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literature

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American Literature: Gay Male, 1900-1969  
 
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More bracketed or indirect gay male writing also appeared in the 1930s, and from mainstream publishers. The 1932 Infants of the Spring by Wallace Thurman (1902-1933) is the frankest depiction of homosexuality in fiction by a gay male African-American writer before James Baldwin. In this roman à clef satire on the Harlem Renaissance, homosexuality is only suggested in the central story of the writer Raymond (who sleeps in the same bed with his white European friend, Steve), but is almost blatant in several secondary strands.

For example, a "fanciful aggregation of Greenwich Village " attends a Harlem rent party; black homosexual writers such as Alain Locke, Countee Cullen, and Langston Hughes make camouflaged cameo appearances; and one character, Paul Arbian, specializes in drawings of phalluses and ends a suicide in the Greenwich Village apartment of a "slender fluttering white youth."

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One section of Flesh Is Heir (1932), an early episodic novel by Lincoln Kirstein (b. 1907), frankly depicts a set of European homosexuals who flock around a wealthy heterosexual woman in London and Paris, and in another section Diaghilev and his "curious reputation" figure. Kirstein dissociates his autobiographical hero from the subject, however.

In his best-selling The Last Puritan (1935), George Santayana (1863-1952) insinuates suggestions of homosexuality in the nude swimming scene between Oliver Alden and Jim Darnley ("What a chest, and what arms!"), and Darnley speaks at length about being drummed out of the English Navy for "immorality" with other sailors.

Hart Crane obliquely evokes homosexuality in sections of The Bridge (1930)--for example, in his union with Whitman in "Cape Hatteras" and in the "The Harbor Dawn"'s un-individuated love scene, which biographers have traced to an encounter with another man in New York. Other work of this time published in Crane's posthumous Collected Poems (1933) is more nearly frank--for example, "The Visible The Untrue" (another poem to Emil Opffer), "Reply," and "Reliquary."

1940-1949

The momentum evident in the 1920s and 1930s culminated in some notable firsts in American gay male writing of the 1940s. Three books importantly concerned with homosexuality, all published by mainstream houses, won critical notice and also became best-sellers.

The Gallery (1947), the first novel by John Horne Burns (1916-1953), was chosen the best war book of the year by Saturday Review. Among the "portraits" that punctuate the narrative is one called "Momma" depicting a soldiers' gay bar in Naples. Though not the first gay bar scene in American gay male writing, "Momma" has a heterogeneous cast of characters and explicit political commentary ("a minority should be let alone"), innovations partly undercut by Burns' ending the section with a brawl and a raid.

In Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948), the sensational best-selling first novel by Truman Capote (1924-1984), homosexuality is a prominent strand in the action, in the transvestite Cousin Randolph and, implicitly, in the decision of the adolescent hero, Joel, to stay with him.

The City and the Pillar (1948) by Gore Vidal (b. 1925) was the most talked-about American gay male text of the 1940s. Most readers, ignorant of the earlier works discussed above, saw The City and the Pillar as the first exclusively homosexual American novel. But its real distinctions were its choice of a handsome athlete with the prototypical "all-American boy" name of Jim Willard as its homosexual protagonist and its unshocked way of documenting his growing self-awareness and education in a widespread and varied male homosexual world, an education that ends, however, in Jim's literal murder of his adolescent fantasy, the heterosexual Bob, and in a future as an outlaw and nomad.

Immediately controversial, and penalizing Vidal professionally for several years, The City and the Pillar quickly made the New York Times best-seller list, at the same time that the paper refused to carry advertising for the book.

"The Homosexual in Society," an essay by Robert Duncan (1919-1988) in the August 1944 issue of Politics, is another landmark of the decade in its own different terms. It is the first unequivocal "coming out" by an American writer. Identifying himself frankly as gay, Duncan calls for organization by homosexuals as a historically persecuted group, though not based on what he sees as the "self-ridicule" and cold-heartedness of traditional "camp" culture.

In addition, these landmarks were surrounded by other pointed gay portrayals in the course of the decade. Paul Goodman continued publishing homosexual poems in journals and pamphlets--for example, "A Meeting" (1941), "The Cyclist" (1946), "Lines" (1947), and "Classical Quatrain" (1949). "A Ceremonial," in Goodman's first collection of stories, The Facts of Life (1945), contains a homosexual relationship, and the narrator of the title novella in his second collection, The Break-Up of Our Camp (1949), is behaviorally bisexual though more ardent about other males ("My homosexuality revived hot").

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