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literature

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Hansen, Joseph (1923-2004)  

Best known as the author of the Dave Brandstetter mystery series, Joseph Hansen also published a considerable body of nonmystery fiction and poetry, most of it dominated by homosexual characters and themes.

Born in Aberdeen, South Dakota, on July 19, 1923, Hansen moved with his family to Minneapolis in 1933 and in 1936 to southern California, where he spent the rest of his life. He attended Pasasdena City College, and in 1943 married Jane Bancroft, with whom he had a daughter who later underwent gender reassignment. He made a career of writing, editing, and teaching.

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Hansen's fiction, featuring homosexual characters and themes, began to appear in the pre-Stonewall 1960s, when he was forced, for lack of any viable alternative, to publish under a pseudonym (James Colton) with small West Coast publishers who specialized in erotica.

Notable among his early novels are Lost on Twilight Road (1964) and Strange Marriage (1965). The latter is an especially good example of gay pulp fiction of the mid-1960s. Internalizing much of the of its era, it chronicles the experience of a homosexual, Randy Hale, who marries in order to lead a "normal" life, but is irresistibly drawn back into gay sex by a sensitive young man.

Reflecting the medically oriented dialogue of the 1950s and 1960s, it is a doctor who explains homosexuality to Hale's wife and makes possible the compromise "strange marriage" that allows the couple to continue their lives together.

In the post-Stonewall Brandstetter mystery series, some of Hansen's characters are able to achieve happiness and stability in gay relationships, but in his two "mainstream" novels of the 1980s, A Smile in His Lifetime (1981) and Job's Year (1983), the gay protagonists are plagued with loss and loneliness.

Although powerfully written and guardedly optimistic in their conclusions, both novels are almost unrelentingly painful and show little of the positive aspects of the gay experience. Their depressing darkness seems imposed from without rather than naturally residing within the characters and situations.

In the 1990s, Hansen turned from the Brandstetter series to writing novels that chronicle gay life on the West Coast during the 1940s and 1950s. The first of these, Living Upstairs (1993), is a moving account of young love in Hollywood during World War II. The second, Jack of Hearts (1995), is a charming coming-of-age novel set in a small foothill town.

Beautifully written and featuring completely realized characters, both books vividly evoke a particular time and place. They also tell stories that are haunting and painful but not depressing. Unlike the novels of the 1980s, they capture the joys as well as the pain of gay life before Stonewall. These novels testify to Hansen's continuing vitality as a writer even after he abandoned the Brandstetter novels.

Yet it is the Brandstetter novels, written from 1970 through 1991, for which Hansen is likely to be most remembered. In this series, featuring a handsome gay male detective who ages naturally from middle to old age over its twenty-one years, Hansen pioneers in the mystery genre by presenting gay men and lesbians in all their diversity, without sensation, as simply men and women with understandable desires, triumphs, and frustrations. The series is particularly distinguished for its masterful descriptions of Los Angeles and the small towns and cities up and down the southern California coast.

Hansen's wife Jane Bancroft died in 1994. Of their 51 years of marriage, he remarked: "something was right about it, however bizarre [the relationship between a lesbian woman and a gay man] may seem to the rest of the world."

Hansen followed her in death on November 24, 2004.

A self-avowed conservative in the liberation movement, Hansen called himself "homosexual" rather than "gay"; but in his own fashion, he worked through his novels and short stories to help create a climate of acceptance for all homosexuals in the mainstream of American life.

Ted-Larry Pebworth

     

 
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A portrait of Joseph Hansen by Stathis Orphanos.
  
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    Bibliography
   

Jones, James. "Joseph Hansen." Contemporary Gay American Novelists: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. Emmanuel S. Nelson, ed. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1993. 189-196.

Kepner, Jim. "Joseph Hansen." The Gay and Lesbian Literary Companion. Sharon Malinowski and Christa Brelin, eds. Detroit: Hslr, 1995. 227-252.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Pebworth, Ted-Larry  
    Entry Title: Hansen, Joseph  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated December 29, 2005  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/hansen_j.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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