James Schuyler was born in Chicago on November 9, 1923, the son of Marcus and Margaret (Connor) Schuyler. In 1926, the family moved to Washington, D.C., where his parents divorced in 1929. After the divorce, Schuyler lived with his mother and rarely saw his father, who died in 1942. In 1931, Schuyler’s mother married Fredric Ritenour. In 1935, Schuyler moved with his mother, his stepfather, and his half brother (born in 1933) to Buffalo and then, in 1937, to the small town of East Aurora, New York.
Schuyler was not happy in East Aurora. He found his stepfather uncongenial, and he felt cut off from his fellow students in high school. His isolation was probably the result both of his literary temperament and of his homosexuality. It was when he was a high school student in East Aurora that he first fell in love, as he tells us in “The Morning of the Poem.”
In 1941 Schuyler enrolled at Bethany College in West Virginia, although he left without taking a degree. In 1943 he enlisted in the navy and trained in New York State and in Key West. He saw active service on board the USS Glennon. In 1944, however, Schuyler went AWOL, and when his homosexuality was revealed at the naval hearing, he was given a dishonorable discharge.
After the discharge, Schuyler moved to New York, where he worked for the Voice of America at NBC. He met Chester Kallman, W.H. Auden’s lover, who was perhaps his closest friend for the second half of the 1940s. Also at this time Schuyler met a man named Bill Aalto at a gay bar in New York. Aalto and Schuyler became lovers and were together for five years.
In 1947, Schuyler sold a farm he had inherited and used the money to go to Europe with Aalto. They remained there for two years, much of it spent in Italy