Buffalo & Erie County Public Library Staff Review by Jack Edson:
This new book by the author of Gods and Monsters presents the interesting history of American gay writers of novels, plays and poetry from the period following the Second World War to the present. Each decade of writing is considered, usually framed by some historical incident or trend in our nation, and the book shows how the work of gay writers started to be published, censored, traded around, loved, condemned, and finally published as mainstream literature for everyone to read. In many cases, this genre of literature shed its brown paper wrapper to become a strong catalyst for changing popular opinion throughout the country.
The reader will learn a lot about many famous writers including Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, Alan Ginsberg, James Baldwin, James Merrill, Edward Albee and Edmund White, to name a few. Their personal stories are most interesting, frequently with tortured inner lives. Many of the writers knew one another. Some were fond of each other and others were famously not fond of one another, taking their enmity to court in the occasional lawsuit. Some flaunted their lifestyles and others kept it as secretive as possible. So many personal incidents in the authors’ lives are great reading and almost every reader will find some interesting fact that they did not know before. Some of the incidents will touch your heart while others are just plain hilarious.
No women authors are covered in this book, as the author feels they would need a separate book of their own.
The author gives us many short plot synopses for the novels and plays he discusses within this historical framework, from the 1950s to the present time. Perhaps you have heard of a particular book, but never read it. Well, here is a shortened version of the plot. So now, you can either be satisfied with the synopsis or track down the book itself or read it in its entirety.
Whenever we read a collective biography like this book, I think we all come away with a favorite personality from the group. Mine would be Allen Ginsberg, the late Jewish American hipster poet, probably most remembered for his shocking poem, “Howl!” When I think of Ginsberg, I remember back to a certain afternoon in 1970 during my sophomore year at Canisius College when Allen Ginsberg presented a poetry reading for all the students. We probably had heard his name before, but really did not know what we were in for at his poetry reading. I can remember it as if it were yesterday; this hairy guy playing his squeeze box, with his pony-tailed companion ringing bells as he sang “The Nurse’s Song” of William Blake. Ginsberg repeated the refrain of that poem many times that afternoon, and I often play it over in my mind as it reassures me “and all of the hills echoed!” To my delight, I found that this poetry reading had been recorded back in 1970 – and is now, as a nod to Buffalo’s poetry tradition, in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery’s current show, “Wish You Were Here; the Buffalo Avant-garde in the 1970s.”
So, take my advice. Read Eminent Outlaws and visit the Albright Knox Art Gallery for the Art of the 1970s show. And see how all of this echoes through your mind and out past the hills.
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