Novelist and Guggenheim Fellow Bram (Exiles in America, 2006, etc.) charts the emergence of gay writers, decade by decade, from the mostly-closeted 1940s to the whole-house present.
The author, gay himself, does not say much about his own career here—just a couple of modest asides—but he does pay homage to those he considers the godfathers of gay writing, including Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, James Baldwin and the “fairy godfather,” Gore Vidal, to whom Bram returns continually throughout. The author also slams those critics who could not see the literary merit of stories with gay characters and behavior—principally Stanley Kauffmann, Stanley Edgar Hyman and Midge Decter, though Bram points out that writers from Norman Mailer to Andrew Sullivan have at times had “issues.” Bram follows the careers of the godfathers, but he also looks at other important novelists, poets and playwrights, including Christopher Isherwood, Allen Ginsberg, Edward Albee, James Merrill, Frank O’Hara, Edmund White, Larry Kramer, Tony Kushner, Mark Doty, David Leavitt, Michael Cunningham and many others. Often he pauses for plot summary, analysis and judgment. The author also points out writers he believes have not received sufficient attention, among them Paul Russell, Mark Merlis and Henry Rios. Bram pauses occasionally to rehearse key events in gay cultural history—the Howl obscenity trial, the Stonewall riots, the televised 1968 clash between William F. Buckley Jr., and Vidal, Anita Bryant’s anti-gay crusade, the devastating effects of the AIDS crisis in the ’80s and beyond. Bram also flashes some attitude here and there, and not just toward the enemies of gay writers. He sometimes chides Vidal, shines a harsh light on Capote and calls Edmund White’s novel Caracole “a complete dud.”
An educative mixture of analysis, celebration, description, disappointment, disdain and, finally, love.