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Gurganus, Allan (b. 1947)  
page: 1  2  

In 1997, Gurganus published his second novel, Plays Well With Others. It is set in New York City from 1980 to 1995, and is narrated by Hartley Mims Jr., a young gay man from a small Southern town who longs to be a writer. After moving to Manhattan to seek success, Hartley quickly bonds with other struggling artists, two in particular: the bisexual Robert Gustafson, a gifted composer and "prettiest boy in New York," and the heterosexual Angelina "Alabama" Byrnes, a fiercely ambitious painter with real talent.

The early sections of the novel evoke an exhilarating pre-AIDS New York as the three friends pursue professional success and sexual adventures. Unrequited passions among the three further complicate matters.

Before they can begin to enjoy their hard-fought triumphs, however, AIDS casts its shadow, forcing the characters to reevaluate their ambitions and confront their limitations. "We--being this talented and so young, " as Hartley recounts, "found but one roadblock to our careers. It was called getting sick."

Yet, as critic Michiko Kakutani remarked in the New York Times, the novel "is not solely concerned with the effects of the disease on its characters' lives." Rather, it "aspires to capturing the pulse and beat of an era and a world . . . a world of ambition, extravagance, hilarity and disillusion."

Gurganus has explained in interviews that the impetus for writing the novel was to celebrate, and commemorate, the "complicated love we have for friends when we're in our twenties . . . when everybody is a sexual object in one form or another."

The Times Literary Supplement called Plays Well With Others "the best work of fiction ever written about AIDS, and certainly the funniest." The novel was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award.

In the fall of 1997, prior to the novel's publication, an excerpt titled "Thirty Dildos," was scheduled to appear in Harper's Magazine. Just before it went to press, however, the magazine's editor Lewis Lapham asked Gurganus to change the title to something less blatant. Lapham explained that the magazine had published a photograph of a lesbian couple in the previous issue, which had angered advertisers. He did not want to further alienate them with Gurganus's "contentious" title. Lapham suggested changing the title to "Thirty Friends."

Gurganus refused to change his title. As he later explained, "As a good team player, I was supposed to immediately say, 'Well, in that case, Lewis, please just let me write about my wife and three children because advertisers like that sort of thing.' What happens is that magazines . . . want the cachet of publishing hip gay writing, but with none of the risks. They don't want any of the toxic aftermath, they just want the coolness of being thought liberal and forward-looking and enlightened."

Lapham pulled the story. GQ magazine later published the excerpt, title and all. Although Harper's Magazine had published more than ten stories by Gurganus up to that point, it has not published anything by him since.

Gurganus's most recent work is a volume of four novellas, The Practical Heart (2001). The title novella, about a woman who may or may not have had her portrait painted by John Singer Sargent, won a National Magazine Prize when it originally appeared in the July 1993 issue of Harper's Magazine.

The collection includes "He's One, Too" which recounts the ruin of a local businessman arrested after making sexual advances to a 15-year-old boy in the men's room of a department store. Gurganus discloses these events through a narrator who as a young boy idolized the man and even projected onto him his own first feelings of desire. As a grown man and out of the closet, the narrator reclaims this story from his youth as an object lesson: desires denied and concealed often lead to tragedy.

Also in the collection are "Saint Monster," about a son confronting long-concealed family secrets, and "Preservation News," in which an elderly widow eulogizes a young gay man who spent his life, cut short by AIDS, rescuing and restoring historic houses.

As the Library Journal explains, "each of the tales explores the impact that one individual can have on another, and how courage and beauty can arise from the most unexpected sources." The collection won the 2001 Lambda Literary Award for Gay Men's Fiction.

Gurganus's short stories have appeared in the New Yorker, the Paris Review, and Granta, among other publications, as well as in anthologies such as Faber Book of Gay Short Fiction (1991), edited by Edmund White; The Penguin Book of Gay Short Stories (1994), edited by David Leavitt and Mark Mitchell; Best American Gay Fiction 3 (1998), edited by Brian Bouldrey; and Best American Short Stories (2000), edited by E.L. Doctorow. His writing is also represented in The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction: Sixth Edition (2000), edited by Richard Bausch and R.V. Cassill.

Gurganus was recently inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Fellowship of Southern Writers.

He lives in Hillsborough, North Carolina.

Craig Kaczorowski

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Canning, Richard. Gay Fiction Speaks: Conversations with Gay Novelists. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.

Eder, Richard. "The Lost Generation." The Los Angles Times (November 9, 1997): 2.

Frumkes, Lewis Burke. "A Conversation with . . . Allan Gurganus." The Writer (June 2000): 20-23.

Garner, Dwight. "The Salon Interview: Allan Gurganus." (December 8, 1997):

Garrett, George. "The Curse of the Caucasians." The New York Times Book Review (February 3, 1991): 14.

Kakutani, Michiko. "That Magical Isle of Talent, Exhibitionism and Doom." The New York Times (November 4, 1997): E8.

Keehnen, Owen. "Allan Gurganus Tells All." 1997.

Miller, Tim. "Heart Specialist." The Advocate (September 25, 2001): 83.

Parker, Peter. "'The Distinguished Thing'." The New York Times Book Review (October 7, 2001): 7.

Plunket, Robert. "Love in the Time of H.I.V." The New York Times Book Review (November 16, 1997): 12.

Tolson, Jay. "Wounds of War." The New Republic (October 30, 1989): 37-41.

Wilcox, James. "Her Whole Life Passes Before Our Eyes." The New York Times Book Review (August 13, 1989): 7.


    Citation Information
    Author: Kaczorowski, Craig  
    Entry Title: Gurganus, Allan  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2005  
    Date Last Updated October 16, 2007  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2005, glbtq, inc.  


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