Richard Yates

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

My 2017 portrait of the author Richard Yates. He’s the subject of one of the best literary biographies I’ve ever read, Blake Bailey’s A Tragic Honesty. In it, he reveals a complex and damaged man, who drank like a fiend, smoked even harder, and left scorched earth and devastation in his wake. He also wrote some books, of which there is a common theme which can be summed up as follows: nothing you want is ever going to happen. His first novel – Revolutionary Road, adapted for cinema in 2008 and starring Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslett in the lead roles – made his name, and he spent the rest of his life trying to live up to its achievements, but never quite could. Taking his commitment to the Sisyphean toil of writing to tbe point of absurdity – witness the tales of a charred skull of a writing room, littered with the squashed remains of cockroaches and held together by a choking miasma of cigarette smoke – he kept his typed manuscripts pristine and fire-proofed in his freezer, while his own body hurtled towards a scarecrow ruination. Inspirational in some ways, but also the ultimate cautionary tale for giving too much of yourself to The Work.

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