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literature

Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

Subjects:  A-B  C-E  F-L  M-Z

     
American Literature: Gay Male, 1900-1969  
 
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In two books of war lyrics, the now-forgotten Dunstan Thompson (1918-1975) made his homosexuality as manifest as he could given his intricate and dense style--the 1943 Poems, where "gay" is used wittily throughout (for example, "Images of Disaster"), and the 1947 Lament for the Sleepwalker (for example, "This Tall Horseman, My Young Man of Mars," "In All the Argosy of Your Bright Hair," "Nor Mars His Sword," "The Everlasting Gunman").

In 1946, Charles Jackson (1903-1968) published The Fall of Valor, a widely reviewed novel entirely concerned with a repressed middle-aged literature teacher's growing awareness of his homosexuality, an awareness that ends in violence and the possible disintegration of his marriage. Nothing has been written about the married Jackson's sexuality, but the emotional tension achieved in the book seems unlikely to have been work of an outsider.

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Robert Duncan's first book, Heavenly City, Earthly City (1947), contains several poems referring to a male lover--for example, "Treesbank Poems," "An Apollonian Elegy," and the title poem.

Tennessee Williams (1911-1983) alluded briefly to homosexuality in his early plays (for example, Blanche's suicidal husband in the 1947 A Streetcar Named Desire), but in his first collection of stories, One Arm (1948), the subject dominates two, "One Arm" and "Desire and the Black Masseur," where it is associated with prostitution and murder, and is a frank issue in two others, "The Angel in the Alcove" and "The Night of the Iguana."

Indirect, coded, or otherwise buffered gay male writing continued in the 1940s as well. Edwin Denby (1903-1983), best-known for his dance criticism, included pieces suggestive of his homosexuality in his first book of poems, In Public, In Private (1948)--for example, "The Subway" and "Groups and Series."

In the first two volumes of his autobiography, Persons and Places: The Background of My Life (1944) and The Middle Span (1947), Santayana describes his male friendships in rhapsodic terms ("In him I tasted two of the sweets of friendship, which have regaled me since in many a 'nice fellow.' . . . Strange enchantment!").

John Horne Burns's second novel, Lucifer With a Book (1949), with an epigraph from the Inferno canto about the , frankly describes homosexuality among its prep school faculty and students, and a strong attraction is implied between the main character and his favorite student, though the teacher is finally portrayed as heterosexual.

1950-1959

More landmarks distinguish American gay male writing of the 1950s. The subject was probably given the widest exposure by two well-known works of 1956, Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin (1924-1987) and Howl by Allen Ginsberg (b. 1926).

Indebted to Gide and echoing the Old Testament model in the names of its lovers, David and Giovanni, Baldwin's much-discussed novel was issued by a mainstream publisher and surpasses The City and the Pillar not only in focusing on an "all-American" male's homosexual self-discovery but also in intimately portraying a homosexual relationship; the relationship ends, however, with one lover an executed murderer and the other doomed to despondent wandering.

Howl, from a small press, became one of the decade's most influential books of poetry, partly for its role in defining the Beat Movement and partly for its 1957 obscenity trial. Frank homosexuality appears in the long title poem ("hipsters . . . who let themselves be fucked in the ass . . . and screamed for joy"), in "A Supermarket in California" ("I saw you Walt Whitman, . . . eyeing the grocery boys"), and in "America" ("I'm putting my queer shoulder to the wheel").

In addition, from what we know about a self-conscious gay male readership at this time, two authors of the early 1950s seem to have struck a special chord with it, James Barr (the pseudonym of James Fugaté, b. ?) and Fritz Peters (Arthur Anderson Peters, 1913-1979).

Barr's popular Quatrefoil (1950) was published by the same marginal press as Better Angel (Greenberg) and, like it, seems consciously designed to hearten a male homosexual audience as it programatically portrays the developing homosexual self-awareness and self-acceptance of the young naval officer Phillip Froelich under the tutelage of his older lover and fellow officer, Tim Danelaw; Barr kills Tim off in an accident at the end, however, before the two men's relationship can develop.

Barr followed Quatrefoil in 1951 with a book of stories, Derricks (also from Greenberg), each of which frankly concerns homosexuality.

Peters' well-written and widely reviewed Finistère (1951) had a mainstream publisher (Farrar, Straus) and frankly depicts homosexual characters, relationships, and subcultures as it acutely traces the love affair between young Matthew Cameron and his boarding-school athletics teacher Michel Garnier against a background of family tensions that ultimately leads to Matthew's suicide.

Another standout of the 1950s was the now-forgotten Sam (1959), by Lonnie Coleman (1920-1982), a novelist best-known for his later, popular "Beulah Land" trilogy. Sam totally accepts the homosexuality of its title character, a New York publisher, and shows him functioning openly and successfully with professional and social friends while it also candidly depicts a range of gay characters and contexts (for example, bars and baths).

Complexities are skimmed over in the rush toward a happy ending (ditched by Walter, an opportunistic actor, Sam soon finds true love with Richard, a surgeon), but in its utter frankness and positiveness about homosexuality, Sam is astounding for its time, and more needs to be known about its publication (by an established publisher, David McKay) and reception.

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