Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America

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Grand Central Publishing, Feb 2, 2012 - Literary Criticism - 384 pages
2 Reviews
In the years following World War II a group of gay writers established themselves as major cultural figures in American life. Truman Capote, the enfant terrible, whose finely wrought fiction and nonfiction captured the nation's imagination. Gore Vidal, the wry, withering chronicler of politics, sex, and history. Tennessee Williams, whose powerful plays rocketed him to the top of the American theater. James Baldwin, the harrowingly perceptive novelist and social critic. Christopher Isherwood, the English novelist who became a thoroughly American novelist. And the exuberant Allen Ginsberg, whose poetry defied censorship and exploded minds. Together, their writing introduced America to gay experience and sensibility, and changed our literary culture.

But the change was only beginning. A new generation of gay writers followed, taking more risks and writing about their sexuality more openly. Edward Albee brought his prickly iconoclasm to the American theater. Edmund White laid bare his own life in stylized, autobiographical works. Armistead Maupin wove a rich tapestry of the counterculture, queer and straight. Mart Crowley brought gay men's lives out of the closet and onto the stage. And Tony Kushner took them beyond the stage, to the center of American ideas.

With authority and humor, Christopher Bram weaves these men's ambitions, affairs, feuds, loves, and appetites into a single sweeping narrative. Chronicling over fifty years of momentous change-from civil rights to Stonewall to AIDS and beyond-EMINENT OUTLAWS is an inspiring, illuminating tale: one that reveals how the lives of these men are crucial to understanding the social and cultural history of the American twentieth century.

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Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America

User Review  - David Azzolina - Book Verdict

This book is a history, literary critique, and collective biography in one. Novelist Bram (Gods and Monsters), himself an essential gay writer, discusses gay men (no women here, with no explanation ... Read full review

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Q. What did you think of the book? A. Christopher does a good job of surveying gay writers from after World War Two, up until almost the present. He weaves in events in gay history, such as Stonewall and the AIDS epidemic. I knew a little about James Baldwin and Tennessee Williams, but I really never knew Edward Albee was gay, or Christopher Isherwood. These were popular writers when I was young, about fifty years ago. Q. So you are not gay yourself? A. No, I am not. My closest contact is a nephew who was probably gay, but died as a young man before we knew. Also, in 1969, I made friends with an older black man, a teacher where I worked, who invited me to his houseparties. Most participants at these parties were gay, but Van, my friend, did have two fine looking daughters and of course there was always pot around in those days, 35 years ago or so. Q. So why did you take interest in this book? A. I have always been curious about gay men, not sexually but because of their supposed different perspective on life than heterosexual men. I earlier read a book by Dennis Altman, I think it was The Homosexualization of America. When I was in graduate school, psychologists were still running experiments giving electrical shocks to gay men to try to get them to change. Times have changed, of course, and Christopher documents these changes through gay literature. But it is a profoundly sad story, because of deaths from AIDS and also because of all the apparent discordant voices within the gay community itself. Q. Would you recommend this book for the general reader? A. No. Christopher, a novelist himself, knows so much detail about these gay writers and has read so thoroughly most of their works, that his detail might be clogging for general readers. Gay readers, general or otherwise, may be more interested and may find authors they were previously unfamiliar with. I certainly did, but I will not be following up on them. Q. And why is that? I thought you were interested in the so-called gay perspective. A. Only to a point. Some of it is sickening to me. But, as Christopher points out, many works of fiction, poetry, plays, and movies, have been written by gay men though the public did not know of their sexual orientations. Christopher notes that the gay writing market has dropped somewhat since 2008, but certainly we will still read their works. As Christopher describes the group, they are a talented and loving group, but sad still because they must fight society and/or themselves much of the time.  

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About the author (2012)

Christopher Bram is the author of nine novels, including Gods and Monsters (originally titled Father of Frankenstein), which was made into an Academy Award-winning film. Bram was a 2001 Guggenheim Fellow and received the 2003 Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement. He lives in New York City.

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