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American Literature: Gay Male, Post-Stonewall  
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Gay Short Fiction

One of the major outcomes of the appearance of gay literary magazines is that they sparked the growth of gay short fiction, which had been very difficult to place. Many writers dedicated themselves to the form, including Richard Hall, Allen Barnett, and Lev Raphael. The importance of the short story has been further elevated by a series of anthologies, most notably Men on Men: Best Gay Short Fiction, which went through four volumes under the editorship of George Stambolian. Begun in 1986, Men on Men was never intended to become a series, but its popularity has led to a new volume every other year.

Gay Small Presses

Parallel to the development of gay literary journals was the development of gay small presses. In 1975, Gay Sunshine Press published its first book. In New York, Felice Picano founded The Sea Horse Press in 1977, the same year that Larry Mitchell began Calamus Press. In 1980, Sasha Alyson founded Alyson Publications in Boston. In addition, Crossing Press and Jargon Society as well as Grey Fox Press regularly published gay works. Many of the gay writers who were finally published by New York trade publishers began their careers in small gay presses.

The Emergence of Gay Novels in the Mainstream Press

A watershed year for the gay literary movement was 1978, a decade after the Stonewall Riots. In that year, Larry Kramer published Faggots, Edmund White published Nocturnes for the King of Naples, and Andrew Holleran published Dancer from the Dance. The three books--published by three different commercial or "trade" publishers--met with critical and financial success. They were widely reviewed and available in most bookstores--even those that would not ordinarily carry gay books.

The simultaneous publication of three successful gay books meant that trade publishers and bookstores could no longer ignore gay works, and from that time, gay books have become a permanent part of many of the leading publishing houses. Three editors should be mentioned: Bill Whitehead at Dutton and later at Random House cultivated many of the early important gay writers, as Michael Denneny at St. Martin's Press and Arnold Dolin at NAL/Dutton continue to do today.

Faggots, Dancer from the Dance and Nocturnes contain many similarities. All three are set in a predominantly white, cosmopolitan social milieu. Dancer and Faggots end on Fire Island, the long-established gay beach resort on the south shore of New York's Long Island. All three concern the lives of those Holleran refers to as "doomed queens," gay men who live in an exclusively gay neighborhood, have exclusively gay associates, spend their afternoons at the gym and their nights either at the bath houses or dance bars, and who manage somehow through marginal jobs, trust funds, or the kindness of strangers to live lives of drugs, dancing, physical beauty, and sex.

The novels are about the rich and their various hangers-on and are not far removed in that respect from the literary worlds of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway and, in Kramer's case, Nathaniel West. Like the fiction of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and West, the works of Holleran, Kramer, and White are filled with the sense both of apocalyptic doom and moral condemnation, which in Dancer from the Dance and Nocturnes for the King of Naples is offset by lyric tenderness and aesthetic delight. No such compensations blunt the devastating satire of Kramer's Faggots.

The Violet Quill Club

In 1978, all three authors--Kramer, White, and Holleran--were living in New York. White and Holleran became members of what was dubbed The Violet Quill Club, the first important gay literary coterie. The Violet Quill, which formerly lasted only about a year from March 1980 until March 1981, grew out of the friendships that the various members had formed, and the group was recognized even before its quasi-formal meetings began.

Andrew Holleran was a longtime friend of Robert Ferro and Michael Grumley, lovers for nearly twenty years, whom Holleran met when all three were students at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. In addition to Dancer from the Dance, Holleran is the author of Nights in Aruba (1983) and a collection of essays about AIDS, Ground Zero (1988).

Robert Ferro after producing the little known and highly mysterious novella The Others (1977), wrote a series of critically acclaimed and popular novels, including The Family of Max Desir (1984), Blue Star (1985), and Second Son (1988), the latter arguably the first novel about AIDS. These novels--which are a mixture of the autobiographical and the utterly fantastic--often center on a gay man's struggles with his close-knit but highly conflicted family.

Michael Grumley published a number of nonfiction works, including an early book on sadomasochism, Hard Corps (1977). His sole novel, Life Drawings (1991), was published posthumously. Two other members of the Violet Quill--George Whitmore and Christopher Cox--had been lovers of Edmund White.

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