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Nava, Michael (b. 1954)  
page: 1  2  

Moreover, while the novels often chronicle degradation and cruelty, they are written with style and grace. They betray a poet's eye and ability with language; and their quotations from and allusions to poems by Dante, W. H. Auden, C. P. Cavafy, and others both enrich their texts and place them in an important gay literary context. Nava's allusions to poetry and other literary texts are nearly always meaningful, and they add to the moral seriousness of the novels.

In 1995, Nava collaborated with history professor Robert Dawidoff on the nonfiction book Created Equal: Why Gay Rights Matter to America. Basing their arguments on sound legal and historical analyses, the authors persuasively make the point that the denial of equal rights to glbtq people threatens the future of basic constitutional principles of individual freedom and liberty for the nation as a whole. They contend that the struggle for equality for glbtq citizens matters to everyone because it is a test case for equal treatment of all citizens.

Revealingly, however, as part of their argument, Dawidoff and Nava present sexual orientation as an essentially trivial marker of difference. If people are treated differently simply because of something so insignificant as their sexual orientation, their argument goes, then the rights of all Americans are tenuous. This regard of sexual orientation as essentially trivial may explain Nava's uneasy relationship with the concept of a glbtq community, despite the fact that his books have won their greatest success in that community.

In a 2001 interview with lesbian mystery writer Katherine V. Forrest, Nava disturbed many of his glbtq admirers by limiting the markers of community to "a common race or ethnicity, a common language, a common religion or a common history" and denying "the idea of a gay community." He proposed instead the term "subculture" only to damn it: "I find the gay male subculture to be, for the most part, puerile and spiritually empty; so I steer clear of it." Finally, he shortsightedly discounted most gay fiction as parochial and sought to set himself apart from the work of his fellows by concluding, "I hope my books are not ultimately so much about difference as about connection."

Curiously, he seems to have forgotten E. M. Forster's celebrated mantra that drives so much gay writing, "Only connect," an injunction that honors differences even as it stresses the need to bridge those differences.

Nava's decision to abandon the Rios series was greeted with disappointment by many of his fans, but the disappointment was alleviated by the news of a non-mystery novel-in-progress, to be entitled The Talking Tree, an excerpt of which was published in 2005 in Lit, the San Francisco Bay Guardian literary supplement. Apparently a historical novel featuring a blind child as protagonist, The Talking Tree concerns atrocities performed against the Yaqui Indians by the Mexican government.

In his Henry Rios novels, Nava proves himself a worthy, if somewhat uncomfortable, successor to Joseph Hansen, whose Dave Brandstetter novels pioneered the gay male mystery genre in the 1970s and 1980s. Like Hansen, Nava presents an engaging gay detective living and working in a vividly described California landscape. Also like Hansen, Nava has attracted an enthusiastic crossover audience that includes heterosexual as well as homosexual mystery fans.

There is a major difference between the two writers, however. Whereas Hansen found a kind of liberation in writing mystery novels--testing the boundaries of the genre while also observing them, Nava seems to have increasingly bristled at the limitations of the form and, ultimately, abandoned it altogether. Nevertheless, his contribution to the gay mystery is immense; and despite his tiring of the form, it enabled his growth as a writer.

Still a young man, Nava may well establish himself as a mainstream novelist, as well as a chronicler of the gay male and Chicano experience within the boundaries of mystery fiction.

Ted-Larry Pebworth

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literature >> Dante Alighieri

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literature >> Duplechan, Larry

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D'Auray, Terry. "A Queer Eye on the Mean Streets." Agony (November 20, 2003; updated March 1, 2004).

Dawidoff, Robert. "The Education of Henry Rios." Lit (April 2001).

Forrest, Katherine V. "Adios Rios" [interview with Michael Nava]. Lambda Book Report 9.8 (March 2001): 8-10.

Klawitter, George. "Michael Nava." Contemporary Gay American Novelists: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook. Emmanuel S. Nelson, ed. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993. 291-97.

Nava, Michael. "Abuelo: My Grandfather, Raymond Acunã." A Member of the Family: Gay Men Write about Their Families. John Preston, ed. New York: Dutton, 1992. 15-20.


    Citation Information
    Author: Pebworth, Ted-Larry  
    Entry Title: Nava, Michael  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2005  
    Date Last Updated December 29, 2005  
    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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