1943, he joined the U.S. Navy. He spent the
next two years on a destroyer in the North Atlantic, protecting convoys.
He remained in the Navy after the war.
In 1947, Schuyler moved to the Isle of Ischia in Italy for two years.
There he lived in the rented house of W.H. Auden, whom he had met in New
York. Schuyler served as Auden's secretary, typing the manuscript for
Auden's book Gnomes and Auden's translation of Jean Cocteau's "Les
Chevaliers de la Table Ronde." Schuyler also attended the University of
Florence at this time, and he began writing poetry. Although he
returned to New York briefly, an inheritance allowed him the financial
independence to return to Florence in mid-1950.
Schuyler began writing seriously in the late 1940's, but an important
breakthrough in his career came in 1951. As a result of his
correspondence with Howard Moss, Moss published Schuyler's poem
"Salute", written in the hospital in White Plains, New York. Moss later
published three of Schuyler's short stories in the magazine Accent along
with a poem entitled "Three Penny Opera" by Frank O'Hara. At a party,
Moss introduced Schuyler to Frank O'Hara and John Ashbery, who had been
Moss's schoolmates at Harvard.
Schuyler soon became involved with the so-called New York School of
writers and artists. By 1951, he and Frank O'Hara shared an apartment
on 49th Street, where they were later joined by John Ashbery after
Ashbery's return from France. Schuyler worked for a while at a bookshop
on 54th street and later, with the financial assistance of a friend,
devoted himself to writing what would become his first novel, Alfred and
Guinevere. By 1955 he was working for the magazine Art News as an art
critic and associate editor. His colleagues at Art News included John
Ashbery, Barbara Guest, Fairfield Porter, and Elaine De Kooning. For
this journal Schuyler reviewed exhibitions and wrote articles. By 1957
he was also working for the Museum of Modern Art in the Department of
Schuyler's writing career expanded greatly in the mid-1950s and 1960s.
He wrote the libretto for Paul Bowles' recording entitled A Picnic
Cantata (1955) and two off-broadway plays, Presenting Jane (1952) and
Shopping and Waiting (1953). In 1958 he published his first novel,
Alfred and Guinevere, a book about children and their perceptions. Then
came two collections of verse, Salute (1960) and May 24th or So (1966).
Between 1961 and 1973, Schuyler lived with the Fairfield Porter family
in Southampton, Long Island, and moved among New York poets and
painters, including Fairfield Porter, Kenward Elmslie, Ron Padgett, and
Joe Brainard. He collaborated with Kenward Elmslie on the off-broadway
play Unpacking the Black Trunk (1965).
Collaborating with John Ashbery, Schuyler published the novel A Nest
Ninnies in 1969. Begun early in their relationship, the novel is a
satire on suburbanites and their lifestyles. This work appeared at the
same time as Schuyler's first major collection of poetry Freely Espousing (1969).
Schuyler's productivity reached a zenith during the 1970s, with the
publication of numerous collections of poems including The Crystal
Lithium (1972); A Sun Cab (1972); Penguin Modern Poets 24, with Kenneth
Koch and Kenward Elmslie (1973); Hymn to Life (1974); Song (1976); The
Fireproof Floors of Witley Count: English Songs and Dances (1976); and
The Home Book: Prose and Poems 1951-1970 (1977). Schuyler also produced
his third novel entitled What's for Dinner, published in 1978. His last
work of the decade was The Morning of the Poem (1980), for which he
received a Pulitzer Prize.
Although well-known and successful by the early 1980s, Schuyler turned
to a life of reclusion as poor health and financial difficulties
hindered his writing. He continues to live in New York City, and has
recently published two collections of poetry: A Few Days (1985) and
Selected Poems (1988).
In addition to a Pulitzer Prize for The Morning of the Poem, Schuyler
received the Longview Foundation award (1961), the Frank O'Hara Prize
(1969), two National Academy for the Arts grants (1969, 1972), an
American Academy award (1977), and an Academy of American Poets
"James Schuyler's is a poetry of perception, the recognition of
out of the indiscriminate sensory field," wrote George Butterick in
Contemporary Poets (1985). "Reading him," wrote Butterick, "there is a
sense of focusing field glasses; always the sharper image
results...Schuyler is determined to possess the natural world without a
lapse into symbolism. Nature is not to be quarreled with, nor confused
with human needs. The world is distinguishable among its parts as well
as from the observing narrator. He has tried life and it fits; life