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The Violet Quill  

In its narrowest sense, the Violet (or Lavender) Quill was simply a circle of gay male writers in Manhattan who met a few times in 1980 and 1981 to read to one another from their works in progress. In a much larger sense, however, the Violet Quill commands interest because this group of friends and rivals--Christopher Cox, Robert Ferro, Michael Grumley, Andrew Holleran, Felice Picano, Edmund White, and George Whitmore--helped create the post-Stonewall renaissance of American gay male writing.

The members of the Violet Quill were quite different from one another and did not consciously constitute a "school," but collectively and individually they placed homosexuality at the very center of their literary visions.

As David Bergman has observed, they "shared several impulses: a desire to write works that reflected their gay experiences, and specifically, autobiographical fiction; a desire to write for gay readers without having to explain their point of view to shocked and unknowing heterosexual readers; and finally, a desire to write . . . in a selection of the language really used by gay men."

In retrospect, they may be seen as pioneers in the struggle to create a literature that reflected the social revolution wrought by the Stonewall uprising. Their works chronicle both the headiness of the early years of gay liberation and the tragedy of the AIDS epidemic, to which four of the seven have succumbed.

Of the writers of the Violet Quill, the ones who have achieved the greatest renown are the novelists Edmund White, Andrew Holleran, and Robert Ferro. These three writers have had an enormous impact on the development of contemporary gay literature.

Holleran's Dancer from the Dance (1978), Ferro's The Family of Max Desir (1983), and White's The Beautiful Room Is Empty (1988) surely rank among the most influential accounts of American gay life yet written. White and Holleran continue to be important figures in the gay literary world; Ferro died of AIDS in 1988.

At the time of the Violet Quill's formation, probably the best known member of the group (at least to the general public) was Felice Picano, who had already published some commercially successful heterosexual formula fiction, including the thriller Eyes (1976). The most prolific member of the Violet Quill, he has produced a number of gay novels, poems, stories, and memoirs; in 1977, he founded SeaHorse Press, New York's first gay publishing house.

His works include The Deformity Lover and Other Poems (1978), The Lure (1979), Late in the Season (1981), Slashed to Ribbons in Defense of Love and Other Stories (1983), and Men Who Loved Me: A Memoir in the Form of a Novel (1989).

George Whitmore, author of two autobiographical novels, The Confessions of Danny Slocum, or Gay Life in the Big City (1980) and Nebraska (1987), also wrote memorable essays focusing on individuals affected by the AIDS epidemic. Two of the essays were originally published in The New York Times Magazine; they were published in book form as Someone Was Here: Profiles in the AIDS Epidemic (1988). He died of the disease in 1989.

Michael Grumley, the lover of Robert Ferro, collaborated with him on a nonfiction book, Atlantis: The Autobiography of a Search (1970). His other works include two other books of nonfiction--Hard Corps: Studies in Leather and Sadomasochism (1977) and After Midnight (1978)--and a novel, Life Drawings (1991), which was published after his death from AIDS in 1988.

Christopher Cox, sometime lover of Edmund White, wrote only one book, the nonfiction guide, A Key West Companion (1983). However, his recently published short story, "Aunt Persia and the Jesus Man," included in Bergman's anthology, The Violet Quill Reader (1994), amply testifies to his talent as a creative writer. He eventually entered publishing, first as an assistant to Bill Whitehead, who edited White and Ferro, and then as an editor in his own right. He died of AIDS in 1988.

Bergman's The Violet Quill Reader collects a generous selection of the writings of this group, including heretofore unpublished work such as some correspondence of Holleran and Ferro, excerpts from the journals of Picano and Grumley, stories by Cox and Picano, and a lecture on gay literature by Ferro.

Claude J. Summers


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A portrait of Violet Quill member Felice Picano by Stathis Orphanos.
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In the twenty years since its first appearance in the West, AIDS has been the subject of a large body of literature, most of it written by gay men and much of it designed to expose readers as closely as possible to the emergency of the epidemic and the suffering of affected individuals.

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literature >> Duplechan, Larry

Lambda Award-winning author Larry Duplechan is best known for Blackbird (1987), a coming of age novel about a black teenager growing up in the bland outer suburbs of Los Angeles in the 1970s.

literature >> Ferro, Robert

American novelist Robert Ferro explores homosexual integration into the traditional family.

literature >> Holleran, Andrew

The pseudonymous Andrew Holleran has placed his homosexuality at the center of his commercially and critically successful novels.

literature >> Picano, Felice

Prolific author Felice Picano, a founding member of the Violet Quill, is also a pioneer in gay publishing, having founded two publishing houses.

literature >> White, Edmund

One of the most prominent and highly acclaimed figures of contemporary gay literature, Edmund White works in many distinct categories of fiction and nonfiction.


Bergman, David, ed. The Violet Quill Reader. New York: St. Martin's, 1994.

Woodhouse, Reed. Unlimited Embrace. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998.


    Citation Information
    Author: Summers, Claude J.  
    Entry Title: The Violet Quill  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated February 11, 2009  
    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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