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David Leavitt (/ˈlɛvɪt/; born June 23, 1961) is an American novelist, short story writer, and biographer.

David Leavitt
Born (1961-06-23) June 23, 1961 (age 58)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, US
OccupationShort story writer, novelist, essayist, professor
EducationYale University
Literary movementMinimalism, Gay literature
Notable worksFamily Dancing, The Lost Language of Cranes, While England Sleeps
Notable awardsFinalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award


Leavitt was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Harold and Gloria Leavitt. Harold was a professor who taught at Stanford University and Gloria was a political activist. Leavitt graduated Yale University with a B.A in English in 1983. After the success of Family Dancing, David spent much of the 1990s living in Italy working and restoring an old house in Tuscany with his partner. He has also taught at Princeton University.[1]

While a student at Yale University, he published two stories in The New Yorker titled Territory and Out Here, both of which were later included in his first collection Family Dancing (nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award and finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award). Other published fiction includes the short-story collections A Place I've Never Been, Arkansas and The Marble Quilt, as well as the novels The Lost Language of Cranes, Equal Affections, While England Sleeps (finalist for the Los Angeles Times Fiction Prize), The Page Turner, Martin Bauman, The Body of Jonah Boyd and The Indian Clerk (finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and shortlisted for the IMPAC Dublin Award).

In 2000, Leavitt moved to Gainesville, Florida and became a member of the Creative Writing faculty at the University of Florida as well as the founder and editor of the literary journal Subtropics.

Literary Style and ThemesEdit

Leavitt, who is openly gay, has frequently explored gay issues in his works.[2] As a teenager, he was frequently frightened by gay novels that placed emphasis on the ideal male body. He found this theme, and its suggestion that homoerotic fulfillment was reserved for the exceptionally beautiful young men, to be intrusive.[3] His writing explores universal themes such as complex family relationships, illness, as well as class and sex exploitation. [4] Illness and death are also recurrent themes in his work, inspired by his experience with his mother's cancer diagnosis and eventual death when he was growing up. [5]

Despite writing both short stories and novels, Leavitt has been quoted as feeling more confident as a short story writer.[5] He has been criticized as writing too quickly, which he attributes to early experiences with death convincing him that his life as a writer is short.[5] His writing has been considered both minimalist as well as being part of the literary Brat Pack, however, he has made "a fierce effort to disassociate" himself from both. He considers his works too long, emotional and descriptive for the minimalism genre.[5]

Leavitt’s favorite novelist is Penelope Fitzgerald, with his favorite works being The Beginning of Spring, The Gate of Angel and The Blue Flower. He has also been influenced by writers such as John Cheever, Alice Munro, Cynthia Ozick, Joseph Roth and W. Ce G. Sebald. He was also inspired by the works of Grace Paley, whom he credits for teaching him the importance of humble experiences in great fiction.[6]

Copyright suitEdit

In 1993, Leavitt was sued over the publication of his novel While England Sleeps by the English poet Stephen Spender, who accused him of using elements of Spender's memoir World Within World in the novel, and brought suit against Leavitt for copyright infringement.[7] Viking-Penguin, Leavitt's publisher at the time, withdrew the book. In 1995, Houghton Mifflin published a revised version of While England Sleeps with a preface by the author addressing the novel's controversy.

In "Courage in the Telling: The Critical Rise and Fall of David Leavitt", Drew Patrick Shannon argues that the critical backlash that accompanied the Spender incident "allowed [critics] to reinforce the boundaries between gay and mainstream literature that Leavitt had previously crossed".[8] Subsequent reviews of Leavitt's work were more favorable.[9][10]

The Spender episode provided Leavitt with the basis for his novella The Term-Paper Artist.[11]


Two of Leavitt's novels have been filmed: The Lost Language of Cranes (1991) was directed by Nigel Finch and The Page Turner (released under the title Food of Love) was directed by Ventura Pons. The rights to a third, The Indian Clerk, have been optioned by Scott Rudin.



  • Family Dancing (1984)
  • A Place I've Never Been (1990)
  • Arkansas (1997)
  • The Marble Quilt (2001)



  • Florence, A Delicate Case (2003)
  • The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer (2006)

Co-authored and edited collectionsEdit

  • The Penguin Book of Gay Short Stories (1993) (editor, with Mark Mitchell)
  • Italian Pleasures (1996) (with Mark Mitchell)
  • Pages Passed from Hand to Hand: The Hidden Tradition of Homosexual Literature in English from 1748 to 1914 (1997) (editor, with Mark Mitchell)
  • In Maremma: Life and a House in Southern Tuscany (2001) (with Mark Mitchell)


  1. ^ Lawson, Don (January 1, 2001). "David Leavitt". GLBTQ Literature – via EBSCO.
  2. ^ Lawson, Don. "Leavitt, David". Archived from the original on 19 October 2006. Retrieved 1 February 2015.
  3. ^ Schwartz, Michael (January 1, 1995). "David Leavitt's Inner Child". Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review. 2: 1, 40–44.
  4. ^ Coman, Jennifer. "David Leavitt: Overview". Contemporary Popular Writers. Literature Resource Center.
  5. ^ a b c d Staggs, Sam (Aug 24, 1990). "David Leavitt: the writer of short stories and novels talks about the pitfalls of having achieved early success". Publishers Weekly. Academic ASAP: 47.
  6. ^ "By the Book: David Leavitt". The New York Times Book Review. Arts and Entertainment. June 29, 2014 – via Literature Resource Center.
  7. ^ Spender, Stephen. "My Life is Mine: Not David Leavitt's". New York Times. New York Times. Retrieved 1 February 2015.
  8. ^ Shannon, Drew Patrick (October 2001). "Courage in the Telling: The Critical Rise and Fall of David Leavitt". International Journal of Sexuality and Gender Studies. 6 (4): 305. doi:10.1023/A:1012221326219.
  9. ^ Taylor, DJ (January 25, 2008). "Adding up to a life". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 23 February 2013.
  10. ^ Freudenberger, Nell (September 16, 2007). "Lust for Numbers". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 February 2013.
  11. ^ Bleeth, Kenneth; Julie Rivkin (October 2001). "The 'Imitation David': Plagiarism, Collaboration and the Making of a Gay Literary Tradition in David Leavitt's "The Term-Paper Artist". PMLA. 5. 116.

External linksEdit