Even though the renowned Southern novelist Reynolds Price is 76 and has published two memoirs previously, apparently it is only in his third memoir, Ardent Spirits, covering his life from 22 to 28, that he writes openly and at length about being gay. The NYT times critic likened the new book, released this week, to "a boisterous coming-out party." Evidently Price avoided gay questions in the past.
From a NYT magazine interview in 1987:
Price does write about erotic love, both heterosexual and homosexual, because, he says: ''It's the most powerful single force in human life. If you eliminate that, then you eliminate the electricity from your universe.'' But he refuses to talk about his own sexuality.
''I've only once in my whole career ever had a person stand up in the audience and ask me if I was gay. And it was a guy, in Florida, and I said, 'Why? Have you fallen hopelessly in love with me?' And the guy just fled from the room.'' Price laughs and continues. ''I have always felt that my private life was private. It's the property of me and the people who've been good enough to be intimate with me. A knowledgeable reader of my work can make whatever deductions he or she wishes to make. All that I wish to say about my life is said in my work.''
American readers can be forgiven if... they have not noticed that Reynolds Price himself is... a gay American. Over the course of his long career and across his jumbo-size output (38 books of fiction, poetry, plays, essays and other nonfiction), Mr. Price has deployed gay characters only sparingly.
He is far better known for being a native of North Carolina, where much of his fiction is set, and for his probing interest in religious faith. Mr. Price hasn’t exactly hidden the fact that he is gay; he is simply a private person who hasn’t tattooed this information, in curly script, on one of his biceps.
For the record, a writer named Dwight Garner is responsible for the notion that out writers truthfully working on a literature of our lives = curly scripted bicep tattoos.
Publishers Weekly degays the book while admiring it:
In this new memoir, award-winning novelist Price (Kate Vaiden) takes up where his 1989 Clear Pictures left off-with a young Price heading for England on a Rhodes scholarship, a young man lighting into new and unfamiliar territories and the lessons he learns about literature, life and love. Covering the years 1955 to 1961, Price chronicles the challenges of living in a strange place, his emotional insecurities and his anxieties about his ability to complete the thesis on Milton, his adventures in Europe with a close friend and his eventual return to his alma mater, Duke University, to teach writing and literature. Along the way, Price recalls his friendships with Stephen Spender, Cyril Connolly, W.H. Auden and his brief encounters with Jean-Paul Sartre and J.R.R. Tolkien. Price's memoir also displays the tenacious desire with which, after warm encouragement from Eudora Welty and William Styron, he embarks on a round of writing that produces his first novel, A Long and Happy Life, published to acclaim in 1962. Although the detail can be tiresomely meticulous, Price, as usual, powerfully articulates the strength of memory in shaping our lives and gracefully draws us into a literary life lived fully.
Library Journal reports more inclusively:
Two underlying streams in this memoir are Price's homosexuality and the beginning of his first novel, A Long and Happy Life, which he refers to as his "pregnant-girl story." Price's true friendship with an Oxford classmate, Michael Jordan, and his intimate relationship with Matyas, a British academic, reveal Price's personal growth during his studies.