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Work Samples


Fall Semester ‘92 was over, and Keith Batson had turned in his grades at the cow college outside of Amarillo where he taught music appreciation. He was in Paris now, after a nine-year absence, the guest of the Magic Flute company.
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JOAN & BOOTSIE by James Magruder

The actress is Kristine Nielson, who was nominated for a Tony Award in 2013 for her role in Christopher Durang's VANYA and SONYA and MASHA and SPIKe.


About James

Baltimore City

JAMES MAGRUDER   James Magruder is a fiction writer, playwright, and translator. His stories have appeared, or are forthcoming, in The Gettysburg Review, New England Review, Subtropics, Bloom, The Normal School, The Hopkins Review, Gargoyle, and the anthologies Boy Crazy and New Stories from the Midwest. His début novel, Sugarless, (University of Wisconsin Press, 2009) was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, the VCU Cabell First Novelists Award, and shortlisted for the 2010 William Saroyan... more


Every September since 1958 a fresh batch of residents arrives at the Yale graduate dormitory that bears the name of one Miss Helen Hadley, a nineteenth-century ectoplasmic emanation still residing at 420 Temple Street, New Haven, Connecticut. Every year she selects her favorites, follows their adventures, cheers on their romantic shifts and stratagems, and picks up their lingo. With the university presently threatening to bulldoze her home, she has decided to chronicle her favorite year, the nine months in 1983–84 when Silas Huth, Becky Engelking, Nixie Bolger, Carolann Chudek, and Randall Flinn took up the manacles of erotic attachment and parsed meaning from every little movement of their rapacious, beating hearts. In Love Slaves of Helen Hadley Hall, Miss Hadley promises her readers carnal congress, a near-homicide, and a wedding finale, for her tale of communal bondage is one of love surprised, love confessed, betrayed, renounced, repelled, of suspect leanings and trembling declarations, of hymens under siege and innumerable searching looks in the mirror.

For many reasons, this novel took nineteen years to reach print. I began writing it before I really knew what I was doing. The first draft was 145,000 words, three times its final length. In 2002, I set it aside to focus on short stories and my first novel, Sugarless, and returned to it in 2010. It took two more years (!) to discover its proper narrator, Miss Helen Hadley herself, who had been hanging in her portrait on the very first page for fourteen years. I finished the final, pre-publication draft in 2014. Finding a publisher is another long story...

  • Love Slaves Cover Art

    MICA graduate Lori Larusso created this cover for me. We met at the MacDowell Colony in 2011, and I've followed her work ever since.
  • The Full Plate of Doughnuts

    Doughnuts Full Plate
    Before designing the cover, Lori Larusso painted these five doughnuts--a plot point in the novel--with the instruction to make them "delicious and slightly dangerous."
  • Love Slaves First Manuscript Page

    Love Slaves Manuscript
    I began LOVE SLAVES on a train in 1996, on lined paper, in ink. I was traveling from Baltimore to New Haven and started to imagine a novel set during my graduate school days in New Haven.
  • Love Flight of a Pink Candy Heart by Florine Stettheimer

    Love Flight of a Pink Candy Heart
    When I first saw this Stettheimer canvas in a MOMA retrospective in the mid-nineties, I instantly knew what my first novel would be about--my year with a bunch of lovestruck Yale graduate students in the early '80's. I started LOVE FLIGHT OF A PINK CANDY HEART in November of 1996. In 2001, I finished a gargantuan first draft of 145,000 words. After reading the manuscript, a friend suggested the more apt (and perhaps evocative) title of LOVE SLAVES OF HELEN HADLEY HALL.
  • Constant Revisions: Love Slaves

    Love Slaves Outline
    I lost count of how many times I outlined the unwieldy LOVE SLAVES OF HELEN HADLEY HALL over the nearly two decades it took to reach print; here is an early sheet outlining chapters three and four.


Gandhi once wrote, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

Set in Ruxton, Joan & Bootsie is a satire of the Baltimore 1%, as well as the billions of dollars Americans across the economic spectrum spend annually to keep their animal companions alive. Originally commissioned in 2012 as a monologue for CenterStage's My America project, and filmed by Hal Hartley, Joan & Bootsie became a full-length play with additional support from the Kenyon Playwrights Festival. Six actors play ten characters, including Bootsie and Chuckles, the donor cat who gave Bootsie one of his kidneys to extend her life.

Though comic in tone and intent, my hope is that Joan & Bootsie poses serious questions about where best to place our familial, emotional, and financial resources.

  • JOAN & BOOTSIE by James Magruder

    The actress is Kristine Nielson, who was nominated for a Tony Award in 2013 for her role in Christopher Durang's VANYA and SONYA and MASHA and SPIKe.
  • Joan & Bootsie Kenyon Playwrights Conference

    Kenyon Reading
    After a two-week worskhop period, JOAN & BOOTSIE had a public reading at the Kenyon Playwrights Conference in June, 2014. Here, at the post-reading audience Q & A are director Brant Russell, playwright James Magruder, and dramaturg Gavin Witt.
  • Joan & Bootsie Roundabout Theatre Reading

    JOAN & BOOTSIE NYC Reading
    A reading of JOAN & BOOTSIE was done in NYC in September 2016 at the Roundabout, a theatre company that produces both on and off-Broadway. It starred Kristine Nielsen, for whom I wrote the play, as Joan, and was directed by Scott Ellis. A next reading is scheduled for the Vineyard Theater Company, in February of 2017
  • BAD BEANS: Four Queer One-Acts

    I began writing my own plays in 1998. The first four--autobiographical, unashamedly queer, and written for two actors and one actress--were performed separately, then put together into an omnibus evening at Theater Project in 2000.

LET ME SEE IT--a story collection

Let Me See It is a collection of ten linked short stories, nearly all of them previously published in literary journals, that follows two gay cousins, the sober Tom Amelio and the more reckless Elliott Biddler, from adolescence in the 1970s to adulthood in the early ’90s. They navigate the closet and the office, learning lessons about libidinous coworkers, résumé boosting, Italian suffixes, and frozen condoms. As they search for trusting relationships while the AIDS crisis deepens, their paths diverge, leading Tom to a new sense of what matters most.

That's the official idea. Let Me See It is really about my daddy issues and survivor's guilt. (My father died when I was nineteen, before we got a chance to know and understand one another.) Tom Amelio is the James Magruder that survived the plague; Elliott Biddler is the reckless James Magruder who should have died from AIDS in 1991.

I did not get an MFA in fiction, so I feel that the twelve years I spent crafting, and revising these stories literally dozens of times, and getting advice from my more talented Baltimore pals, was my MFA. One of the stories, "Elliott Biddler's Vie Bohème," was rejected by 67 print journals over a period of seven years before the New England Review accepted it in 2013.

  • Mark and Jimmy

    Inspirational Cousins
    This picture of my first cousin Mark on his 5th birthday--I am eyeing his crown--is an atavistic snapshot of the relationship between Elliott and Tom, the protagonists in Let Me See It.
  • "Tenochtitlan"

    "Tenochtítlan," the first short story in LET ME SEE IT, was originally published in Subtropics literary journal, then selected for NEW STORIES FROM THE MIDWEST.
  • Literary Journals containing Magruder Fictions...

    Journal Potpourri
    These are most of the journals in which my stories originally appeared. It pays to persevere: "Elliott Biddler's Vie Bohème" was rejected by 67 print journals over a six-year period before New England Review published it in 2013.
  • Baltimore Writers at Politics & Prose

    Michalski Magruder Massey
    Baltimore fiction writers Jen Michalski, James Magruder, and Sujata Massey headed south to read together at Politics & Prose in DC in October 2014.
  • Starts Here Reading Series

    Starts Here Reading
    Writer and curator Jen Michalski asked me to return to her Starts Here Reading Series at Artifact Coffee House in Hampden to read from LET ME SEE IT.

SUGARLESS--a début novel

Sugarless is a coming-of-age novel set in the 1970's about Jesus, sex, and speech team. A high-minded précis of the plot would say that it's a narrative about a child who loses a parent to a belief system, but I like to think of it as my sophomore year of high school in Wheaton, Illinois, the year my slutty stepsister moved in with us and my mother became a born-again Christian, and I began exploring my sexuality.

  • Sugarless Book Trailer

    Book trailers were the rage in 2009, so I had Baltimore filmmaker Drury Bynum shoot one for SUGARLESS. This clip features Ken Greller, Drew Lichetenberg, and yours truly.
  • Doyle and Magruder reading

    Sugarless Reading with Larry Doyle
    Baltimore writer Larry Doyle (The Simpsons, I LOVE YOU BETH COOPER) and I are of the same vintage and grew up in the same suburban county outside of Chicago. We also share comic preoccupations, as our dual reading at University of Baltimore proved in 2009.

"Worth Our Breath"--a Baltimore Story

"Worth Our Breath" is, to date, my only piece of fiction set in Baltimore. (I'm still working through the grievances of my past.) It is also the only fictional account--so far--of my life with my husband, with whom I've spent eighteen years. "Worth Our Breath" was brought out in a special letterpress edition by Washington College on the Eastern Shore in 2015.

  • Worth Our Breath--a short story

    "I opened the ‘B’ section of the Sun and read that Brian Whipke, securities lawyer, was dead at fifty, from stomach cancer. There was no photo. I debated calling E.F., who had clearly left for work without getting to the paper. He would have woken me up with the news otherwise. Besides complete shock I wasn’t sure what I felt. Neither of us had seen or even run into Brian in over a decade, which in Smaltimore is a considerable feat."
    PDF icon Worth Our Breath--a short story

Theater Translations/Adaptations: THREE FRENCH COMEDIES and More

I make part of my actual living as a translator of classical comedies. Three French Comedies, which was published by Yale University Press in 1996, is my doctoral dissertation for the Yale School of Drama. Its contents are Turcaret (1709), a study of a mendacious tax revenuer by Alain-René Lesage; The Triumph of Love (1723), Marivaux's portrait of a scheming princess who will do anything to put her love on the throne; and Eating Crow (1867), a satire of bourgeois greed in the Second Empire. After premiering at Baltimore's Center Stage, the Marivaux play was turned into a Broadway musical in 1997 for which I created the book. Three French Comedies was cited as a "Literary Translation of the Year" by the American Literary Translators Association.

I've also translated and adapted three Molière plays. Yale Repertory Theater commissioned and produced a new The Imaginary Invalid, complete with all the musical interludes, in 1999. Ditto Center Stage with The Miser in 2004. Six years later, the late Tim Vasen, who was running the Princeton Theater Program, pulled me onto a project with a crazy pedigree--a world premiere English translation of Hoffmansthal and Strauss' Der Bürger als Edelmann, itself a 1914 operatic adaptation of Molière's famous Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (1661).With a foot in three cultures and centuries, I decided to title the piece, Der Bourgeois Bigwig.

  • Triumph of Love (the musical)

    Triumph of Love (the musical)
    In 1995, I began to turn my translation of Marivaux's Triumph of Love into a musical with composer Jeffrey Stock and lyricist Susan Birkenhead. We reached Broadway in October 1997 and ran three months. Since its closing, it's received over 200 licensed productions worldwide.
  • Marketing Handbill for TRIUMPH OF LOVE

    Triumph Handbill...
    Our very talented cast and positive reviews elsewhere couldn't overcome the negative review of the show in The New York Times. Alas.
  • JM&MMTol.jpg

    TRIUMPH OF LOVE rehearsal
    Whippersnapper James Magruder with director Michael Mayer in the fifth floor rehearsal room at Center Stage with TRIUMPH OF LOVE in October 1996. My hair is white now; Michael's has remained an unassisted black.
  • Magruder Translations from the French

    Magruder Translations
    Dramatist Play Services has licensed these Molière and Marivaux translations. I've loved watching these plays at the high school and college level--the students' minds are even dirtier than mine.
  • Turcaret

    Turcaret (1709) is a famous French satire by Alain-René Lesage of greed that is almost never performed in English. A theater company in Washington DC produced the premiere of my translation in 2006.
  • The Love of Three Oranges

    Another cross-cultural theater project was my American English adaptation of a Romanian version of Carlo Gozzi's commedia dell'arte scenario, THE LOVE OF THREE ORANGES (1757), which I did for the La Jolla Playhouse in 2004. In the center orange on this marketing piece is cast member Jim Parsons, some years before he hit it big in the television series, The Big-Bang Theory.
  • Der Bourgeois Bigwig, a musical mash-up

    Molière/Hoffmansthal & Strauss/Magruder comedy pileup
    The crazy Molière/Hoffmansthal & Strauss/Magruder mash-up, featuring a cast of twenty Princeton undergraduates, an orchestra of 34, and a ballet corps of twelve. And a five-foot wig on Mr. Jordan.


My site-specific take on the Dickens Yuletide classic was commissioned by Arena Stage in 2007. Both sides of my family are from Washington DC, Anacostia, to be exact, so I swiftly decided to honor my maternal grandparents, Henry and Margarette Schroen, my mother, Carolyn Schroen, and my uncle, Edward Schroen by making them the Cratchit Family. It's December 24, 1941: war has been declared against the Axis for all of three weeks, Winston Churchill has made a secret visit to the White House to rally Americans to the Allied cause, and Washingtonians have already begun to hoard material goods. Elijah Strube (Scrooge), a profiteer in WWI, is thrilled at the chance to revive his career by cornering the market on pineapples, since Hawaii's crop was wiped out by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor.

Three famous Washington statues (Freedom, atop the Capitol Building; Victory, on the White House lawn; and Grief, the hooded figure placed in Rock Creek Park by Henry Adams to honor his late wife, Clover) play the ghosts who come to life and force Strube to revisit his past and confront his future.

I induced my friends, composer Henry Krieger (Dreamgirls, Side Show), and lyricist Susan Birkenhead (Jelly's Last Jam) to write four songs for Christmas Carol 1941. I made sure to honor the multiple story threads in the Dickens. Contemporary analogues to Scrooge's sister Fan, the Fessiwigs, Scrooge's nephew who wishes to marry were created, and there was a jitterbug number at the Army Canteen.

Most important (to me, at least) was using the shamefully underknown story of the Veteran's Bonus March of 1932, when WWI vets from all over the country traveled to Washington--it was the depth of the Great Depression--to ask for their veteran bonuses ahead of schedule in order to feed their families and survive. For ninety days the Bonus Marchers peacefully picketed Congress. The House of Representatives voted in favor of handing out the bonuses, but the Senate vetoed the legislation. Thence began a silent march around the Capitol; at a certain point, President Hoover called on Douglas MacArthur and his troops to march into Anacostia and destroy the Marchers' Hooverville shanties. In the melée, five American citizens were killed. In Christmas Carol 1941, it is the memories of his terrible behavior during the Bonus March that lead Elijah Strube toward his ultimate redemption.

  • Christmas Carol 1941

    Christmas Carol 1941 Program
    This is the program from the Arena Stage premiere of Christmas Carol 1941 (2007)
  • Margarette G. Schroen and Carolyn Schroen Magruder Blum

    A DC Street
    My grandmother and mother out and about in Capitol Hill, captured by a street photographer, in the late 1940's. Stories they would tell me about DC city life in those days helped inspire CHRISTMAS CAROL 1941. My grandmother was very diminutive--hence the hat.


I am presently working on three projects: a musical adaptation, a play, and a book of fiction.

1) Save Yourself is a book of four linked novellas--about 20,000 words apiece--set at the Hangar Theatre, a summer stock outfit in upstate New York. It combines my love of doing theater with my love of Ithaca, a progressive college town where I was an undergraduate and did a few seasons of summer stock. Each story centers around a production of a play. Two of the four novellas are completed. "Shift Work" was published in Gargoyle 64 in early 2016. The second, "Play Practice," is currently in submission. I've begun the third, "Reliable Leopard."

2) Bertram Cope's Year is a chamber musical adaptation of the novel of the same title by Henry Blake Fuller. Published originally in 1919, BCY is considered the first "gay" American novel. Bewilderment greeted its first appearance: Fuller's portrait of Bertram Cope, a magnetic graduate student at Northwestern who intrigues men and women, old and young, was too subtle for heterosexual critics. Today its messages are clear. I'm working on this musical with Polly Pen, a New York composer and lyricist who loves the novel as much as I do.

3) Keep Your Forks is a comedy about Eddie Monell, a fifty-year old gay trophy husband who gets kicked out by his longtime partner and has to re-boot his life with no skills and a really bad attitude. Forks begins with Eddie shilling meatballs in a pop-up stand at a Kroger's supermarket. Things swiftly get worse. I think the question that hangs over the play is a line delivered by Eddie's sister, Joyce: "I think it's never too late to become a decent human being." Forks had an initial workshop in June 2016 at Berkeley Rep Theater's Ground Floor Lab for works-in-process, one of seventeen projects chosen from 287 applications.

  • GARGOYLE 64 (January 2016)

    "Shift Work"
    In issue 64 of Gargoyle is "Shift Work," the first of four novellas in SAVE YOURSELF, which all take place at the Hangar Theatre in upstate New York in the 1980's.
  • The Hangar Theatre, Ithaca, NY

    Hangar Theatre
    Originally built as an airplane hangar in the 1920's along Cayuga Lake, the building was re-purposed as a theatre in the 1980's. I did two summers there as an actor/singer/dancer in 1982 and 1984, then returned in 1989 as the book writer on a terribly arty adaptation of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. Much of SAVE YOURSELF, my novella collection-in-progress, is set here. So much of my life began here.
  • The Yokum Family

    I was never an actor, really, but I loved being in musicals, and could carry a tune. Here I am playing the eponymous LI'L ABNER in a summer stock production in Ithaca, NY. I told the director I wouldn't accept the role unless they built me a foam rubber chest. They did, so those are my matchstick arms hanging out of that shirt. Experiences like these form the heart of SAVE YOURSELF, my novella collection-in-progress.

    New Musical
    First published in 1919, BERTRAM COPE'S YEAR by Henry Blake Fuller had to wait seventy years, and a reissue, to be recognized as the first American novel to feature homosexual characters. It's a quiet novel, set at Northwestern University. Its qualities and tone lend themselves to a chamber musical, which Polly Pen and I are working on.
  • KEEP YOUR FORKS, a comedy

    KEEP YOUR FORKS, a comedy
    This is the title page of the fourth draft of KEEP YOUR FORKS, a comedy about social transformation, with a listing of the characters and scribbled notes for a next draft.


Joseph Conrad Flannery O'Connor E.M. Forster Thomas Mann Eudora Welty Emily Dickinson Thornton Wilder Molière Toni Morrison Flaubert Thackeray William Maxwell Shakespeare Kelly Link Dawn Powell Richard Wright Proust deToqueville Balzac Stendhal Grass Marquez Mansfield Dickens Austen Schiller John Kennedy Toole The Magnetic Fields Rufus Wainwright Jean Shepherd John Waters Robert Altman E. B. White Rodgers & Hart Stephen Sondheim Caryl Churchill Tony Kushner Taylor Mac Midnight Cowboy Nashville Three Women Female Trouble Pink Flamingos Some Like It Hot The Lady Eve Palm Beach Story My Man Godfrey Bringing Up Baby The Music Man The Golden Apple Company Carousel Hamilton Florine Stettheimer Franz Hals Bosch Corot Walter Sickert Stuart Davis Wayne Thiebault Lily Tomlin Ruth Draper Adding Machine Caroline, or Change Federico Fellini 8 1/2 Beloved Georg Büchner E.F. Benson Edith Wharton James Purdy James Merrill A Visit from the Goon Squad A House for Mr. Biswas Joe Turner's Come and Gone Juno & the Paycock Wallace Shawn The Talking Heads Rickie Lee Jones Aunt Dan and Lemon The Nights of Cabiria The Honeymoon Killers I Love Lucy Ella Fitzgerald Phillip Glass Django Reinhardt Colette In Cold Blood The Things They Carried The Folded Leaf Marivaux Die Bleirne Zeit La Règle du Jeu All About Eve Cobra Woman Mahler's 4th Grand Pianola Music Nixon in China The Roches Haydn Follies Pacific Overtures The Matchmaker Our Town The Skin of Our Teeth Steve Reich Mahalia Jackson Etta James Giotto Marianne Boruch Marianne Moore Wallace Stevens Dodgeball Romy & Michelle's High School Reunion James Baldwin John Cheever The Opposite of Sex Flirting With Disaster The Happy Island The Naked Kiss Ironweed A Confederacy of Dunces City Boy, or The Adventures of Herbie Bookbinder The Loved One Antony & Cleopatra The Cherry Orchard Oliver Goldsmith The Sentimental Education Don DeLillo Lucia in London Paris James Madison Eight Lines The Boys in the Band In a Shallow Grave Two Serious Ladies Willa Cather Edward Hopper....

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