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Rorem, Ned (b. 1923)  

The American composer Ned Rorem has achieved literary prominence by publishing a series of diaries that include candid descriptions of homosexual love affairs and relationships.

Born in Richmond, Indiana, on October 23, 1922, and raised in a childhood Quaker environment that emphasized exposure to the fine arts resources available in Chicago, Rorem exhibited musical and literary talents by the age of nine.

Following a varied education in both contemporary and classical music, and an introduction to French culture that was to have permanent consequences for his later contributions to gay literature, Rorem received the Gershwin Memorial Award in 1948, which permitted him to make a long-planned visit to Paris. His planned three months were to stretch into a residence of some nine years.

The impact of the varied artistic, political, and literary currents composing Parisian culture prompted Rorem to record his thoughts and observations in the first of what would eventually become a series of personal chronicles.

His inclusion in this account--published in 1966 as The Paris Diary of Ned Rorem--of unprecedentedly candid descriptions of homosexual love affairs and relationships at a time when such subjects were considered either ludicrous or unmentionable created a mild sensation and helped make him a cult figure among gay readers who were not necessarily interested in his music.

Rorem's witty, often surprisingly deep, and occasionally profound ruminations, delivered in an apparently unselfconscious but wonderfully literate style, marked him as a significant observer of the Parisian cultural scene.

The Paris Diary also helped establish the diary as a literary form of gay and lesbian writing and as a vehicle for social analysis and self-expression. Although Rorem would later disavow any intent of being an early gay liberationist (saying simply that he was too lazy to bother lying about his sexual orientation), through his diaries readers were offered a deeply drawn portrait of an individual who accepted his desires as merely one part of an integrated, stable personality.

It would be two years before any comparably open account appeared again, in the form of Quentin Crisp's tartly humorous work The Naked Civil Servant.

Rorem's diaries, including the New York Diary (1967), The Final Diary: 1961-1972 (1974; reprinted as The Later Diaries of Ned Rorem, 1983), and An Absolute Gift: A New Diary (1974), trace his return to the United States, his establishment as a major American composer--particularly of art songs, of which he is considered the contemporary master--and the maturation of his philosophies of musical composition.

Public displays of very private introspection, his musings in the Diaries, complemented by his essays on music, such as those collected in Pure Contraption: A Composer's Essays (1974), permit readers to achieve a depth of understanding of the human being within the art usually reserved for long-established figures whose works have been subjected to intense critical scrutiny.

Knowing When To Stop, his formal memoirs completed in early 1994, continues this tradition while synthesizing later creative insights and experiences.

Rorem's homosexuality influences his music in a number of ways, including the fact that the most important source of lyrics for his music is Walt Whitman. Rorem adapted the "Calamus" section of Whitman's Leaves of Grass into a song cycle, and Whitman's homoerotic verse also provided the background for the oratorio "Goodbye My Fancy." A commission for a choral work from the Gay Men's Chorus of New York in 1988 sparked the weaving of seven poems into "The Whitman Cantata."

Rorem has also adapted texts by such gay and lesbian writers as Gertrude Stein, Adrienne Rich, John Ashbery, Frank O'Hara, Paul Monette, and Thom Gunn.

Rorem's regular columns for New York's Christopher Street magazine in the late 1970s and early 1980s also maintained his presence in the post-Stonewall gay and lesbian literary scene.

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A portrait of Ned Rorem by Stathis Orphanos.
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Although largely invisible to the general public, a large body of twentieth-century gay male literature by American authors was published prior to Stonewall, some of it positive but most of it tinged with misery or bleakness as the price of being published and disseminated.

literature >> Ashbery, John

John Ashbery, one of the leading contemporary American poets, avoids explicit gay content in his poetry, but his work shares concerns with other late twentieth-century gay writing.

literature >> Gunn, Thom

The Anglo-American writer Thom Gunn was a major gay poet and a perceptive critic of gay poetry.

literature >> Monette, Paul

In novels, poetry, and a memoir, Paul Monette wrote about gay men striving to fashion personal identities and, later, coping with the loss of a lover to AIDS.

literature >> O'Hara, Frank

The influential poet Frank O'Hara wrote works informed by both modern art and the world of urban gay male culture.

literature >> Rich, Adrienne

Adrienne Rich, who aestheticized politics and politicized aesthetics, is America's most widely read lesbian poet.

arts >> Rorem, Ned

American composer Ned Rorem is one of the most accomplished and prolific composers of art songs in the world, but his musical and literary endeavors extend far beyond this specialized field.

literature >> Stein, Gertrude

In addition to becoming--with Alice B. Toklas--half of an iconic lesbian couple, Gertrude Stein was an important innovator and transformer of the English language.

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Celebrating an ideal of manly love in both its spiritual and physical aspects, Walt Whitman has exerted a profound and enduring influence on gay literature.


Greco, Stephen. "In Prose, In Music--A Master Of Composition." Advocate (October 4, 1979): pp. 35-37.

Mass, Lawrence D. "Homosexuality, Music and Opera: A Conversation with Ned Rorem." Queering the Pitch: The New Gay and Lesbian Musicology. Philip Brett, Elizabeth Wood, and Gary Thomas, eds. New York: Routledge, 1994. 85-112.

Oestreich, James R. "At 70, An Enfant Terrible As Elder... Statesman." New York Times (January 6, 1994): Sec. 2. 1, 30.


    Citation Information
    Author: unknown, unknown  
    Entry Title: Rorem, Ned  
    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 21, 2004  
    Web Address  
    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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