Y is for Yates


Richard Yates was born in New York in 1926 and much of his childhood was spent moving from town to town with his mother after his parents divorced. It was while he was at school in Connecticut that he became interested in writing and journalism.

He enlisted in the army during WWII and when he returned to New York after the war began working as a journalist and ghostwriter. But it wasn’t until 1961 that he published his first and most successful novel, Revolutionary Road.

His novels were autobiographical and he became a huge influence to other writers such as Raymond Carver. His realism and observations on mid 20th Century American life meant he was praised as the voice of a generation, but all of his work was out of print during his lifetime.

He spent the rest of his life writing novels, short stories and screenplays whilst teaching writing at various universities. He died in 1992 of emphysema and complications from mirror surgery.

When he died his work had virtually disappeared, and it wasn’t until a recent revival of interest and the subsequent release of the film version of Revolutionary Road (starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio) that Yates has now been introduced to a whole new generation of readers. A scary thought that such a great writer could disappear so easily.

Richard Yates Quotes:

“Sometimes, in my more arrogant or petulant moments, I still think Revolutionary Road ought to be famous. I was sore as hell when it first went out of print, and when Norman Podhoretz made a very small reference to it in his book several years ago as an “unfairly neglected novel,” I wanted every reader in America to stand up and cheer. But of course deep down I know that kind of thinking is nonsense. After all, it did quite well for a first novel, much better than average: it got generally good reviews, got nominated for the National Book Award, later sold a great many copies in paperback and was widely translated and published abroad. It’s too bad that my second book, Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, is out of print, but not at all surprising: most books of short stories disappear quickly, and at least mine had a few decent reviews and a paperback sale before it disappeared. What happened after those two books was my own fault, nobody else’s. If I’d followed them up with another good novel a few years later, and then another a few years after that, and so on, I might very well have begun to build the kind of reputation some successful writers enjoy. Instead, I tinkered and brooded and fussed for more than seven years over the book that finally became A Special Providence, and it was a failure in my own judgment, as well as that of almost everyone else, and was generally ignored. Now I feel I’m almost back where I started, with the added disadvantage of being middle-aged and tired. When this new book is done, it’ll be almost like publishing a first novel all over again.”

“I’m only interested in stories that are about the crushing of the human heart.”

“If my work has a theme, I suspect it is a simple one: that most human beings are inescapably alone, and therein lies their tragedy.”

“My characters all rush around trying to do their best, trying to live well within their known and unknown limitations. Doing what they can’t help doing, ultimately and inevitably failing because they can’t help being the people they are.”

“When a tough, honest writer can look squarely at all the horrors of the world, face all the facts, and still come up with a hard-won, joyous celebration of life at the end, in spite of everything, that can be wonderful… It’s a cop-out to say that our times are too hectic or frantic or confusing for good, traditional, formal novels to emerge. I think that’s just a cheap answer.”

The Richard Yates Story

Revolutionary Road Trailer

Yates put his own lack of success down to the fact that he wasn’t prolific as a writer, implying that if he had written more novels on a regular basis he would have been more successful. Even though he was described by Vonnegut as the 3rd greatest American novelist (after Hemingway and Fitzgerald) one of his books only sold 12,000 copies. So what was the problem? Publicity?

20 thoughts on “Y is for Yates

  1. Wow! Never heard of Yates or the movie Revolutionary Road. Thanks, this was a very interesting post. Not sure what the problem was but sad he had to achieve such notoriety after he was dead and not while he was alive. Also, tragic the comment made in the first clip about the association between writers and drinking.


  2. His last quote seems to contradict his others.I n the former he really seems to be a pessimist that finds the world and everyone in it lonely and just trying to get by. In the latter he talks about finding a joyous celebration of life in spite of everything. He either was a very contradictory fellow or had an epiphany later on in life it would seem as a result of being a writer and a student of human nature.


    • Thanks honey, yes, they do don’t they….I’m not sure what the dates were on each one, but I think he probably had highs and lows with the way he felt about writing, I know that one myself! Lol



    • Ha ha ha, thanks J, yeah it does!

      I only heard of him a few months ago as he was mentioned in my writing class, although I saw the film a couple of years ago….didn’t know who wrote it though.



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