Richard Yates

Richard Yates (1936-1992) was an American author and short story writer. Richard Yates was a writer who captured the essence of the American Dream and its eventual disillusionment. His writing is characterized by its brutal honesty and its unflinching portrayal of the human condition. With his insightful social commentary and vivid characterizations, Yates remains a significant voice in American literature. However, Yates received most of his critical acclaim posthumously. His best-known novel is his debut novel Revolutionary Road (1961). 

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Table of contents

    Richard Yates: biography

    Richard Yate's Biography
    Birth:3rd February 1926
    Death:7th November 1992
    Father:Vincent Matthew Yates
    Mother:Ruth Maurer
    Spouse/Partners:Sheila Bryant (1948-1959), Martha Speer (1968-1992)
    Cause of death:Emphysema
    Famous Works:
    Literary Period:Postmodernism, 20th Century Literature

    Richard Yates (1926-1992) was an American novelist born in Yonkers, New York. Yates was part of the realism movement of the 20th Century. Richard Yates died of emphysema in 1992, which he developed after minor surgery.

    Realism: A literary movement which showed the reality of people’s everyday experiences. It did not romanticise or dramatise these experiences, but rather aimed to reflect the truth behind them.

    Emphysema: a lung condition believed to be caused by smoking or excessive exposure to air pollutants.


    Yates was a student at Avon Old Farms School, a boarding school in Avon, Connecticut. As a student, he was described as melancholic, and he struggles with his mental health during his studies. During his time there, he cultivated his interest in journalism, with the intent to pursue journalism as a career. After completing his studies at Avon Old Farms School, he joined the United States Army. As part of his service in the army during World War II, he served in Germany and France.

    Personal life

    Yates had a turbulent upbringing. After his parents separated when he was three years old, he moved between different towns and homes.

    After his service in the army, Yates worked as a journalist and ghostwriter in New York in 1946. In 1948, he married Sheila Bryant. The couple had two daughters and divorced in 1959.

    After winning the National Book Award for Revolutionary Road (1961) in 1961, Yates taught at well-known academic institutions like Boston University and Colombia University. In 1968, Yates married Martha Speer and they had a daughter.

    Throughout his life, Yates suffered from alcoholism. He was an avid smoker and he suffered from several breakdowns throughout his life. He was in and out of psychiatrists' offices and was given various types of medication to help him cope with his bouts of severe depression. Yates died alone and with few assets to his name. Though his personal life was tragic, his debut novel is still respected to this day.


    Yates was awarded the National Book Award in 1961 for his debut novel Revolutionary Road (1961).

    One of Yates’ most notable accomplishments is that he was a ghostwriter for the then-Attorney General of the United States, Robert Kennedy.

    The 2008 film adaptation of Yates’ novel Revolutionary Road (1961) was Academy Award-nominated and won a Golden Globe. It starred prominent Hollywood actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.

    Despite the success of Revolutionary Road (1961), Yates' works were not all as acclaimed as Revolutionary Road (1961). His works following on from Revolutionary Road (1961) were seen as disappointing and they did not reach the same standard as his debut novel.

    Richard Yates: books

    Now we will explore Yates' novels.

    Revolutionary Road (1961)

    Revolutionary Road (1961) was Yates’ debut novel set in the 1950s. It details the story of Frank and April Wheeler and their lives in Connecticut. The couple has two children together and they aspire to escape from their mundane lives in the suburbs. At the same time, Frank is having an affair with Maureen Grube. April proposes that they move to Paris to begin a new life there. With this proposal comes anticipation and excitement, and the couple begins to grow closer.

    Before they have a chance to leave for Paris, April becomes pregnant and considers abortion, but Frank does not support her in this. They argue and later April begins an affair with one of their neighbours, Shep Campbell. Frank also rekindles his affair with Maureen. When April tries to carry out an unsafe abortion herself, she suffers from severe blood loss and dies in hospital. Unable to cope with his wife’s passing, Frank feels burdened with guilt and relies on family support to take care of the children. The children then experience their childhood moving around relatives' homes, much like their mother had to when she was growing up.

    Disturbing the Peace (1975)

    Disturbing the Peace (1975) is a novel set in the 1960s centred on protagonist John C. Wilder, a successful businessman in New York City. Wilder is in the advertising business and appears to live a happy and successful life with his wife, Janice, and their son. However, Wilder struggles with alcoholism behind the facade of a perfect life. He threatens to kill himself and his family, so Janice calls Wilder’s friend, Paul, to intervene. Paul has him admitted to Bellevue Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in New York.

    After four days in the hospital, Wilder initially tries to attend Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings and seek help from those around him. This is short-lived, as he soon slips back into his old ways of drinking excessively and having affairs. One of his affairs, Pamela Hendricks, encourages Wilder to create a film about his time in Bellevue Hospital. Wilder leaves his family and moves to Hollywood to secure a deal to finish the film.

    His affair with Pamela Hendricks breaks down, and his film is not picked up by Hollywood producers despite his attempts. As a result, Wilder slips back into alcoholism and this drives him to mentally instability again. He ends up roaming around Hollywood, believing he is Jesus Christ. Wilder is committed to a psychiatric institution at the end of the novel.

    The Easter Parade (1976)

    The Easter Parade (1976) is set in the 1930s in America and follows the lives of the Grimes sisters, Emily and Sarah, who lead lives riddled with bad luck. The novel is set over the course of thirty years. Their parents are divorced. Their father lives in New York and writes for the New York Sun Newspaper but they don’t have a close relationship with him. Their childhood is unstable as their mother, Pookie, relocates the family to different suburbs and the girls to different schools.

    Emily is intelligent and interested in fashion and beauty and aspires to be like the middle class. She has many brief, failed relationships and even gets married once, but this does not end well either. Emily looks up to Sarah, believing she is everything a woman should be: beautiful and stable. Sarah marries young and has children, but her husband, Tony, is abusive. Sarah tries to keep up appearances of having the perfect marriage and family. She turns to alcohol to cope with these issues.

    Emily is eventually able to build a stable career for herself as an advertisement copywriter, although she still wishes she had a long, stable relationship. Sarah envies Emily as she has had the freedom to make a career for herself, whilst Sarah feels stuck being a wife and mother. Sarah dies early and it is said that it was due to issues with her liver and having a fall. However, Emily believes that Tony is responsible for her death. At the end of the novel, Pookie dies and Emily is at the funeral with Sarah’s three children. Emily is having a difficult time at work, and Tony remarries.

    A Good School (1978)

    A Good School (1978) is a coming of age novel set in the 1940s in Connecticut, United States. It is considered an autobiographical novel as it has parallels to Yates’ life. An example of this is the fictional school in the novel, Dorset Academy, being similar to Yates’ preparatory school, Avon Old Farms School. It explores the experiences of a group of boys in a single-sex preparatory school (an independent school) during their adolescence. A Good School (1978) also explores teachers’ experiences at the school. To teachers, the students and their parents, Dorset Academy is a good school but, upon closer inspection, this is not the case. To many, the school is known to have students who no other school would admit.

    The narrator is a fifteen year old William Grove who tells the story in hindsight. Grove is a professional writer. The boys are expecting to have to enrol in the United States Army after graduation to join the fight in World War II. The subjects presented in the novel are the experiences of adolescent boys, including bullying and perverse schoolboy rituals.

    Coming of age novel: a novel that details the experiences of a young person going through adolescence and into adulthood.

    Richard Yates: short stories

    Let's take a look at the short story collections by Richard Yates.

    Eleven Kinds of Loneliness (1962)

    Eleven Kinds of Loneliness (1962) is a collection of short stories by Yates. It features eleven stories, in order:

    • 'Doctor Jack-o'-lantern'
    • 'The Best of Everything'
    • 'Jody Rolled The Bones'
    • 'No Pain Whatsoever'
    • 'A Glutton for Punishment'
    • 'A Wrestler with Sharks'
    • 'Fun with a Stranger'
    • 'The B.A.R. Man'
    • 'A Really Good Jazz Piano'
    • 'Out with the Old'
    • 'Builders'

    The key theme of all the stories is loneliness. The protagonists in the short stories feel like failures in their lives. They do not accomplish what they dreamt they would in their younger days. Along with this feeling of failure comes heartbreak and disappointment. Yates portrays how loneliness is an inescapable feeling. He uses events like marriage, working life and family life to explore this.

    Liars in Love (1981)

    Liars in Love (1981) is a collection of short stories. The stories featured are:

    • 'Oh, Joseph, I'm So Tired'

    • 'A Natural Girl'

    • 'Trying Out for The Race'

    • 'Liars in Love'

    • 'A Compassionate Leave'

    • 'Regards at Home'

    • 'Saying Goodbye to Sally'

    These short stories explore themes of failure in life, unstable relationships, and frustration with living a mundane life. The characters in the short stories range from families to children and individuals. They explore how people navigate life and these issues.

    Richard Yates and the Age of Anxiety

    The Age of Anxiety was a period during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s which saw increased reporting of mental health issues amongst the American population. One of the reasons for the increased reporting of fear and anxiety was the nuclear threats in the post-World War II years. Psychoanalysis gained legitimacy in the 1940s and grew as a scientific field in the 1950s and 1960s.

    Many mental illnesses due to work and family-related issues were noted as ‘anxiety’ by medical professionals at the time. Diagnosis in the mental health field improved towards the end of the century. There was more research into the different types of mental illnesses which were diagnosed as anxiety, like depression.

    Yates is associated with this era because he wrote critically acclaimed novels during this time. Yates’ novels explore themes of loneliness, failure and troubled family life. These themes were common experiences that were being recognised as contributing to anxiety issues in this era.

    Richard Yates - Key takeaways

    • Richard Yates (1936-1992) was an American author and short story writer.
    • Yates spent time in the United States Army during World War II. He was stationed in Germany and France during this time.
    • Yates' main focus was writing novels about themes of loneliness, failure and troubled family life. Yates' most popular and well-known novel is Revolutionary Road (1961).
    • After winning the National Book Award for his debut novel Revolutionary Road (1961) in 1961, Yates taught writing at well-known academic institutions like Boston Unversity and Colombia University.
    • Yates is associated with the Age of Anxiety because his novels explored themes of loneliness, failure and troubled family life. These themes were common experiences that were being recognised to contribute to anxiety issues in this era.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Richard Yates

    Who is Richard Yates?

    Richard Yates (1936-1992) was an American author and short story writer.

    What did Richard Yates do? 

    Yates was a writer who had a career in journalism after his service in the United States army.

    What is the main focus of Richard Yates? 

    Yates' main focus was writing novels about themes of loneliness, failure and troubled family life.  

    Is Richard Yates still alive? 

    No, Richard Yates died in 1992.

    What is the best book written by Richard Yates? 

    Revolutionary Road (1961) is considered Yates' best novel.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Who does Frank Wheeler have an extra-marital affair with?

    Where do Frank and April Wheeler want to move to for a chance at a better life?

    Where is Revolutionary Road set?


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