Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995) was a prolific writer best known for such works as Strangers on a Train (1950), The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955), and A Dog’s Ransom (1972). Her most notable work with an LGBT theme was The Price of Salt (1952), a lesbian love story that was based on Highsmith’s brief encounter with a woman while working at a Bloomingdale’s toy counter. She wrote 22 novels and numerous short stories in her lifetime.
Highsmith lived at 48 Grove Street from 1940 to 1942, while attending Barnard College. She occupied the small one-bedroom apartment with her mother and step-father, and slept on a pull-out couch in the living room. Highsmith’s time at Barnard shaped her as an emerging writer, and it was there that she first started writing fiction. She also served as the editor of the Barnard Quarterly, a campus literary magazine. During Highsmith’s junior year at Barnard, she met the artist Buffie Johnson, and the two had a brief romantic relationship.
Highsmith’s Greenwich Village neighborhood also had a lasting influence that reemerged in her later work. While living at 48 Grove Street, she became enamored with the local piano bars and vibrant city nightlife. She often frequented the nearby lesbian bars, as well as Marie’s Crisis Cafe at 59 Grove Street. Several of her novels were later set in the Village, including Found in the Street (1986), which featured a fictional wealthy couple named the Sutherlands who lived on Grove Street. This street also played a role in Highsmith’s novel Edith’s Diary (1977) as the home of Edith Howland, where Edith’s son Cliffie tries unsucessfully to murder the family cat.
Highsmith resided in a variety of New York City addresses over the years. In 1940, she took a brief summer sublet at 35 Morton Street in an attempt to escape her mother and stepfather. She graduated from Barnard College in 1942 and moved to 345 East 57th Street, where she struggled to find meaningful employment and worked researching factual pieces for FFF Publications. A year later, she moved to 353 East 56th Street (demolished), where she lived for 13 years, at the height of her career. Highsmith left New York City in 1963 and moved to Europe, where she stayed until her death in 1995. When visiting New York with her mother later in life, they stayed at the Hotel Earle (now Washington Square Hotel), at 103 Waverly Place, which was featured in many of her works.
This entry was written by project consultant Sarah Sargent.