FROM THE INTRODUCTION BY RICHARD PRICE
As crystalline as he was on the page, in the flesh Richard Yates was a magnificent wreck, a chaotic and wild-hearted presence, a tall but stooped smoke-cloud of a man, Kennedyesque in dress and manner, gaunt and bearded with hung eyes and a cigarette-slaughtered voice, the words barreling out of him in a low breathless rumble as ash flew into salads, into beer mugs, into the laps of others with every gesture, his demeanor invariably lurching between courtly-solicitous and edge-of-bitter cavalier.
I first met Yates in 1974 at the School of the Arts, Columbia University, in an MFA fiction workshop. For a few thousand dollars a semester, he entered the room every week wearing a nubby sports jacket and askew knit tie to critique and counsel a table of students sporting frayed bell-bottoms, Prince Valiant bangs and sarcastic hats. It had been thirteen years since Revolutionary Road
. Disturbing the Peace
was a year away.
We were in our early twenties, and most of us had neither read nor even heard of him. In class he called you by your last name, no title: a brusque, slightly boarding-schoolish and utterly seductive form of address. He regularly and passionately savaged those writers whom he perceived to be his more validated (‘‘lucky,’’ he called them) peers, but he treated a student’s work, no matter how hapless, with shocking earnestness.
He was a nurturer of grudges; an incubator of slights.
His personal gods were Hemingway and Fitzgerald.
He was bitter.
Copyright © 2009 by Richard Yates. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.