Archive for the 1. My journey to America: Boston Category

Last day in the Archive

Posted in 1. My journey to America: Boston on December 4, 2008 by kateonyates

I woke up early, scribbled a few things down, answered some emails and the off to BU for my last trip to the archive. It was a less productive day today which in some ways was good because it made me feel that I had got the timing of my trip just about right; it was an impossible thing to judge from back home. How many days will I need? How much do sixteen boxes hold? Would I want a day a box? I looked again at Uncertain Times, at some of his letters again a) because they’re useful and b) because they’re often hilarious – and also at Lie Down in Darkness. I’d forgotten what a good Introduction George Bluestone wrote for that.

I left the archive after about three and a half hours – not so much as a blink from the large lady in the corner. And here I was thinking I was important! I was sad that ‘my’ archivist, Charlie, was out when I left because I wanted to say goodbye to him. He is a petrol head and had somehow discovered my brother writes about Formula One – oh yes, he’d spotted my birthplace in my passport which I had to hand in each day. ‘Oh, Nigel Mansell country?’ he said quizzically on the first day. So, every day, when I had to sign in and write in who my archivist was, I put a different F1 driver. Well, it amused him.

Just before I went, I had a copy made of the first two pages of Revolutionary Road – written in pencil and full of crossings out. It was a sort of sentimental thing. So pleased I did it though. I’ll frame them one day, tattered though they are…..

I rushed back to Brookline, began my packing by chucking things around and hoping they hit an open case, wrote another email to Monica asking, bravely (rudely??) whether I might possibly just sneak in at the back of Friday night’s screening. My friend in LA was shouting at me to ‘Get ON with it, Kate! Stop being so hesitant….just do it!’ Well, he didn’t say any of that but that’s what he meant and, as usual he was right. Then it was time for my last meeting with DeWitt. I rushed out, got on the T line to Bolyston and hoped my little recording device would work. It did.

We had just over an hour together and he was great and so patient. I wish I’d read his own book, The Marriage of Anna Maye Potts, but I can’t pretend I have and he’d know if I was pretending anyway. Sadly, I don’t think I was really ‘on the ball’ as I felt rather weak and jaded however we covered quite a lot of ground about Yates and the ‘mess’ of the Ploughshares interview and how difficult it was….dogs, people, coming in and out, RY’s shyness and reluctance and yet it remains such a great piece. I suggested that they re-issue the Ploughshares interview, unexpurgated. He seemed interested in the notion but didn’t think Ploughshares would be interested in doing it. We then discussed Yates’s screenplays with obvious emphasis on Lie Down in Darkness but DeWitt was talking about Iwo Jima as well. I haven’t seen that screenplay; where is it? He talked too about the difficulties Yates had in getting published, despite the enormously powerful figure of Sam Lawrence behind him. We talked about the number of people now ‘coming out’ as Yates enthusiasts DeWitt told me, for instance, that Woody Allen was an early fan. We then discussed the untapped area of humour in Yates – it pervades everything.

Now to sort out my day for tomorrow: Virginia here I come!


Thoughts about what Yates wanted, physically, in a woman………

Posted in 1. My journey to America: Boston on December 3, 2008 by kateonyates

DeWitt told me that when Richard Yates was in Alabama, at the end of his short life, and dying from emphysema, there was a young woman who looked after him. She told DH that RY had proposed to her but then, seeing her square ankles, had withdrawn the proposal. There is a real ‘leg’ obsession in his work. In the unpublished screenplay ‘The World on Fire’, Harold, the husband, toys with an affair with his secretary whose ‘legs aren’t bad at all’; this seems to decide it for him! Yates, it seemed, liked long, shapely legs, with small ankles, and petite, pert breasts. I offer no comment.

DeWitt and I discussed impotence, as it emerges in Yates’ work and as it may or may not have afflicted him – since he always wrote about what he knew, it seems likely: if abortion is his metaphor for the 1950’s, is his metaphor for the writer impotence? Just a thought I had. It emerges in Uncertain Times as I saw in the archive today, in The Easter Parade and in Young Hearts Crying. Obviously this is an issue I will have to give some attention to in my forthcoming PhD.

Handling his papers today and firstly still being able to detect the faint whiff of nicotine – yes, I smelt the papers – coming across more coffee stains amongst his Uncertain Times papers, phone numbers scrawled down the side or across the bottom of a page he’s working or ‘thinking’ on. It made RY step forward out of the folders of paper. I read a lot of interesting stuff today including the transcripts of the Ploughshares interview with lots of good bits that have been cut out about novels versus movies about the role of the writer and much more besides. Need to know if I can use this and will have to ask DeWitt.

Went, on foot, to the Museum of Fine Art tonight and had two lovely hours there.

I bumped into a lovely 19 yr old who was a bit bored of pacing the floor with maps so she took me on a personal tour. Fantastic. We had such a giggle. I saw two lovely Hoppers – same spirit as Yates – the shadows, the lonely girls, the late-night bars and urban scenes. Lots of lovely Singer-Sergeants though I can only manage a few at a time of those. There was a fantastic exhibition of an amazing photographer called Yousef Karsh; I didn’t know of him though a few of the pictures looked familiar. Just stunning pictures. Really great ones of Einstein, Hemingway, Albert Schweitzer, George B. Shaw, Audrey Hepburn and on and on but the best, by far (I thought) was one of Jacques Lipchitz, a sculptor who then did an amazing bust of YK which was there too. Reluctantly I dragged myself away from all that and went to the Japanese exhibition which was rather more somber but very special.

I had a Thai meal in Kenmore Sq spitting distance from Yates’s old homes; I sat and re-read ‘Builders’ – really an incredible story and a story which seems to hold the key for so many others. Then walked ‘home’; another half an hour in lovely mild warmish weather although it was dark and wet underfoot.

Another day on the trail

Posted in 1. My journey to America: Boston on December 2, 2008 by kateonyates


I spent all day in the archive and heard, yes heard, the Ploughshares interview on tape. I have heard Yates read snippets of his work before but this was wholly different. The man himself, drawing deeply on a cigarette, before laconically answering a question in his deep, throaty, almost actorly drawl with poor consonants and another drag and a glass clunking down on the table by him and then obviously retrieved again. It was amazing to hear it. On a next door table a studious very thin gentleman with bifocals was pouring over Alastair Cook’s papers. Now he looked like an academic. I felt rather shambolic by comparison – hair up, hair down, glasses on, glasses off, paper everywhere, ear phones, boxes, white gloves on and off – he barely moved. So I worked from 9.30 through to 4, rushed back here for a shower and then off again.


I had no idea what to expect at Emerson but DeWitt was so welcoming and actually so were the students. DH started by introducing me and making me feel very welcome; he then showered me with gifts – a copy of his book (which was both kind and needed since I’d dropped the Amazon copy I had bought under my plane seat), a copy of the latest edition of Ploughshares edited by James McPherson, an article by McPherson on race and identity, a photo of ‘Dick’ to look at (which he subsequently photocopied for me) and finally a copy of the Lie Down in Darkness Screenplay. The students were very responsive and encouraging. We then talked about zhiv – he later read out extracts from zhiv’s latest piece on Saying Goodbye to Sally and some discussion of how zhiv and I had ‘met’ through Yates. There was a long discussion of ‘Builders’ which was really interesting and during which DH kept returning to the marriage we were reading about – easy to gloss over that; eventually we moved on to SGtS, which is where zhiv ‘came into the room again’, and then various other stories including one by Salinger (which I didn’t know) one by Malamud, one by Cheever (which I did know) and a couple of others.


DH’s teaching style made me want to ask him whether Richard Yates was similar – very calm, arms crossed, taking it all at a measured pace, time to think and ponder and cross-reference – or was Yates more like me – pacing about, in a bit of a rush (well, I only have an hour with 2nd yr undergrads as opposed to his long luxurious class with postgrads.), throwing out questions and trying not to get diverted.


After the three and a half-hour class with his MA students, DeWitt and I went to he Crossroads but there was nowhere to park so he drove me to Harvard to show me the pub where Ploughshares started; it was heaving and very noisy so we found a beer in some dive and then went out into the drizzle so that we could speak. I asked him about why he wasn’t better read in his lifetime (Dick, I mean, my mate Dick). We covered quite a lot of ground, with some good tales about RY and his mad bad behaviour, but, understandably, DH was very tired and it was time to go.


The most exciting thing happened just as we were leaving. He was saying that RY regarded himself as an experimentalist and that no one else did and that people didn’t really understand what he meant by that. I could hardly contain my glee. ‘But I do,’ I said like an excited third former. ‘What do you mean?’ and so I gave him a brief run through of my ideas about Yates pulling and pushing the realist form to incorporate narrative driven by dialogic exchange, endings which challenge rather than confirm and demand that the reader works and gets involved with the ‘telling’, political and social comment that is there but often barely noticeable – the issues of slavery, feminism, civil rights. Yes, a realist at heart but it diminishes him to rest with that term.


When I got back to my ‘home’ in Brookline I picked up an email from Monica Yates/Shapiro who is going to be hosting a special screening of the film next Friday. She suggests we meet on Saturday. I am supposed to be in Westchester then with my cousin. Desperate to be brave enough to ask to see the film but really not sure if I am. Not sure what to do about that.


{Nice review of DeWitt’s book Safe Suicide:}

The first two days

Posted in 1. My journey to America: Boston on December 1, 2008 by kateonyates


An uneventful flight from Heathrow seated in a threesome of seats with the middle one empty which was a bonus. The man in the aisle seat was a little unsettling though. He had a hatchet face, not even the flicker of a smile passed over it in eight hours of flying. To be fair he was asleep most of the time; he is obviously a frequent flyer as he went through a curious number of rituals, and you could see that they were rituals, some of them being practical and to do with flying itself and some were religious. Taking his shoes off and letting them hit the ground with a harsh thump before we’d even left the terminal seemed a little energetic but then he was quiet after that. He had a curious yellow cloth in which he had wrapped a long wooden carved box. The cloth was spread very, very carefully over his knees, worry beads were positioned and then the box, full of prayers I think, was opened; he sat silently intoning the prayers, with his eyes closed. It was as if the pieces of much-thumbed paper, were a safety net, a prop lest he should forget what he already knew. To my great shame, I had no idea whether I was witnessing a devout Jew (without any of the usual costume clues) or a Muslim. It does make me feel very ignorant and deeply ashamed. My children would know after years of education in World Religions whereas I was only ever taught about catholic views of Christianity.

Fell into the seedy-looking, and ironically named, ‘Comfort Inn’, in Queens, for what I assumed would be a night of discomfort – but appearances are deceiving, thank goodness. Very comfortable double bed, hot bath and four and a bit hours of deep sleep. Breakfast was filthy looking  – slimy-looking boiled eggs in a pot – and, apart from a carton of coffee, I avoided it.



Outside JFK at 7.15 am with all my baggage checked in. I decided to hit the cold air and enticing blue sky and have an early cigarette. Why not? Don’t even start on ‘why not’…..As usual I had no lighter. I asked a short, dark-haired rather round woman who was puffing away by a truck. We got talking. She was moaning about how ridiculous, even criminal, it was that at 51 she couldn’t make up her own mind about whether she wanted to smoke or not and about the whole smoking ban. I disagreed and said it had helped me to give up: it took her a few seconds to see the twinkle in my eye. But I did point out that if there had been no smoking ban we’d both be inside at separate tables having our coffee, all warm and so on but utterly isolated. “I like yer attitood,” she said. It transpired she was a political scientist and assisted at elections. Guess where the conversation went then? Obama and Obama and Obama and of yes, Shakespeare. I was talking about the wonder of Obama’s oratory and while we agreed that he was borrowing from Martin Luther King and Lincoln she suddenly said, “And Shakespeare, of course.” I hadn’t even thought about it: ‘In this world…at this time…in this place.” Interesting.

This woman was good company as she chain-smoked her way through three fags (that’s a cigarette in English!) while I had one and felt bad about it because I gave up smoking, really I did, a few months ago – but I felt like a teenager let out of school so there was no place for guilt. She was born in Uruguay to Italian/Uruguayan parents (I think) though I thought Argentina came in somewhere. She speaks so many languages – Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, English, French – she made my language skills look pitiful. I took her card.

By the end of a long day, I had eavesdropped on a few conversations. While it is obvious that America is winding down towards their Thanksgiving holiday with enthusiasm (lots of ‘Are you going back to your folks? Are they coming to you this year? comments – a shared excitement at seeing family and stopping work and love of ritual), but it struck me as wonderfully ironic that wherever I go – airport lounges, cafes, restaurants and shops – people are discussing in pairs their fears about Thanksgiving. ‘Oh god, I can’t go through that with her again! It was totally awful…..’ or ‘You don’t mean they’re still together? But I thought you’d said…’ or ‘No, I’ve refused. If his Mom can’t be bothered to see us all year, then why should I get myself to Denver, Denver?’ or ‘Well, it’s going to be grim….my parents have split. That leaves me in the nightmare position of…..’ Hilarious. I suppose it’s exactly the same here when Christmas looms.


What a beautiful place. I love the architecture. Much to the amusement of my daughter back home, I went straight to the archives in the Muger Library at BU (Boston University). It was a wonderful feeling to see boxes of his work being wheeled in on a trolley, for me and even more wonderful to open each box carefully and see his handwriting. It sounds ridiculous but when I came across a page with the stain of his coffee mug on it, it took my breath away. Stupid woman: I know. The human traces were somehow very moving – phone numbers scrawled on the edge of a page, crossings out and odd scribbled words. Somehow the coffee stain was the most powerful.

Yates used to drink at an Irish pub called Crossroads way down the other end of Beacon Street, near Kenmore Square, so I had to go there – it felt like a pilgrimage but without the religion. I sat in His pub. Sadly Michael Brodigan, RY’s great buddy, is no longer there. I talked to the friendly Irish barmaid. She showed me a framed ‘picture’, an article about Yates at the pub in the Boston Globe by someone called Mac Daniel. There were pictures of Yates sitting at the bar looking both pissed off and surly and nicer pictures of him too. The barmaid took my picture at his table. I sat and had a glass of wine and tried to imagine him there. Then I went over the notes I’d taken about from various drafts of Revolutionary Road that are in the archive. At one moment I looked up and realised what I was doing and where I was doing it; I nearly wept. What a terrible struggle his life was and yet here we all are (and a growing number) so fired up and ready to go because of him.

Totally exhausted after walking miles around the Commonwealth Avenue/Beacon Street area.