Authors: David Slavitt

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist, poet, and translator

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Rochelle: Or, Virtue Rewarded, 1966

The Exhibitionist, 1967 (as Henry Sutton)

Feel Free, 1968

The Voyeur, 1969 (as Sutton)

Anagrams, 1970

Vector, 1971 (as Sutton)

A B C D, 1972

The Liberated, 1973 (as Sutton)

The Outer Mongolian, 1973

The Killing of the King, 1974

King of Hearts, 1976

That Golden Woman, 1976 (as Henry Lazarus)

Jo Stern, 1978

The Sacrifice, 1978 (as Sutton)

The Idol, 1979 (as David Benjamin)

The Proposal, 1980 (as Sutton)

Cold Comfort, 1980

Ringer, 1982

Alice at 80, 1984

The Agent, 1986 (with Bill Adler)

The Hussar, 1987

Salazar Blinks, 1988

Lives of the Saints, 1989

Turkish Delights, 1993

The Cliff, 1994, Bank Holiday Monday, 1996 (as Sutton)

Short Fiction:

Short Stories Are Not Real Life, 1991

Poetry:

Suits for the Dead, 1961

The Carnivore, 1965

Day Sailing, 1969

Child’s Play, 1972

Vital Signs: New and Selected Poems, 1975

Rounding the Horn, 1978

Dozens, 1981

Big Nose, 1983

The Walls of Thebes, 1986

Equinox, and Other Poems, 1989

Eight Longer Poems, 1990

Crossroads, 1994

A Gift: The Life of Da Ponte, a Poem, 1996

PS3569.L3: Poems, 1998

Falling from Silence, 2001

Nonfiction:

Understanding Social Life, 1976 (with Paul F. Secord and Carl W. Backman)

Physicians Observed, 1987

Virgil, 1991

Translations:

The Eclogues of Virgil, 1971

The Eclogues and the Georgics of Virgil, 1972

The Tristia of Ovid, 1986

Ovid’s Poetry of Exile, 1990

Five Plays of Seneca, 1991

The Metamorphoses of Ovid, 1994

Sixty-one Psalms of David, 1996

Hymns of Prudentius, 1996

Epic and Epigram: Two Elizabethan Entertainments, 1997 (of John Owen’s Epigrammata)

A Crown for the King, 1998 (of Ibn Gabirol)

The Oresteia, 1998 (of Aeschylus)

The Poem of Queen Esther, 1999 (of João Pinto Delgado)

The Voyage of the Argo: The Argonautica of Gaius Valerius Flaccus, 1999

The Book of the Twelve Prophets, 2000

The Latin Odes of Jean Dorat, 2000

Sonnets of Love and Death, 2001 (of Jean de Sponde)

Edited Texts:

Land of Superior Mirages: New and Selected Poems, 1986 (by Adrien Stoutenburg)

Aristophanes, 1998-1999 (with Palmer Bovie)

Euripides, 1998-1999 (with Bovie)

Menander, 1998 (with Bovie)

Sophocles, 1998-1999 (with Bovie)

Aeschylus, 1998-1999

Plautus: The Comedies, 1995 (with Bovie)

Biography

David Rytman Slavitt has had four writing careers: as a poet, as a translator of Latin poetry, as a respected (if not widely read) novelist, and (briefly and pseudonymously) as a best-selling pop trash writer in the 1960’s.{$I[A]Slavitt, David}{$S[A]Sutton, Henry;Slavitt, David}{$S[A]Lazarus, Henry;Slavitt, David}{$S[A]Benjamin, David;Slavitt, David}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Slavitt, David}{$I[tim]1935;Slavitt, David}

Slavitt was born in 1935, the son of attorney Samuel Saul Slavitt and the former Adele Beatrice Rytman. From childhood, David was told it was his duty to fulfill a failed dream of his father’s: Samuel Slavitt had been admitted to Yale University and spent two happy years there, then was forced to withdraw because his parents could no longer afford the tuition. Samuel persevered, attending New York University at night while working, and became a successful lawyer. He vowed, however, that his son would follow the path he had wanted: prep school at Phillips Andover, undergraduate study at Yale, followed by Harvard Law School.

David Slavitt followed orders, graduating from Andover in 1952 and proceeding to Yale, which he found, to his surprise, he actually enjoyed, despite the aspects of filial duty. He graduated magna cum laude in 1956 but refused to go on to law school and took a job in the personnel department at Reader’s Digest. He stayed there long enough to buy two ship tickets, then, on August 27, 1956, he married Lynn Nita Meyer, and they sailed on the Queen Elizabeth. The trip ended badly, however: After they had been on their honeymoon for only a week, they learned that Lynn’s mother had died, and they had to return home immediately.

Slavitt returned to school, gaining an M.A. in English from Columbia University in 1956 for a dissertation on the poetry of Dudley Fitts. His son, Evan Meyer Slavitt, was born that year. (Slavitt and his wife later had two more children, Sarah Rebecca and Joshua Rytman.) Slavitt accepted a teaching job at Georgia Institute of Technology. He hated his year there, blaming the low level of educational development of his students and the lack of esteem for literary studies.

He returned to New York in 1958 and was hired by Newsweek, where he worked in various editorial capacities, including book and film reviewing, and was given the title of associate editor. His wife suffered a debilitating attack of mononucleosis, and he began staying at his parents’ house in his native city, White Plains, New York.

His first book of poetry, Suits for the Dead, was published in Scribner’s prestigious Poets of Today series in 1961. Series editor John Hall Wheelock praised him for his virtuosity, his mastery of a variety of forms, and his use of tone.

In 1965 Slavitt left Newsweek to become a full-time writer. Like Robert Graves, he set out to support the poetry that he loved to create by the writing of novels. In 1966 he published Rochelle: Or Virtue Rewarded, a serious novel. At this point Bernard Geis, notorious as the publisher of Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls (1966) and other fiction for the mass market, suggested that Slavitt could make a lot of money writing that sort of book. Slavitt yielded, producing The Exhibitionist, a showbiz roman à clef he allowed Geis to publish under the pseudonym Henry Sutton. The book reached the best-seller lists, and the revelation that its actual author was a serious writer and poet probably supplied a frisson that helped its sales.

The second Sutton book, The Voyeur, whose protagonist resembled publisher Hugh Hefner, sold less well; perhaps readers were tiring of the joke. Vector represented an effort at socially conscious mass-market pop, warning of the dangers of biological warfare experiments. It made little splash, as did four succeeding Sutton novels and three other pseudonymous popular books.

Meanwhile, Sutton was writing under his own name, with poetry collections appearing from university presses every three years or so. As Slavitt, he wrote a wide variety of literary novels, including Anagrams, a university novel enriched by Joycean word play, and The Outer Mongolian, an imaginative tale in which a child with Down syndrome, his intellect briefly and freakishly enhanced to superhuman levels, plays havoc with the American politics of the 1960’s.

In 1971 he began yet another literary career, as a Latin translator, with his rendition of The Eclogues of Virgil. In 1975 his poetry received notice, with a major publisher, Doubleday, issuing Vital Signs.

On December 20, 1977, Slavitt divorced his first wife; the next year he married physician Janet Lee Abrahm. Also in 1978 he published Jo Stern, a surprisingly sympathetic fictionalized account of Jacqueline Susann’s courageous struggle with terminal cancer. Alice at 80 was a fictional treatment of the old age of the woman who, as a child, had inspired Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865). The Agent, published as “Created by” book packager Bill Adler and written by Slavitt, returned to the territory of The Exhibitionist but with a new wit and irony. In the 1990’s, Slavitt continued to publish poetry and fiction, usually with university presses. He also worked more as a Latin translator, publishing more than a dozen translations and adaptations of poetry, plays, and fables.

BibliographyBooklist. Review of The Walls of Thebes, by David Slavitt. Booklist, October, 1986. Discusses life and art (“the cruel injustices of the former and the inadequate consolations of the latter”) as the themes of Slavitt’s book. Praises the volume as touching while noting that it is also “often troubling.”Garrett, George. “David Slavitt.” In American Poets Since World War II, edited by James E. Kibler, Jr. Vol. 5 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale, 1980. Thorough outline of Slavitt’s career.Garrett, George. My Silk Purse and Yours. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1992. Discusses Slavitt’s career in depth as an aspect of the contemporary publishing scene.Kaganoff, Penny. Review of Eight Longer Poems, by David Slavitt. Publishers Weekly 237 (March 30, 1990): 56. Praises Slavitt’s “inventiveness and proficient manipulation of language” while alleging his “excessive” references to “blood” and “wounds.” Also discusses Slavitt’s effort to transform “personal suffering into universal circumstance.”O’Neil, Paul. “Calculating Poet Behind a Very Gamy Book.” Life 64 (January 26, 1968): 64-68. A contemporaneous look at the revelation of Henry Sutton’s identity.Slavitt, David. Interview by George Garrett and John Graham. In The Writer’s Voice: Conversations with Contemporary Writers, edited by George Garrett. New York: Morrow, 1973. This interview is often cited for its reliable insights into Slavitt’s broad range of interests as a writer of fiction, poetry, and essays. It highlights many of his adjustments that follow his translations of Vergil.Taylor, Henry. “The Fun of the End of the World: David R. Slavitt’s Poems.” Virginia Quarterly Review 66, no. 2 (Spring, 1990): 210-248. Taylor’s comprehensive overview explores Slavitt’s wit, erudition, and “neoclassical attention to form.” Slavitt’s tonal variety and his ability to take successful risks in tonal shifts are hallmarks of his technical mastery. His narratives transform their historical materials, revealing the repeated bad news of history, included failed relationships and diminished love, in delightfully inspiring art.Wheelock, John Hall. “Introductory Essay: Man’s Struggle to Understand.” In Poets of Today VII, edited by John Hall Wheelock. New York: Scribner, 1960. This is the introduction to Slavitt’s first full collection of poems, published in the Scribner’s Poets of Today series. Wheelock identifies themes and techniques used by the young Slavitt–an identification remarkable for its continuing applicability.
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