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literature

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Price, Reynolds (1933-2011)  

Although they do not treat gay themes at length, the poems and novels of Reynolds Price often reflect and male relationships.

A native of eastern North Carolina, Reynolds Price rarely strayed far from home. After attending Oxford University on a Rhodes scholarship, he returned to Duke University, where he taught for more than 50 years.

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Though most acclaimed for his fiction, Price has also published drama, poetry, essays, and memoirs. His abiding interest in narrative yielded a volume of biblical retellings and three memoirs: Clear Pictures (1989), a collection of childhood memories; A Whole New Life (1994), an account of his life since the 1984 diagnosis of a spinal tumor that left him unable to walk; and Ardent Spirits (2009), recollections of his years in Britain and the friendships he made there, the first time in which he discussed his homosexuality in print.

Price's contribution to the gay literary heritage must be read indirectly since he does not treat gay themes at great length (though his novel The Promise of Rest [1994] focuses on the return home of a man with AIDS) nor did he speak at length about his own sexual identity.

Particularly in his poetry, the careful reader may note a particular idealization in describing the male body, a special attentiveness to a graceful stance or a muscular profile, as when the sight of his young friend Straw sprawled across the hood of a car unearths a buried memory for Hutch Mayfield, the central character in The Source of Light (1981): "Now the different place which Straw constituted, in power and need, demanded homage. The sight of the stripped boy asleep in his arms last Saturday dawn stood clear in Hutch's mind. He watched it gladly with no regret."

Yet other characters are equally obsessed with female bodies; Price returns again and again to the workings of Eros in shaping relationships. Gay relationships most often blossom as one manifestation of this deeply human urge toward connectedness: Hutch Mayfield's sexual relationships with men are sources of grace and comfort, and his eventual decision to marry his fiancée Ann constitutes choosing a life's course rather than rejecting homosexuality.

Price's noteworthy ability to create deep and complex women marks a treatment of gender distinctive among male authors; Price himself describes human experience as a "vast common room" that authors should use more fully.

Another distinctive concern is male friendship. For men of all ages, classes, and sexual orientations, a long conversation with a trusted male friend is a source of refuge from the demands of family and work, as when in the novel Good Hearts (1988) Wesley Beavers, escaping from both a marriage and a heterosexual affair, takes refuge with a gay male acquaintance. The unrealized sexual possibilities in their evening together offer Wesley a perspective from which to assess his life.

Such bonds burn most brightly in the novel The Tongues of Angels (1990), based on Price's experience as a summer camp counselor. The intense friendship between Bridge Boatner and Rafe Noren, though never expressed sexually, shimmers with erotic heat. Bridge gains from Rafe's angelic life and tragic death a glimpse of another realm of existence that will forever affect him.

Yet this friendship echos across Price's fiction with countless other relationships, particularly those among family members. In the intricate dances of human bonding between parent and child, between lovers, between friends, Price traces the surprising epiphanies, harsh realities, and ineffable joys of the workings of grace.

Randal Woodland

     

 
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A portrait of Reynolds Price by Stathis Orphanos.
  
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    Bibliography
   

Conversations with Reynolds Price. Jefferson Humphries, ed. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1991.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Woodland, Randal  
    Entry Title: Price, Reynolds  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated January 24, 2011  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/price_r.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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