Of course Natalie Barney rode astride her horse rather than side-saddle as a child. Decades ahead of her time, she knew she was a lesbian from the age of twelve, in 1888, and considered it unusual but perfectly natural, like being an albino. Born into one of DC's wealthiest families, she refused to hide. In 1900, she published a book of her love poems to women and her mother sketched the illustrations. Alas, when her father found out, he bought up every copy still available and paid the printer to destroy the plates. So she moved to Paris, where she published ten more books and for sixty years held a weekly salon that was the epicenter not only of lesbian life (yes, Mata Hari really did begin her Lady Godiva dance by entering on a white horse) but also the city's literary culture. Frequent guests included T.S. Eliot, Rilke, Rodin, Ezra Pound, Colette, Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas, Djuna Barnes, Isadora Duncan, Radclyffe Hall, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Janet Flanner, Andre Gide, Jean Cocteau, Peggy Guggenheim, Sinclair Lewis, Sherwood Anderson, Thornton Wilder, Virgil Thomson, Truman Capote, Mary McCarthy, Marguerite Yourcenar, Somerset Maugham, Ford Maddox Ford, William Carlos Williams, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce a few times, but never Hemingway. He was probably jealous that she could keep women longer than he could. And she kept her partners enthralled despite juggling multiple long-term open relationships. including one with the painter Romaine Brooks for fifty years, as well as Elisabeth de Gramont and Oscar's niece Dolly Wilde. When Barney was newly arrived in Paris, she seduced the most famous courtesan by dressing as a page and presenting herself at the woman's house. Not only did it work, but this Liane de Pougy wrote a book about their affair which captivated France and went through 70 printings in its first year, 1901. Such zest kept Natalie Barney going until 1972, when she died at ninety-five. You tell me why there's never been a biopic of her.
Much earlier this month openly gay superstar humorist David Rakoff won the Thurber Prize for his terrific third collection of smart, funny essays, Half Empty [[Kindle]]. Entertainment Weekly wrote, “Combining journalistic tenacity, literary smarts, and a talent for gut-busting one-liners . . . His blend of withering wit and self-effacing humor makes these essays soar.”
Add Joan Didion, 76, to the list of old writers making blanket statements about not reading fiction. Last week, promoting her new memoir Blue Nights [[Kindle]], she said, "Writing a novel, which is what I thought I'd like to do, turns out to be not very gratifying in the end because nobody reads them any more."
Nobody who? Oh, maybe she means Philip Roth, 78, who last June announced, “I’ve stopped reading fiction. I don’t read it at all...I've wised up." The same month, John Banville, 65, admitted, “I find I have no use for fiction any more.”
Overall, sales of all adult hardcovers and paperbacks fell 11% and 6% in August. Year to date, 2011 sales are down a steep 18% in both categories compared to 2010. Ebook sales are up 144% ytd.
Jeanette Winterson pens a long essay in the Guardian about the emerging lesbian / writer within, and her battles with her adoptive mother who made them go to church six nights a week and burned her secret collection of novels. Upon the publication of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit in 1985, the estranged pair reconnected via two phone booths:
"Mrs Winterson was having none of it. She knew full well that writers were sex-crazed bohemians who broke the rules and didn't go out to work. Books had been pretty much forbidden in our house, and so for me to have written one, and had it published, and had it win a prize … and be standing in a phone box giving her a lecture on literature, a polemic on feminism …
"The pips – more money in the slot – and I'm thinking, as her voice goes in and out like the sea, "Why aren't you proud of me?" The pips – more money in the slot – and I'm locked out and sitting on the doorstep again. It's really cold and I've got a newspaper under my bum and I'm huddled in my duffel coat.
"A woman comes by whom I know. She gives me a bag of chips. She knows what my mother is like...
"We're still on the phone in our phone boxes. She tells me that my success is from the Devil, keeper of the wrong crib. She confronts me with the fact that I have used my own name in the novel – if it is a story, why is the main character called Jeanette?"
Presumably an excerpt from her forthcoming memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, which Grove is publishing next March.
The sun was out, perfect for a quick trip, but the afternoon high was 38, meaning the not insignificant ice hadn't melted. With effort, I crashed through it to open water but could not explore the frozen coves. Last night I saw a documentary about naturist Aldo Leopold. If you've never read his Midwestern classic A Sand County Almanac, get it now. As one interviewee pointed out, the great trifecta is Thoreau, Muir, and Leopold.
Was the internet made so marketers could haunt you in your home and you could shop anywhere at any time via a handheld hoohickey, or was it created for Triple Canopy? This month, Issue 14 of the online arts journal features Lucy Ives' selections of David Wojnarowicz's 30+ journals being digitised by NYU's Fales Library. She writes:
"Of his diary accounts of sex at the West Side piers and elsewhere, Wojnarowicz told Sylvère Lotringer:
"When I wrote them I was so excited to write them, to document them. I thought they were the most amazing things that I had ever seen. They were like films or they reminded me of Burroughs’s Wild Boys. I loved it. I loved the fact that it was outdoors, that it was by the river and in the wind. They were moments of incredible beauty to me.
"I remember when I first started becoming more and more aware of AIDS. And here I am sitting with all these journals, looking at them in total disgust. … And now, years later, I realize I shifted again and want these things.
"It is with this in mind that one reads Wojnarowicz’s accounts of anonymous sex, his cinematic reflection of the encounter. Many of the selections I have made here, then, are graphic—perhaps more so than other previously published excerpts from the journals. There are also mundane episodes. We see a Manhattan that barely resembles our own. And we see Wojnarowicz at work, taking photos of hell in an alley (homelessness, refuse) or visiting an editor at the Soho Weekly News, the paper that would first publish his “Rimbaud in New York” series. I have wanted to show both the explicitness and the everydayness of Wojnarowicz’s writing practice, as it is in this meeting of the extraordinary and the routine that one finds the crucible of the artist’s personal myth."
Issue 14 also has a gay short story by James McCourt called "The Canticle of Skoozle." Mirroring the marriage of high (canticle) and low (skoozle) in its title, the tale of heroworship of a high school's doomed star athlete is told in a regal voice conveyed in the all-cap symbols and abbreviations of a txt msg. Similarly, the accompanying collage mixes Nijinsky with Abercrombie. A sample:
"...O SKOOZLE! SKOOZLE! U HAD SUCH A BEAUTIFUL, FABULOUS, FINE HEAD ON YR SHOULDERS & ANOTHER CROWNING YR MAJESTIC MEMBER (THE WORD GLANS NEVER ENTERED YR VOCABULARY). GLORIOUS IT WAS 2 B ALIVE IN THOSE DAYS W U & 2 WATCH U B/ING YOUNG, THE VERY HEAVEN. WHEN WE SED U WR LIKE A BREATH OF SPRING WE DID NT COMMENT IDLY OR IN THE INANE MANNER OF REMARKING ON THE REFRESHING EFFECT OF AN AEROSOL AIR FRESHENER ON THE ROOM, 4 THERE WAS TH@ IN YR PERSONAL SCENT (ON ITS ACCOUNT THE PRINCIPAL, A LEARNED MAN VERSED IN M@TERS GREEK (HA-HA), DUBBED U HYAKINTHOS)..."
Adam Mars-Jones and Alan Hollinghurst were born precisely five months apart in 1954 and each published his first book, boldly gay, in the 80s, both winning a Somerset Maugham Award. Second fictions appeared from each in the early 90s, and Hollinghurst, with his steady output of a novel every six years, became a star, a constant prize winner, and a literary novelist who can debut a new book at #1. Mars-Jones disappeared for a decade and a half and re-emerged in the era of Twitter snippets with a monumental work rivaling Proust. In 2008, Pilcrow took 544 pages to see its gay, disabled, vegetarian protagonist John Cromer to age sixteen. Earlier this year, Cedilla added 752 pages, with even stronger reviews, bringing John through Cambridge and his twenties. The Telegraph said, "There isn’t a passage here that doesn’t sparkle." Two more volumes are forthcoming, with an expected total of 2,500 to 3,000 pages devoted to an ordinary gay life.
A towering outsider with massive insider pull, 6'5" Dan Mathews led the "I'd Rather Go Naked" anti-fur campaign and convinced Morrissey, Pink, Pam, and Paul McCartney to do spots for the love-them-or-hate-them animal rights group PETA. He started poor, was bullied in high school, worked at McDonalds and as a model to put himself through American University, and after graduating started at PETA as a receptionist. His memoir Committed: A Rabble-Rouser's Memoir [[Kindle]] finally pubbed in the UK in 2009, when gay rights living legend Peter Tatchell chose it on Band of Thebes best lgbt book poll saying, "It’s a story full of ideas, action and loads of gossip about the many celebrities who support PETA’s work. Off-beat, hilarious, irreverent, and highly ethical, Committed is a damn good read. It shows how direct action can raise consciousness and secure social change – and be lots of fun."
After the teen runaways pick up a hot, hot hitchhiker headed toward Vegas where he's a male stripper (first, demonstrating his talents by the campfire in the beam of the car's headlights, then in the back seat with the no-longer-miserable fat boy), but before the plucky pair stranded in the middle of nowhere stumble into a rough roadside bar where the mean biker dudes have no interest in the skinny blond chick but go wild for her chubby pal, you'll say to yourself in the empty theater, "Wait a minute, this is a GAY movie!" In a classic marketing bait and switch, Dirty Girl's trailer promises two hours of unapologetic high school slut walk grrrl power circa 1987 Oklahoma, and the film delivers a little lost girl's search for her biological daddy bracketing the real heart of the story, a heavyset gay boy's journey through fear, fabulousness, girl friend fun, first love, first sex, first heartbreak, and finally acceptance. Sure enough, Dirty Girl is written and directed by out and proud Abe Sylvia. The plight of the mothers -- her single mom desperate to catch a man; his repressed mom stuck in a loveless, abusive marriage -- are well-enough drawn and very well played by Milla Jovovich and Mary Steenburgen. Fair warning: the uplifting ending is among the most awful you will ever see. The suits at the Weinstein Co. should have embraced the gay and released this as a queer Muriel's Wedding; it is impossible for the movie to have done any worse at the box office than its current $47,931 gross after three weeks.
Aretha Franklin sang at the wedding of former Intrepid Museum director Bill White and longtime partner Bryan Eure for 700 A-list guests at the Four Seasons restaurant in Manhattan Sunday night. Paid $250,000 to perform for 15 minutes, the Queen of Soul stayed on stage an hour, sweating out Respect, Chain of Fools, I Say a Little Prayer, selections from her new cd, and Dolly Parton's I Will Always Love You, in a room kept at 86 degrees, for her voice. Guests included Barbara Walters, Christine Quinn, Clive Davis, Joel Grey, David Paterson, David Dinkins, David Boies, Karolina Kurkova, Gayle King, and MSNBC's openly gay Thomas Roberts who admits he "over-celebrated" and was thrown out by security. That's a party. The entrance was flanked by 40 members of the Navy Junior ROTC. That's a honeymoon. The happy couple, 12 years apart, met on AOL and maintained a long-distance relationship.
Nine days after Britain's PM David Cameron threatened to cut funds to antigay nations, Botswana's former president Festus Mogae told BBC correspondent Letlhogile Lucas that homosexuality should be decriminalized, in order to help fight the spread of HIV. He said:
"I don’t understand it [homosexuality]. I am a heterosexual. I look at women. I don’t look at other men. But there are men who look at other men. These are citizens. To protect them and their clients from being infected [with HIV], you have to assist them to protect themselves. I don’t think by arresting them you help them."
The former president saying this now is like Bill Clinton's support for gay marriage only after he was safely out of office and powerless to undo the antigay bigotry he signed into law.
It's more relevant to hear from incumbents, like Zimbabwe's PM Morgan Tsvangirai. Last year Tsvangirai said "I totally agree with the president," referring to notorious homophobe Robert Mugabe's fierce opposition to LGBT protection in the new constitution. Yesterday, in a total reversal, Tsvangirai told the BBC's Gavin Esler, "My attitude is that I hope the constitution will come out with freedom of sexual orientation." He added,"To me, it's a human right."
Notice these sudden conversions come in chats with the BBC. It would be more meaningful to see the same remarks made at home to their own political parties and constituents.
Of course, many believe conservative Cameron's newfound gay support itself hovers between insincere lip service and sheer cynicism. Speaking of which, the photo of Festus and Julianne Moore at a 2009 "private, pre-Oscar dinner celebrating diamonds in Africa" is by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images.
Emma Donoghue, 42 today, is so much more than the author of Room [[Kindle]], her runaway bestseller that last year was shortlisted for the Booker, the Orange Prize, the Governor General's Award, the Galaxy International prize, and won the Rogers Writers' Trust prize. Four months before Room, Knopf published her essential and immensely entertaining, decade-in-the-making exploration of lesbians in literature, Inseparable [[Kindle]]. In six previous novels she proved herself equally at home in the present (Stir-Fry, Hood, Landing) and the past (Slammerkin, Life Mask, The Sealed Letter). She has also written three collections of stories, four plays, and five radio plays. Ordinarily she lives with her partner Chris and their children, Una and Finn, in Ontario but this year they're in Nice. Don't envision her lollygagging on the beach. She's completing the screenplay of Room, a book of short stories about travel called Astray (pubbing September 2012), and a historical novel about an 1870s frog catcher named Jeanne Bonnet who was frequently arrested in San Francisco for wearing men's clothes and was murdered at 27.
A fourth generation Chinese-American, B.D. Wong made his Broadway debut in 1988 in M. Butterfly, for which he became and remains the only actor to win the five major theater prizes for the same role. But it was not enough to convince David Cronenberg to cast him in the movie version five years later, when he chose John Lone instead. Wong starred with Margaret Cho in her much praised, quickly canceled series All American Girl, then played a priest on Oz, and for ten years running Dr George Huang on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. He and his ex-partner Richie Jackson, an agent, are parents of a son named Foo, the surviving one of two twins born extremely prematurely. Wong wrote a book about the experience called Following Foo.
As a museum curator, perhaps even more so than in his excellent, National Book Award nominated Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade [[Kindle]], Justin Spring succeeds in bringing to life the vast, loose, and elusive brotherhood of men who had sex with men decades before the modern gay rights movement. In the Museum of Sex's current exhibit, on display until January 2012, Steward is the central lighthouse, at once a beacon and searchlight, his thousands of hookups with 800+ partners illuminating the millions of lives left beyond in the dark. His personal network extended globally. He traveled to France, he corresponded with leading queer intellectuals overseas, and he wrote for emerging gay erotic magazines in Switzerland and Scandinavia, developing a special bond with Tom of Finland. Anyone who thinks Steward was just a sex addict getting off, or doubts that one-time gay hookups can lead to a real feeling of kinship, should study the inscribed book from Alfred Douglas, whom Steward pursued and bedded solely to link himself to Oscar Wilde. Plenty of children have come into the world from briefer couplings of less planning or care.
Overwhelmingly, Steward preferred sex with sailors, toughs, and trade, one of the reasons he became a full-time tattoo artist after academia. (He also tripled his income.) Because in America homosexuality was illegal and exposure was a career ender, today's viewers might lazily think those old encounters were unspoken and anonymous, yet defying it all, here's the white shock of a contract, signed by Professor Steward and one of his college students with no academic gifts but brilliantly endowed, agreeing that he could down on the youth once a month this semester and the first four months of the next year, in exchange for an A. Nearly as detailed are the printed fliers from a San Francisco hustling operation that describe each of the "models" available for private sessions and their rates per hour, with travel surcharges. The exhibit's hundreds of artifacts include photos, Polaroids, slides projected onto a bed's white sheet, tattoo drawings, sketches, journals, diaries, books, newspapers, paddles, whips, and an attempt to recreate the mood of his final cabin. Steward's famous "Stud File" is one degree disappointing, encased in a plastic box and not open to any card, though reproductions of cards cover other walls. The many text explanations throughout are superb.
Even without a contract, the exhibit earns an A. Go see it.
The three other main shows at the Museum of Sex each incorporate LGBT content: exhibits on sex in the animal kingdom, sex in comic books; and sex in movies. Each of these suffers from the immensity of the topic and a brevity of space, yet it's thrilling to see lesbian and gay representations everywhere.
Tonight at the B&N on Broadway at 82nd St., Paul Russell reads from The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov [[Kindle]], his sixth novel and his first to reimagine the life of a gay historical figure. From St. Petersburg to England to Paris to Berlin, Sergey meets Diaghilev, Stravinsky, Magnus Hirschfield, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Cocteau, and Picasso, yet remains eternally overshadowed by his brother Vladimir. PW said, "With compelling characters and steady prose, the reader will breeze through this pleasurable, heart-breaking account of the other Nabokov." Fifteen authors have blurbed the book, including Christopher Bram who knows a thing or two about using fiction to rescue forgotten gay figures of the 1920s-50s: "A miraculous novel, witty, sexy, dramatic, and profound, the deeply involving story of a young man who experiences too much love, beauty and history in the first half of the twentieth century. It is Paul Russell's masterpiece."
If you can clone yourself, also see Chic superstar Nile Rodgers tonight at the Union Square B&N reading from his memoir of writing, producing, and performing megamonster hits with Diana Ross ("Upside Down"), David Bowie ("Let's Dance"), Peter Gabriel ("Walk through the Fire"), Duran Duran ("The Reflex"), Sister Sledge ("We Are Family") and Madonna ("Material Girl," "Like a Virgin"). Rodgers says he was in a Manhattan bar's restroom with five Diana Ross impersonators when he realized he should write a song specifically for her gay fans. The result was "I'm Coming Out." His book is called Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco, and Destiny [[Kindle]].
Abraham Lincoln, the financial meltdown, Ellen DeGeneres, Herman Cain, and Jackie Kennedy, in order those are the top five nonfiction bestsellers this week. Ellen debuts on the NYT list at #3 with her third collection of elliptical musings, Seriously...I'm Kidding [[Kindle]], after her 2003 The Funny Thing Is... and her still-closeted start, My Point...And I Do Have One from 1995. Not straying a millimeter from her successful formula of breezy thoughts, airy fonts, and roomy page design, the new book delivers the expected ratio of genuine humor to somewhat forced fun, or pure filler. Just how silly your mood is at the moment will determine your reaction to the chapter titled "The Longest Chapter in This Book," which discusses her wish to prove she can write a long chapter and ends, at the same length as many other short chapters, with the sentence, "Sorry, maybe I shouldn't have written this chapter."
The apology is misplaced. It ought to appear in the chapter "Labels," in which she becomes indignant about the assumption that because she is a lesbian she would also be a cat owner. She goes on to mention the demise of her steadily descending sitcom, which was canceled after five seasons, in 1998, one year after her character (and she) came out. Thirteen years later, she still trots out her old line, "Some people thought the show was too gay, some people thought it wasn't gay enough." Surely by now Ellen could acknowledge the opposing motives of those two camps of critics. It's a disgrace to put the people who wanted to censor lesbian visibility on equal balance with viewers who finally, finally (after so much ratings-grabbing hullabaloo) expected to see queer life in prime time. Obviously, in our image-driven world, her public wedding to Portia, her mentions of her wife on her daily talk show, and their constant red carpet hand-holding far outweigh a tired old phrase. But if she's going to continue to address the question, she needs a friend to turn her toward a fresher answer.
Thrice a Booker bridesmaid, Julian Barnes has finally captured the UK's biggest literary prize for his very short novel The Sense of an Ending. (Ian McEwan won the Booker for his flimsiest work, the little yellow faintly homophobic marshmallow Peep of a novella, Amsterdam.)
Smug you, thinking you already knew every possible mistake publishing could make, but the clogged-eared workers at the National Book Awards proved you wrong this week, admitting they mistakenly announced the anti-gay hate crime novel Shine as a finalist when it was supposed to be the teen witch novel Chime. Each category's chairperson conveys the winning decisions by telephone to avoid the embarrassment of leaks via email. The nominated, then un-nominated, then re-nominated, then re-un-nominated (yes, really) author Lauren Myracle took the vertigo ups and downs with grace and even had the good sense to get the National Buffoon Award Foundation to donate $5,000 to the Matthew Shepherd Foundation.
The Guardian considers the 184 names in nomination for the $750,000+ Astrid Lingren Award for Children's Literature its "shortlist." Click here for all 184 names which include Neil Gaiman, Peter Sis, Eric Carle, Quentin Blake, and Meg Rosoff. Nice to see 66 nations are represented.
With typically, terrificly terrible timing, the Galaxy British Books Awards announced their finalists yesterday, on the very eve of the Booker announcement. The name suggests sci-fi but in fact their books are the soul of England, including Alan Hollinghurst's Booker-snubbed The Stranger's Child up for the year's top prize against Booker winner Julian Barnes, Booker nominee Carol Birch, Orange of Oranges winner Andrea Levy, Anthony Horowitz, and out lesbian Carol Ann Duffy. Lesbian Jackie Kay is nominated in the biography category for her memoir Red Dust Road, where she faces Keith Richards, Bear Grylls, Christopher Hitchens, and the remarkable Claire Tomalin. Other categories celebrate the year's best popular fiction, popular nonfiction, paperback, thriller, food, and children's book, as well as new writer and international writer: Egan, Barry, Murakami, Morgenstern, Obreht, Nesbo.
Dissatisfied with Britain's book award culture, a new group has announced the coming debut of The Literature Prize to honor fiction of "unsurpassed quality and ambition." The group criticizes the Booker's new priority of "readability" over excellence, a charge the Booker head considers "tosh." Unlike the Booker, The Literature Prize will be open to any fiction in English published in the UK. Early supporters include John Banville, Pat Barker, Mark Haddon, Jackie Kay and David Mitchell.
Madrid's Javier Moro has won Spain's Planeta Prize for his novel El imperio eres tu, a "detailed chronicle of the life of Pedro I, who ruled Brazil in the first half of the 19th century." Who? you ask, The what? Wise up, people. It's the 60th annual award (compared to the Booker's 43rd) and it carries the world's second-highest purse for literature, worth $833,887, after the Nobel. Besting the 482 other submissions written in Spanish, even the Planeta's runner-up, Inma Chacón for her novel Tiempo de arena, took home $206,052.
Camille Paglia loved Pauline Kael for being one of America's great "bawdy" women and lamented the current "wasteland" of film criticism in her absence. She said so at a panel last night at the New York Film Festival, coinciding with the dual publication of Brian Kellow's Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark [[Kindle]] and a Library of America anthology collecting Kael's best writing, The Age of Movies. Other panelists, all of whom praised her brilliant writing, were critics David Edelstein and Todd McCarthy, director James Toback, biographer Kellow, and the Library of America's Geoffrey O’Brien.
Joining the Kaelfest, today in the NYT Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott discussed her "bad" behavior, her critical voice, and the strong reactions she provoked.
You'd think you would always side with a poet over an emperor meddling in his work, but thank god Augustus overruled Publius Vergilius Maro’s final wish. For ten years, Virgil had been working on an epic poem, the first half of which would be modeled on the Odyssey and the second half of which would be the Roman answer to the Illiad. Traveling with Augustus from Italy to Greece, Virgil became ill with a fever and died at fifty in the harbor at Brundisi, leaving instructions that his poem be destroyed because it was unfinished. Instead, Augustus had it published and The Aeneid was immediately recognized as the masterpiece it remains today. Although the epic includes a moving episode between the male lovers Nisus and Euryalus, Virgil’s greatest gay works are in his The Eclogues. The second of those poems is Alexis, which begins unabashedly
The shepherd Corydon with love was fired/ For fair Alexis, his own master's joy
So ardent is the slave’s desire for his owner’s favorite youth, and so fine is the poem, that the name Corydon has endured for 2,000 years as a symbol of same-sex love, from the Elizabethan sonnets of Richard Barnfield to the title of Andre Gide’s defense of homosexuality in 1920. In 2009 reader Ed Oliver reminded everyone about the Georgics, his favorite work by Virgil.