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literature

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American Literature: Gay Male, 1900-1969  
 
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These were but parts, however, of a notable American gay male literature that persisted through the 1950s and constituted a relative burst of expressiveness, with a volume approximately doubling the output of the 1940s. This body includes both the melodramatic pulp novels of Jay Little (pseudonym of Clarence L. Miller), which were written for a specifically gay audience, and the work of authors who attempted to intrude gay themes into mainstream fiction and poetry.

Homosexuality figures centrally in two searing stories in The Delicate Prey (1950), the first collection by Paul Bowles (1910-1999)--"Pages from Cold Point," and "The Echo."

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Like his short fiction, Paul Goodman's 1951 novel, Parents' Day, has a technically bisexual protagonist who seems more ardently homosexual, a teacher who loses his job at a progressive boarding school after admitting to sex with his male students.

W. H. Auden (1907-1973), an American citizen since 1946, became more open about his homosexuality in his later poetry, as in his campy "The Love Feast," from his 1951 Nones.

A major lesbian character, Eunice Goode, appears in Paul Bowles's second novel, Let It Come Down (1952).

Under the pen name of William Lee, William S. Burroughs (1914-1997) published his first book, the autobiographical Junky, in 1953, as a pulp paperback. This novel of addiction is dotted with "fruit" and "queers," and its ambivalent married narrator has occasional homosexual sex while protesting his "horror" at "fags." At the same time, Burroughs wrote the blunter, fragmented, Queer, which remained unpublished until 1985.

Christopher Isherwood (1904-1986), who became an American citizen in 1946, deals with homosexuality more frankly and fully than ever before in The World in the Evening (1954), chiefly in the secondary characters Michael Drummond and the couple Charles Kennedy and Bob Wood, to whom he furthermore gives relatively happy endings. The World in the Evening also has notable gay political commentary (Bob, a Quaker, refuses to be a conscientious objector in World War II because he realizes that "I'd fight till I dropped . . . if they declared war on the queers") and the first exposition of the term camp in mainstream writing.

Tennessee Williams evokes homosexuality more fully in some plays of the 1950s, though keeping it in the background and off-stage (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof [1955], Suddenly Last Summer [1958]), while he continues to portray it openly in his stories--for example, "Two on a Party," "Hard Candy," and "The Mysteries of the Joy Rio" in Hard Candy (1954).

Before Sam, Lonnie Coleman included a frank and happy homosexual tale in his Ship's Company (1955), a composite of vignettes about the crew of the aptly named U.S.S. Nellie Crocker during World War II. In "The Theban Warriors," Montgomery, a blatantly swish sailor who is also a championship boxer, woos and wins his shipmate Barney.

Paul Goodman again published some homosexual poems in pamphlets during the decade: "Lloyd (September 9, 1941)" (1955) and "Solstice" (1958).

Three stories in Gore Vidal's A Thirsty Evil (1956) openly concern homosexuality--"Three Stratagems," "The Zenner Trophy," and "Pages from an Abandoned Journal."

In his first novel, Jamie Is My Heart's Desire (1956), Alfred Chester (1929-1971) implies "queer feelings" between the mysterious figures Mark and Jamie.

In Edwin Denby's second book, Mediterranean Cities (1956), "Villa Adriana" and "Segesta" allude to homosexuality.

John Cheever (1912-1982), whose homosexual affairs were revealed in posthumously published memoirs, letters, and diaries, included a chapter on "the unsavory or homosexual part of our tale, [which] any disinterested reader is encouraged to skip" in his prize-winning first novel, The Wapshot Chronicle (1957).

In his second book of poems, Meditations in An Emergency (1957), Frank O'Hara (1926-1966) begins to portray his homosexuality more directly, as in the title poem, "Ode," and the moving "To the Harbormaster."

Jack Spicer (1925-1965) was openly gay throughout his career, but when he deals with the subject at all in his largely surrealistic work it is usually allusively--for example, his first book, After Lorca (1957), contains mock letters to Lorca and loose translations of his poems.

In Color of Darkness (1957), the first collection by James Purdy (b. 1923), homosexuality figures centrally in one story, "Man and Wife," and secondarily or implicitly in two others, "63: Dream Palace" and "You May Safely Gaze."

The Hotel Wentley Poems (1958), the first book by John Wieners (b. 1934), contains two frankly gay pieces--"A poem for cock suckers" and the love poem "A poem for the old man."

Jonathan Williams (b. 1929) included gay content in his witty, objectivist work early in his career--for example, "The Chameleon" in The Empire Finals at Verona (1959).

Paul Bowles's second collection, The Hours After Noon (1959), contains the autobiographical "The Frozen Fields," in which he forecasts his own homosexuality in the young protagonist's reaction to two older homosexual characters.

Mr. Cox, the astrologer who launches the young hero on his worldly education in James Purdy's arch first novel, Malcolm (1959), is identified as "a ."

In Paul Goodman's long novel/romance The Empire City (1959), characters have homosexual experiences, though usually as part of an overall bisexuality, and at one point Goodman casts the god Eros as a gay street hustler.

In William S. Burroughs's Naked Lunch (1959), homosexual sex predominates among the novel's phantasmagoric polysexuality, the Divisionist party in Interzone is all-homosexual, and the "Benway" and "Examination" sections satirize medicine's complicity in the social control of homosexuality.

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