The New York literati immediately heralded this twenty-five-year-old poet and critic as one of the most promising authors since T. S. Eliot for his 1938 debut, In Dreams Begin Responsibilities, which included a clutch of poems and the eponymous short story. Erratic and manic by nature, Schwartz wrote in mad spurts, producing reams of work. He was convinced that alcohol, barbiturates and amphetamines contributed to his genius. His insomnia and booze-driven obsession climaxed in 1959: having hallucinated an affair between his wife and art critic Hilton Kramer, he attacked Kramer and as a result was handcuffed, straitjacketed and remanded to Bellevue Hospital. He got out with the help of his friend Saul Bellow and drifted through a succession of depressing West Village walk-ups and seedy Manhattan hotels. He could often be found pontificating for hours at the White Horse, a shabby Greenwich Village tavern and famed literary hangout. By 1964, he had acquired a following of students (Lou Reed among them) to whom he would talk for hours without stopping, drinking shots of bourbon and paying for them with hundred-dollar bills. He read from his tattered copy of Finneganâ€™s Wake, told long-perfected anecdotes about his success and T. S. Eliotâ€™s sex life and once even detailed Queen Elizabethâ€™s Asian fellatio techniques, apparently practised on none other than Danny Kaye. He soon became intolerable even to his disciples and checked himself into the Times Square Hotel to focus on his writing. â€œThe years pass and the years pass and the years pass,â€ he wrote in the margin of a letter, â€œ& still I see only as in a glass / darkly and vaguely.â€ He died of a heart attack in 1966. For two days, his body sat in the morgue, unclaimed.
I’m hoping these anecdotes about alcoholic writers become a regular feature of the magazine.
* Actually, I’m just talking about myself. Steph doesn’t seem to have the same relentless preoccupation with all things booze-related, for some reason. But go with the first person plural in this case, won’t you? It helps us feel better about our drinking problem.