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Biography and Latest Work





FEBRUARY 14, 2011 at 7:00 PM: Valentine's Night with Patricia Highsmith: LOVE IS STRANGE

BARNES & NOBLE, 86th and Lexington, Manhattan
150 East 86th Street
New York, NY 10028

Click on the link below for reviews of THE TALENTED MISS HIGHSMITH by Jeanette Winterson and Janet Maslin, for Patricia Cohen's feature article, "The Haunts of Miss Highsmith," and for Sam Tanenhaus's podcast with Joan Schenkar, all in The New York Times.

THE TALENTED MISS HIGHSMITH, Joan Schenkar's long-awaited literary biography of the Dark Lady of American Literature, Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995), was published by St Martin's Press on December 8, 2009. It was a finalist for the Edgar Allan Poe Award, the Agatha Award, the Anthony Award, and the Publishing Triangle Award.

On May 27, 2010, THE TALENTED MISS HIGHSMITH received a 2010 Lambda Literary Award.

On December 8, 2010, W.W. Norton published PATRICIA HIGHSMITH: Selected Novels and Short Stories, edited and with an introduction by Joan Schenkar. The collection is receiving rave reviews and is in bookstores now.

On January 4, 2011, Picador published the paperback edition of THE TALENTED MISS HIGHSMITH.

Click on " THE TALENTED MISS HIGHSMITH " under Selected Works on the right side of this page to read the first chapter.


THE TALENTED MISS HIGHSMITH: The Secret Life and Serious Art of Patricia Highsmith, by Joan Schenkar. (Picador, $24.) Highsmith (1921-95) left 8,000 pages of diaries and notebooks, but altered and fabricated where necessary, just like her antihero Tom Ripley. Organizing this biography around Highsmith’s obsessions, Schenkar maps a richly bizarre life: her secretive career scripting comics; Hitchcock’s filming of her first novel, “Strangers on a Train”; her many lovers (usually women, but men, too); her long self-exile in Europe. “This is a biography of clarity and style,” Jeanette Winterson wrote here. “A model of its kind.”
-NYTimes Paperback Row, Jan 21, 2011

"Schenkar has a wonderfully bold approach: not worrying about a linear chronology (although this is meticulously supplied in the appendices), but choosing instead to follow the emotional water course of Highsmith’s life, allowing her subject to find her own level — to be tidal, sullen, to flow without check, so that events in one decade naturally make an imaginative tributary into turbulence before and after.

Schenkar’s writing is witty, sharp and light-handed, a considerable achievement given the immense detail of this biography. Highsmith was a detail junkie. Schenkar’s nonlinear organizing method was a brilliant idea to save herself — and the reader — from data overload.

This is a biography of clarity and style. A model of its kind."
-Jeanette Winterson, The New York Times Book Review; cover review

"This is no ordinary biography...[Ms. Schenkar] writes with great authority and perverse affection...'The Talented Miss Highsmith' breaks much ground in connecting Highsmith’s diabolical tales with the real women who prompted her strongest passions ....In addition to its impressive sweep, this biography also values minutiae. An exacting inventory of the contents of Highsmith’s office captures every mundane object, right down to the goat’s bell and the Wite-Out pencil. Highsmith loved details like that. And Ms. Schenkar shows an uncannily keen grasp of Highsmith’s spirit."
-Janet Maslin, The New York Times

" Throughout nearly 700 pages of lustrous text, Schenkar's prose is as supple and shapely as Highsmith's was flat and functional. "The Talented Miss Highsmith" is both dazzling and definitive ... Its scope and scholarship are unassailable, and its vigor indefatigable.
It's a volume as original as its contemptible, miserable, irresistible subject."
-Daniel Mallory, The L. A. Times

"Ms. Schenkar provides a vivid, disturbing portrait of a writer whose work—thanks to some virtuosic movie-making—is known more as source material than as literary art in its own right... It is hard to imagine a more thoroughly fact-filled or energetic biography than "The Talented Miss Highsmith" or one more determined to examine the deepest recesses of its complicated subject. "
-Alexander Theroux, The Wall Street Journal

"The end result is a biography that captures the writer in all her sullen, sinister, ambivalent glory. Grade: A"
-Entertainment Weekly.

"What most impresses me with Schenkar's approach is its boldness: she casts aside chronology to get at the themes of her heroine's character, and she conjures those themes by unabashedly connecting the events of Highsmith's life to her work. So we get marvellous formulations like this:

'Pat thought about love the way she thought about murder: as an emotional urgency between two people, one of whom dies in the act.'

If much of Highsmith's work remains little known by the general reading public, and the details of her fascinating life obscure, Schenkar's book should serve as a corrective. We plan on delving into some Highsmith books we haven't read (I've just begun "The Price of Salt" and Jon is tackling Ripley), and we hope you'll approach this month's pick in a similar way—as an invitation to learning more about the work of, as Schenkar puts it, 'Her High Darkness, Patricia Highsmith: author of some of the twentieth century's most dangerous fictions.'"
-Macy Halford, The New Yorker Online Book Club: Book of the Month

"Author and playwright Schenkar presents a compelling portrait of suspense novelist Patricia Highsmith whose own life was often as twisted as that of her antihero Tom Ripley.... 'Perversion,' Highsmith once said, 'interests me most and is my guiding darkness,' and Schenkar illuminates how her demons played out on the page and in real life."
-Publishers Weekly Pick of the Week

"Schenkar’s fascinating biography portrays Highsmith as driven by obsessions, especially her love-hate relationship with her mother, and a yin-yang ambivalence that became a central main theme in her writings ... The catalyst for Schenkar’s exhaustive, compelling work, which boasts copious end notes, maps, charts, diagrams, bibliography, and chronology, was the recent unearthing of 8,000 pages of Highsmith’s secret journals. The result is an essential, scholarly, lesbian, and literary biography."

"A comprehensive, nuanced evaluation of Highsmith Country."
-Kirkus Reviews

" VERDICT: An imaginative, definitive Highsmith biography, great for literature students, Highsmith fans, and mystery readers."
-Library Journal


In novels like STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY, and THE PRICE OF SALT, Pat Highsmith, murder on her mind, turned the American Dream upside down. Her slow, literary crawl over the surface of things produced one iconic character, the talented Mr. Ripley, and hundreds of raspingly acute portraits of quietly violating acts. The toxic brilliance of their trail goes on glowing long after their author -- as cruel to her characters as Henry James was to his -- has dispatched her perpetrators to their nasty, fictional ends.

Highsmith had a life as darkly compelling as that of her favorite hero-criminal, Thomas P. Ripley. In THE TALENTED MISS HIGHSMITH, I was able to make use of heretofore unavailable materials, techniques, and testimonies to chronicle the secret life and serious work of this extraordinary artist -- "The Dark Lady of American Letters" if ever there was one -- whose contribution to American literature is so unique that the imaginative territory she created in her novels must be identified as "Highsmith Country."


JOAN SCHENKAR has been called "America's most original female contemporary playwright." TRULY WILDE, her biography of Oscar's interesting niece Dolly Wilde, was hailed as "a revelation, the great story of a life and of the creation of modern culture." THE TALENTED MISS HIGHSMITH has already been acclaimed as the "definitive" Highsmith biography.

As a child actor in Seattle, Schenkar made many television and stage appearances (one of them was with Everett Edward Horton) and was a touring member of the corps de ballet of The Cornish Ballet Company. She wrote her first play while living in The Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan.

The recipient of more than forty grants, fellowships, and awards for her "comedies of menace" (including seven National Endowment for the Arts grants), Schenkar has been reviewed in every major (and many minor) newspaper in the English-speaking theatre world. She has been playwright-in-residence in universities, artists' colonies, as well as in such experimental theatre companies as Joseph Chaikin’s Winter Project, The Polish Laboratory Theatre, and The Minnesota Opera New Music Theatre Ensemble. She is an alumna of New Dramatists, and a current member of The Authors Guild, Societe des auteurs et compositeurs dramatiques, PEN, The Dramatists’ Guild, and The Brontë Society. She was founder and artistic director of Force Majeure Productions in New York City. The London theatre company, SIGNS OF LIFE THEATRE, was named after her play and a road in Pownal, Vermont has been named after her. She has an ABD in English and American literature and aesthetics.

Her published plays include one of the most widely-produced and studied plays in the history of theatre written by women, SIGNS OF LIFE. She has had more than five hundred productions of her work on stage, radio, and video, including the following plays: CABIN FEVER, SIGNS OF LIFE, THE LODGER, BUCKS AND DOES, MR. MONSTER, THE LAST OF HITLER, BETWEEN THE ACTS, HUNTING DOWN THE SEXES, FULFILLING KOCH’S POSTULATE, FAMILY PRIDE IN THE 50’s, FIRE IN THE FUTURE, THE UNIVERSAL WOLF, BURNING DESIRES.

Feature articles about JOAN SCHENKAR’s work have appeared in such publications as The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times,The Village Voice, The Washington Post, The Denver Post, and The Seattle Post-Intelligencer. She is the subject of articles and interviews in such scholarly and theatrical journals as: TDR, Theatre Journal, PAJ, Modern Drama, Women and Performance, Michigan Quarterly Review, Studies in American Drama, Alternatives Theatrales, and Feminist Re-visions. Her short stories have been published in several anthologies.

SIGNS OF LIFE: Six Comedies of Menace, a collection of her plays, was published in 1998 and was a Wesleyan University Press best-seller. TRULY WILDE: the unsettling story of Dolly Wilde, Oscar’s unusual niece was published by Basic Books/Perseus in New York, Virago Press/Little Brown in London and RandomHouse/ Mondadori in Barcelona in 2000 and 2001 and was a finalist for The Lamda Literary Award. Her latest work –- a literary biography of Patricia Highsmith, THE TALENTED MISS HIGHSMITH: The Secret Life and Serious Art of Patricia Highsmith -- has just been published by St Martin's Press (New York), and will be published by Diogenes Verlag (Zurich), and Circe Press (Barcelona) in 2010.

JOAN SCHENKAR lives and writes in Paris and Greenwich Village.