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literature

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Windham, Donald (1920-2010)  

In addition to writing fiction with gay and bisexual characters and situations, Donald Windham made a significant contribution to gay studies as a memoirist and editor.

Born in Atlanta, Georgia, on July 2, 1920, Windham moved with his partner, Fred Melton, a graphic artist, to New York City in 1939, where he soon became friends with Tennessee Williams, Paul Cadmus, Truman Capote, and Lincoln Kirstein. During World War II, Windham contributed to and edited Kirstein's Dance Index and collaborated with Williams on a stage adaptation of D. H. Lawrence's You Touched Me.

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In 1943, after Melton had married, Windham met Sandy Montgomery Campbell, a Princeton freshman, who became his lifelong partner. An actor and publisher of handsome limited editions, Campbell saw through his press, the Stamperia Valdonega in Verona, many of the first editions of Windham's works until his death in 1988.

Beginning in 1947, Windham began to place short stories in Horizon, The Listener, Botteghe Oscure, and New Directions. He published five novels, one short story collection, and two memoirs. In addition, he contributed essays on artists such as Pavel Tchelitchev, edited Campbell's memoirs, and wrote unpublished stage adaptations of Melville's Billy Budd, Isak Dinesen's The Angelic Avengers, and his own "The Starless Air."

Windham made his major contribution to gay life as a memoirist and editor. In addition to editing his letters from E. M. Forster and Alice B. Toklas, Windham used his diaries to write on Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote. Windham's The Hero Continues, although not intended as a roman à clef, has a protagonist who shares various traits with Williams.

Struck by the inaccuracy of Williams's Memoirs, Windham published Williams's letters to him. However, Williams falsely claimed that Windham had not been granted permission by him and trashed the volume.

Windham's Lost Friendships: A Memoir of Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, and Others (1987), his best book, not only tells a moving story of the emotional difficulties of two famous writers but also offers insights into the way imagination can be used by artists both to foster their productivity and distort their personal lives. It shows the price demanded by success of two gay men who sought to please a heterosexual public.

In his fiction, Windham treated homosexuality both openly and as a subtext; however, it never becomes his main topic. He published five stories with gay themes: "The Kelly Boys," "The Hitchhiker," "Rome," "The Warm Country," and "Servants with Torches."

The Dog Star (1950), tells of a teenager who, still haunted by the suicide of his best friend, kills himself. The protagonist of The Hero Continues (1960) has a drunken one-night stand with a teen-aged boy. The openly gay-oriented Two People (1965) centers on a married American businessman and the Italian teenager he picks up.

Tanaquil (1972), set in the art world of the 1940s, has as a character a bisexual photographer based on George Platt Lynes. Stone in the Hourglass (1981), a story of art forgery and murder, includes two amusing same-sex bedroom scenes.

Windham died on June 2, 2010 in New York City.

His work remains provocative in its refusal to make simple correlations between same-sex attraction, sexual activity, identity, and self-definition.

Peter G. Christensen

     

 
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Donald Windham (standing, left) with Sandy Campbell in 1955.
  
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    Bibliography
   

Kellner, Bruce. "Donald Windham." Contemporary Gay American Novelists: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. Emmanuel S. Nelson, ed. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993. 401-407.

_____. Donald Windham: A Bio-Bibliography. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1991.

Rader, Dotson. "The Private Letters of Tennessee Williams." London Magazine 18.4 (July 1978): 18-28.

Willingham, Robert M., Jr. "Donald Windham." Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 6: American Novelists Since World War II. Second Series. James E. Kibler, Jr., ed. Detroit: Gale, 1980. 380-386.

Windham, Donald. "Donald Windham Replies to Dotson Rader." London Magazine 20.11-12 (February-March 1981): 80-88.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Christensen, Peter G.  
    Entry Title: Windham, Donald  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated June 10, 2010  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/windham_d.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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