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literature

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American Literature: Gay Male, 1900-1969  
 
page: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  

James Baldwin deals with homosexuality among African Americans for the first time in Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone (1968), through the love affair between the actor-narrator Leo Proudhammer and the younger, more militant Christopher, both presented as bisexual.

In his best-selling Myra Breckenridge (1968), Gore Vidal skewers conventional American sexuality by making the preoperative Myra a gay male and having the super-masculine Rusty turn homosexual after Myra rapes him with a dildo.

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In The Missolonghi Manuscript (1968), which purports to be a journal of Byron's last year, Frederick Prokosch (b. 1906) depicts homosexuality more straightforwardly than ever before, going beyond the implied of his popular male-bonding adventure novels of the 1930s (such as The Asiatics [1935] and The Seven Who Fled [1937]) to portray Byron's homosexual affairs completely frankly.

Among the pieces printed for the first time in Paul Goodman's collected stories, Adam and His Works (1968), are two with homosexual content, "The Old Knight" and "Martin."

In Keep the River on Your Right (1969), about his life with the cannibal Akaramas in the Peruvian jungle, Tobias Schneebaum (b. 1921) frankly portrays the homosexuality of Manolo, the lay missionary, and clearly implies his own in his feelings for the men of his tribe.

Conclusion

The remarkable achievement of twentieth-century American gay male writing before Stonewall might at first appear to be offset by the fact that much of it seems concessive. For example, in their association of homosexuality with violence, suicide, murder, or other kinds of pathetic death or at best with lives of freakishness or isolation, many works in the post-World War II outpouring of published gay male writing seem to confirm Mart Crowley's famous line in The Boys in the Band, "Show me a happy homosexual, and I'll show you a gay corpse."

Even some positive portrayals surround the subject with distracting reassurances, such as the bisexuality in Baldwin's and Goodman's work. Three points need to be made about this pattern, however.

First, it was not total, as indicated by the work of Clarkson Crane in the 1920s, Forman Brown ("Richard Meeker") in the 1930s, and Duncan, Thompson, O'Hara, Isherwood, Coleman, Kirstein, and Friedman in the post-war period. Second, it may chiefly represent a marketplace compromise authors felt they had to make to get their work published. Third, even when writers might have shared some of these materials' depression about homosexuality, that could not have represented the whole or the core of their feelings.

If twentieth-century American gay male writers before Stonewall had been thoroughly concessive, there would not have been any published gay male writing then at all, for they would have conceded to the long-standing stigma of homosexuality's "unspeakableness" and remained publicly silent. Since the very act of a gay writer's picking up the pen to write about the subject thus inherently contests stereotype, some degree of an opposing positive apprehension about homosexuality is contained even in this material's bleakest portrayals.

The same point is, of course, implied by the fact that, during years when homosexuality was still largely invisible in society and chiefly vilified when it was spoken of at all, these writers persisted in writing about the subject.

Finally, it should be noted that the dimensions of the twentieth-century American gay male literary situation before Stonewall surpass even this sketch. For reasons of space, I have had to exclude earlier gay male writers who were largely discreet about their homosexuality in their work, such as Francis Grierson (1848-1927), Logan Pearsall Smith (1865-1946), Witter Bynner (1881-1968), and Thornton Wilder (1897-1975).

Likewise, I have omitted writers mentioned in earlier surveys of gay fiction whose works were unavailable to me or whose overall picture was unclear (for example, the 1933 Goldie by "Kennilworth Bruce," Hubert Creekmore's 1948 The Welcome, Thomas Hal Phillips's 1949 The Bitterweed Path, the 1949 Stranger in the Land by "Ward Thomas" [Edward T. McNamara]), and distinguished contemporaries whose homosexuality only became more evident in their work after Stonewall, such as James Schuyler (1923-1991), James Merrill (b. 1926), and Richard Howard (b. 1929).

Joseph Cady

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The American composer Ned Rorem has achieved literary prominence by publishing a series of diaries that include candid descriptions of homosexual love affairs and relationships.

literature >> Santayana, George

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literature >> Spicer, Jack

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literature >> Stein, Gertrude

In addition to becoming--with Alice B. Toklas--half of an iconic lesbian couple, Gertrude Stein was an important innovator and transformer of the English language.

literature >> Stevenson, Edward Irenaeus Prime-

Edward Prime-Stevenson, who wrote both fiction and nonfiction, might well be styled the first modern American gay author.

literature >> Stoddard, Charles Warren

A pioneering California writer, Charles Warren Stoddard is best known for his homoerotic tales collected as South-Sea Idyls and The Island of Tranquil Delights.

literature >> Symonds, John Addington

John Addington Symonds was the most daring innovator in the history of nineteenth-century British homosexual writing and consciousness.

literature >> Toole, John Kennedy

Novelist John Kennedy Toole expressed sympathy for the socially marginalized and animosity towards the powers that enforce conformity, but he was never comfortable with his own homosexuality and presents sexual non-conformity in highly conflicted ways.

literature >> Van Vechten, Carl

The gay novelist, critic, and photographer Carl Van Vechten was especially interested in African-American culture and was an influential patron to many writers of the Harlem Renaissance.

literature >> Vidal, Gore

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literature >> Wescott, Glenway

American writer Glenway Wescott is author of a series of critically esteemed novels, but may be best known for his central position in New York's artistic and gay communities of the 1950s and 1960s.

literature >> Whitman, Walt

Celebrating an ideal of manly love in both its spiritual and physical aspects, Walt Whitman has exerted a profound and enduring influence on gay literature.

literature >> Wilder, Thornton

The works of Thornton Wilder are landmarks of American literature, but they reveal scant traces of the author's homosexuality.

literature >> Williams, Jonathan

Jonathan Williams was the author of more than a hundred books and booklets of gay poetry that merges flesh and spirit with a sense of history.

literature >> Williams, Tennessee

Conflicted over his own sexuality, Tennessee Williams wrote directly about homosexuality only in his short stories, his poetry, and his late plays.

literature >> Wilson, Lanford

In his depictions of gay subjects, Lanford Wilson proved himself to be a powerful voice speaking of the lives of gay men.

literature >> Windham, Donald

In addition to writing fiction with gay and bisexual characters and situations, Donald Windham has made a significant contribution to gay studies as a memoirist and editor.


    Bibliography
   

Austen, Roger. Playing the Game: The Homosexual Novel in America. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1977.

Bergman, David. Gaiety Transfigured: Gay Self-Representation in American Literature. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991.

Gifford, James. Dayneford's Library: American Homosexual Writing, 1900-1913. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1995.

Levin, James. The Gay Novel in America. New York: Garland, 1991.

Martin, Robert K. The Homosexual Tradition in American Poetry. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1979.

Sarotte, Georges-Michel. Like a Brother, Like a Lover: Male Homosexuality in the American Novel and Theatre from Herman Melville to James Baldwin. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor/Doubleday, 1978.

Summers, Claude J. Gay Fictions: Wilde to Stonewall. New York: Continuum, 1990.

Woods, Gregory. Articulate Flesh: Male Homoeroticism and Modern Poetry. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1987.

Yingling, Thomas E. Hart Crane and the Homosexual Text. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Cady, Joseph  
    Entry Title: American Literature: Gay Male, 1900-1969  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated March 30, 2010  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/am_lit2_gay_1900_1969.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  
 

 

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