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Grimsley, Jim (b. 1955)  

By the end of the twentieth century, playwright and fiction writer Jim Grimsley had firmly established himself as a central voice in an exploding, Southern, gay literary renaissance, a movement whose anchors include such writers as Dorothy E. Allison, Allan Gurganis, Blanche McCrary Boyd, D. Travers Scott, and Randall Kenan, to name a few. Grimsley's success as a novelist, however, was hard won.

Born into an alcoholic and poverty-stricken family in rural Pollackville, North Carolina, in 1955, Grimsley endured a childhood that later caused him to remark that "for us in the South, the family is a field where craziness grows like weeds" ("Out of Silence," 1998). Grimsley moved to Atlanta as a young adult and continued to dream of "just being a writer," although he would spend nearly twenty years as a secretary at Atlanta's Grady Memorial Hospital before joining the creative-writing faculty at Emory University.

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During those years, Grimsley wrote prolifically and steadily, both fiction and drama--fourteen of his plays were produced between 1983 and 1993. His first novel, however, the semiautobiographical Winter Birds (1994), was rejected as "too dark" by American publishers for ten years before appearing in a German edition; it finally was published in English some two years later.

Winter Birds brought Grimsley a Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a PEN/Hemingway Award citation. The novels that followed--Dream Boy (1995) and My Drowning (1997)--received, respectively, the American Library Association's Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Book Award for Literature and the Lila Wallace-Readers Digest Writers' Award, in addition to significant critical acclaim.

Grimsley's two overtly gay-themed novels are Dream Boy and Comfort and Joy (1999), each quite different from the other in theme and construction.

In Dream Boy, adolescent Nathan falls for the "perfect" boy next door, Roy; a simple story of young love, however, opens into a touching, metaphorical tale of resistance and resurrection. In a different context, Dream Boy might be called "magical realism," and Grimsley's complex, laminated, dreamlike narrative experiments with time, physical space, and even with his characters' "realness" (one of the protagonists may or may not have risen from the dead) in ways rare to modern gay literature.

More traditional in approach, Comfort and Joy focuses on the two-year-old relationship of a wealthy Savannah doctor, Ford McKinney, and Dan Crell, a working-class functionary in the administrative office of the hospital where Ford works. Crell's mother, Ellen, is the child heroine whose horrific circumstances are the substrate of the Tobacco Road-esque My Drowning.

As the title suggests, Comfort and Joy tracks the men during the Christmas holidays as they meet their respective in-laws. Grimsley effectively explores the couple's conflicts and conciliations over money and class; closetedness (Ford doesn't like to kiss and thinks of himself as something other than gay); and the implications of their linked destinies (like Grimsley, Dan is both a hemophiliac and HIV-positive).

Grimsley is also an accomplished and award-winning playwright and has been connected with Atlanta's 7 Stages Theater since 1980; he has served as writer-in-residence there since 1988. Grimsley's postmodern impulses are more extravagantly deployed in his plays than in his novels, and his dramatic interweaving of sex, violence, and pungent commentary on American life and values is reminiscent of the early work of Edward Albee.

In Mr. Universe, for example, two drag queens find a mute, bleeding bodybuilder on a street corner and decide to take him home. One of them lusts after the bodybuilder, but the other finds him "pure" and struggles to shield him from corruption.

In Math and Aftermath, a gay-porn film crew sneaks onto Bikini Atoll the day before the detonation of the first atomic bomb; temporal distortions, breaks in the boundaries of physical space, and even the simultaneous appearance of a character and his literal Doppelgänger contribute to Grimsley's exploration of reality on the eve of irrevocable change.

Four of Grimsley's plays are collected in Mr. Universe and Other Plays (1999). He is also the author of a science fiction novel, Kirith Kirin (2000).

Wendell Ricketts

     

    
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    Bibliography
   

Grimsley, Jim. "Out of Silence." Brightleaf: A Southern Review of Books 3 (March/April 1998): http://www.brightleaf-review.com/Mar98/grimsley.html.

_____. "Who We Are." Publishers Weekly (September 30, 1996): 46-47.

Howorth, Lisa. "Jim Grimsley: Tales of Southern Courage." Publishers Weekly (November 5, 1999): 39-40.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Ricketts, Wendell  
    Entry Title: Grimsley, Jim  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated September 8, 2004  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/grimsley_j.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, New England Publishing Associates  
 

 

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