If the phrase "man of letters" isn't too fusty, it applies to no one better than Edmund White. He's equally accomplished in a variety of locales, languages, time periods, and literary genres: fiction, travel, memoir, biography, criticism, drama, and cultural observation. Last week you learned that he is the contemporary writer John Irving re-reads most often and whose new books he most anticipates. Irving called White's recent fiction, Hotel de Dream,"flawless" and said that White's 1982 novel A Boy's Own Story far outshines Cather in the Rye. (A Boy's Own Story is absolutely mandatory. If you haven't read it, now you have another resolution for 2009.) Readers of all stripes owe White thanks for rescuing Jean Genet with his NBCC award-winning biography, and gay readers in particular are indebted to his honesty about sex and his longtime hiv-positive status. (That debt may not extend to his rather downbeat, hustler-dwelling My Lives; read his other books first; his Parisian stroll The Flâneur provides a nicer sense of his melancholy.) A professor at Princeton, White has been made a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and an Officier de L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France. Today he turns 69.
Should Matthew Bourne be everyone's role model? At 49, he combines such vast expertise and originality that he has permanently altered his profession, and he's done it by being gay. In 1995 he cast male dancers as the swans in Swan Lake and became a sensation throughout the world. Writing in The New Yorker years later, Joan Acocella said, "it made an old love story romantic again, by making it seem dangerous." Other critics called it "a miracle." Contrary to some purist's grumblings, his Swan Lake is not a gimmick. The rigid establishment has embraced it, adding it to the standard A Level syllabus for dance majors in Britain. Nor is it too elitist. Extremely in demand to choreograph other people's big West End musicals, Bourne's goal with own productions is to make dance interesting to people who ordinarily would avoid it. He enlivened the stale favorite The Nutcracker; created a version of Bizet's Carmen called The Car Man with plenty of shirtless greasemonkeys and a homoerotic subplot adapted from The Postman Always Rings Twice; transformed Edward Scissorhands into a full-length dance; and created a piece called Play Without Words, based on the 60s movie The Servant. Acocella's fact piece on Bourne from March 12, 2007 remains the best profile of him, in part because she directly addresses the gay aspect. He says he specifically wants his work to make homosexuality acceptable. He is planning an all-male version of Romeo & Juliet called Romeo, Romeo.
Stay with this clip at least till 2:35, then you'll be hooked. (And bear in mind this was for the Royal Variety Performance, broadcast in the UK. Compare that to the extreme unlikelihood of the Kennedy Center Honors doing a gay romance.)