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American Writers on the Left  
page: 1  2  3  4  


Although there is abundant evidence that many gay, lesbian, and bisexual writers found a place for themselves in the front ranks of the Literary Left, it is unlikely that a single explanation can account for the motives of a group so diverse in other respects. Among the questions that need to be addressed by scholars is whether homosexuals were drawn to Communist and Trotskyist organizations because of, or in spite of, their sexual orientations. Along these same lines, the similarities and differences of the socially imposed secrecy about Communist and homosexual identity need to be studied.

Unfortunately, the absence of a substantial body of fiction, poetry, and criticism of the era of the 1930s through the 1950s that simultaneously and candidly addresses left-wing as well as gay, lesbian, and bisexual themes has been an obstacle to the development of an effective method of literary analysis.

Most disconcerting is the appearance of unattractive homosexual characters in works such as those cited by Motley, Rollins, and Hansberry. Scholars need to investigate the range of motivations for such depictions. It may turn out that some of these representations are coded in complex ways so as to subvert the stereotypes they appear to reproduce. Moreover, there may be places in the texts, not obvious in a first reading, that are the sites of additional, alternative, or coded dramatizations of sexual themes.

Today, there is a major revival of interest among scholars in the history and culture of the U.S. Left. So far, the focus has been on rank-and-file agency viewed through the categories of gender, race, and ethnicity. It is likely that new books, dissertations, and articles will soon appear that will also address the kinds of issues I have raised, as well as other new perspectives about gay, lesbian, and bisexual writers on the Left.

Alan Wald

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literature >> Overview:  African-American Literature: Gay Male

The African-American gay male literary tradition consists of a substantial body of texts and includes some of the most gifted writers of the twentieth century.

literature >> Overview:  African-American Literature: Lesbian

Most African-American lesbian literature is as concerned with racism as it is with sexuality, causing many writers to construct Afrocentric sexual identities that affirm the power of black women.

literature >> Overview:  American Literature: Gay Male, 1900-1969

Although largely invisible to the general public, a large body of twentieth-century gay male literature by American authors was published prior to Stonewall, some of it positive but most of it tinged with misery or bleakness as the price of being published and disseminated.

literature >> Overview:  American Literature: Lesbian, 1900-1969

American lesbian literature prior to Stonewall exploited the "outlaw" status of the lesbian as it moved from encrypted strategies of expression to overt political celebrations of woman-for-woman passion.

literature >> Overview:  Bisexual Literature

Although Western culture's reliance upon binary systems of classification and identification has meant the practical erasure of bisexuality, as such, from literary and cultural analysis, bisexual experiences appear in many literary works from ancient times to the present.

social sciences >> Overview:  Gay Left

The Gay Left refers to a cluster of positions on the political spectrum that has existed within the lesbian and gay rights movement at least since the Stonewall riots.

literature >> Overview:  The Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance, an African-American literary movement of the 1920s and 1930s, included several important gay and lesbian writers.

literature >> Overview:  Modern Drama

Before Stonewall, censorship of the theater caused authors to encode homosexual content in publicly-presented plays.

literature >> Overview:  Native North American Literature

From the two-spirits of traditional culture to contemporary writers, Native North Americans have produced a considerable body of gay and lesbian literature.

literature >> Overview:  Novel: Gay Male

Since World War II, the gay male novel has progressively flourished in England and especially in America.

literature >> Overview:  Novel: Lesbian

From the great modernist writers of the 1920s and 1930s to the pulp writers of the 1950s to the lesbian writers of today, lesbian novelists have had a powerful impact on the lesbian community.

literature >> Overview:  Poetry: Gay Male

The gay tradition in literature from ancient times to the present is primarily a tradition not of prose but of verse.

literature >> Overview:  Poetry: Lesbian

Since the 1960s, the general trend in lesbian poetry has been collective and political rather than purely aesthetic.

literature >> Arvin, Newton

One of the most gifted critics of American literature of the mid-twentieth century, Newton Arvin is today most remembered as a lover and mentor of Truman Capote and as the central figure in a 1960 scandal at Smith College.

literature >> Auden, W. H.

One of the most accomplished poets of the twentieth century, W. H. Auden found that his gayness led him to new insights into the universal impulse to love and enlarged his understanding of all kinds of relationships.

literature >> Baldwin, James Arthur

James Baldwin, a pioneering figure in twentieth-century literature, wrote sustained and articulate challenges to American racism and mandatory heterosexuality.

literature >> Bowles, Jane Auer

American novelist, playwright, and short story writer Jane Bowles spent her life examining lesbian identity with an honest and sardonic wit.

literature >> Bowles, Paul

Gay American expatriate composer, writer, and translator Paul Bowles liked to examine sexuality from a dispassionate perspective for its psychological suggestiveness.

literature >> Cheever, John

John Cheever, who was bisexual, gradually came to invest homosexuality with redemptive and transforming powers.

literature >> Cullen, Countee

Countee Cullen, an important member of the Harlem Renaissance, has coded references to homosexuality in much of his poetry.

literature >> Ford, Charles Henri (1910?-2002), and Parker Tyler (1904-1974)

Members of New York's early twentieth-century avant-garde, Charles Henri Ford and Parker Tyler are also the authors of a widely suppressed and largely unread experimental novel of 1930s gay life, The Young and Evil.

literature >> Hansberry, Lorraine

As a part of her fight for social justice, playwright and political activist Lorraine Hansberry supported the emerging American lesbian liberation movement.

literature >> Hemingway, Ernest

Ernest Hemingway, himself sexually insecure, included negative, even abusive portrayals of gay men in his fiction.

literature >> Hughes, Langston

Langston Hughes, whose literary legacy is enormous and varied, was closeted, but homosexuality was an important influence on his literary imagination, and many of his poems may be read as gay texts.

literature >> Locke, Alain

As midwife to the Harlem Renaissance, Alain Locke played a crucial role in the development of African-American literature; his homosexuality informed his plea for respect of sexual and cultural diversity.

literature >> Lorde, Audre

The work of African-American activist and writer Audre Lord was greatly influenced by her lesbianism.

literature >> Matthiessen, F.O.

Critic F. O. Matthiessen was instrumental in the inclusion of gay writers in American literary history, and the exchange of letters between him and his lover Russell Cheney are among the most revealing gay male documents of the 1920s.

literature >> McKay, Claude

Jamaican-born bisexual African-American poet, novelist, and essayist Claude McKay made compelling contributions to the development of the Harlem Renaissance; in his works, he put forward a revolutionary agenda of racial, class, and sexual liberation.

literature >> Norse, Harold

Often categorized as a Beat writer, poet and memoirist Harold Norse created a body of work that uses everyday language and images to explore and celebrate both the commonplace and the exotic.

literature >> Rukeyser, Muriel

Muriel Rukeyser's poetry, which breaks the silence of many aspects of female experience, has been enormously important to many feminist and lesbian readers.

literature >> Wilder, Thornton

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


Aaron, Daniel. Writers on the Left: Episodes in American Literary Communism. With a New Preface by Alan M. Wald. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992.

Baxandall, Rosalyn. "Elizabeth Gurley Flynn." The American Radical. Mary Jo Buhle et al., eds. New York: Routledge, 1994. 129-132.

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

Cooper, Wayne F. Claude McKay: Rebel Sojourner in the Harlem Renaissance. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1987.

Donaldson, Scott. John Cheever: A Biography. New York: Random House, 1988.

Duggan, Lisa. "Audre Lorde." The American Radical. Mary Jo Buhle et al., eds. New York: Routledge, 1994. 353-359.

Fabre, Michel. Black American Writers in France, 1840-1980. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991.

Faderman, Lillian. Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991.

Gordon, Eric A. Mark The Music: The Life and Work of Mark Blitzstein. New York: St. Martin's, 1989.

Hatch, James V. Sorrow Is the Only Faithful One: The Life of Owen Dodson. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993.

Koch, Stephen. Double Lives. New York: Free Press, 1994.

Langer, Elinor. Josephine Herbst: The Story She Could Never Tell. Boston: Little, Brown, 1984.

Mangione, Jerre. An Ethnic at Large. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1978.

Norse, Harold. Memoirs of a Bastard Angel. New York: Morrow, 1989.

Rabinowitz, Paula. Labor and Desire: Women's Revolutionary Fiction in Depression America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991.

Sanford, John. A Very Good Land to Fall With. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Black Sparrow Press, 1987.

Timmons, Stuart. The Trouble With Harry Hay. Boston: Alyson, 1990.

Tucker, Martin. Literary Exile in the Twentieth Century. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1991.

Wald, Alan M. The Revolutionary Imagination: The Poetry and Politics of John Wheelwright and Sherry Mangan. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1983.


    Citation Information
    Author: Wald, Alan  
    Entry Title: American Writers on the Left  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated July 19, 2005  
    Web Address  
    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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