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literature

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American Literature: Gay Male, 1900-1969  
 
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1960-1969

The 1960s had several gay male literary landmarks as well, for the large audiences they reached, as breakthroughs in their authors' work, or as strides in male homosexual representation.

James Baldwin's best-selling Another Country (1962), has a homosexual, the actor Eric, among its major characters and gives him one of the novel's happier endings, concluding the book with a reunion between male lovers; at the same time, Baldwin makes Eric more "acceptable" by providing him with an affair with a woman as well.

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Another much-discussed best-seller, the exposé-like City of Night (1963) by John Rechy (b. 1934), portrays a wide canvas of homosexual American men as it chronicles the cross-country encounters of its "youngman" hustler narrator, who maintains that he himself is not homosexual.

In A Single Man (1964), Christopher Isherwood makes a clearly-identified gay man the central character of one of his novels for the first time and forces the audience to spend the book's entire single day in his presence, as he fantasizes about organizing a group of gay terrorists and struggles to deal with the death of his lover.

Totempole (1965), the highly praised first novel by Sanford Friedman (b. 1928), was issued by a mainstream publisher and is the first fully developed gay male American Bildungsroman, going beyond precedents like Better Angel to trace in extensive detail, from childhood to young manhood, the developing homosexual awareness of its protagonist, Stephen Wolfe, and giving him a comparatively happy ending through his army love affair with a North Korean doctor prisoner.

Near the end of the decade, The Boys in the Band (1968) by Mart Crowley (b. 1935), the long-running off-Broadway play, made theater history by focusing its (and the audience's) entire attention on a group of New York gay men at a birthday party.

These works were surrounded, however, by a relative mass of other gay male writing in the decade, whose year-by-year persistence has, in context, the look of a flood (almost doubling, for instance, the already formidable output of the 1950s).

Jerry, one of the two characters in The Zoo Story (1960), the first play by Edward Albee (b. 1928), proclaims that he was "queer" when he was fifteen and dots his monologues with homosexual references.

There is no overt sexuality in the best-selling A Separate Peace (1960) by John Knowles (b. 1926), but it is clear the main characters, Finny and Gene, are in love.

A homosexual couple, Willard Baker and Vernon Miller, are important characters in James Purdy's The Nephew (1960).

Paul Goodman's third short story collection, Our Visit to Niagara (1960), includes two pieces with homosexual content or implication, "A Statue of Goldsmith" and the lyric "Adam."

Robert Duncan's books of the 1960s continue to have frank homosexual poems--for example, "This Place Rumord to Have Been Sodom" in The Opening of the Field (1960); "Night Scenes" and the lovely "Sonnet 1" ("Now there is a Love of which Dante does not speak unkindly") from Roots and Branches (1964); and, from Bending the Bow (1968), "Sonnet 4," "The Currents, Passages 16," and the breathtaking "The Torso, Passages 18" ("For my Other is not a woman but a man").

In his later books, Robert Francis (1901-1987) included poems more suggestive of his homosexuality, like "Boy Riding Forward Backward" and "Farm Boy After Summer" in The Orb Weaver (1960) and "Time and the Sergeant" in Come Out into the Sun (1965).

Harold Norse (b. 1916) depicted frank homosexual situations in some work of the 1960s, such as "Lot at Home" in his The Roman Sonnets of G. G. Belli (1960); "The Search (After Catullus)" and "Victor Emmanuel Monument (Rome)" in The Dancing Beasts (1962); and the title poem in Karma Circuit (1966).

Jonathan Williams's books of the 1960s continued to have frank gay references--for example, "Finger Exercises," from Amen/Huzza/Selah (1960); "Dangerous Calamus Emotions," from Elegies and Celebrations (1962); "'Always the Deathless Musick'" and "The Honey Lamb" from Jammin' the Greek Scene (1969).

Frank gay love poems and social commentary persist in Allen Ginsberg's books of the 1960s, including "Message" (Kaddish, 1961); "In Society" (Empty Mirror, 1961); "The Green Automobile" and "Malest Cornifici Tuo Catullo" (Reality Sandwiches, 1963); and "Why Is God Love, Jack?" "Message II," "Chances 'R'," and "City Midnight Junk Sounds," his moving elegy for Frank O'Hara (Planet News, 1968).

Thom Gunn (b. 1929) has made his home in America since 1960 and in some of his work of the 1960s implicitly depicts situations that could only be homosexual--for example, the cruising and sex scenes in "The Feel of Hands" and the two "Modes of Pleasure" poems from My Sad Captains (1961).

The explicit sex in William S. Burroughs's hallucinogenic Nova trilogy of the early 1960s--The Soft Machine (1961), The Ticket That Exploded (1962), and Nova Express (1964)--is almost entirely homosexual.

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