My pal Nick DiGiovanni, the world’s greatest unpublished writer, hopes to land himself a stay at the Yaddo artists colony in upstate New York. In fact, he asked me to write him a letter of recommendation — not because I have any juice with the Yaddo judges, but because I have a book out and I’ve read just about all his manuscripts, enabling me to comment on his steady, intriguing development as a writer long overdue for wide recognition.
I’d always been aware of Yaddo as a Big Deal, but only now do I appreciate just how Big a Deal it is. That’s because for a bit of relief from research reading I’ve been dipping into Beautiful Shadow, Andrew Wilson’s great biography of Patricia Highsmith, where I just learned that Highsmith spent the summer of 1948 at Yaddo, working on her first novel, Strangers on a Train. According to Wilson, Highsmith won her spot with the very helpful help of Truman Capote, who agreed to pull strings for her at Yaddo if she in turn allowed him to sublet her apartment on East 56th Street, where he would finish his story collection A Tree of Night.
Highsmith liked her liquor, as did many of her fellow artists that summer, and when work was done they would often hoof it to Saratoga Springs for cocktails. And what a crowd! Gawd, I love to think of Flannery O’Connor, probably working on Wise Blood, down the hall from Chester Himes, the father of Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones, while just across the way, Patricia Highsmith worked on a mean little novel about two men who exchange murders.
Highsmith loved Yaddo so much that she willed to it the bulk of her estate, including future book royalties. So if you pick up a copy of The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Price of Salt or Edith’s Diary, rest assured you are helping support future writers — including, I hope, a certain Nick DiGiovanni.