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Christopher Bram is the author of nine novels, including the book that became the movie Gods and Monsters. His most recent book is Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America. He grew up in Virginia, where he was a paperboy and an Eagle Scout. He currently lives in New York and he teaches at the Gallatin School of New York University. Four of his novels–Surprising Myself, Hold Tight, In Memory of Angel Clare, and Gossip–will be reissued in June by Open Road.
Recently, I was able to interview Christopher Bram about his work, support of the LGBT community and his participation in Lambda’s LGBT Writers in Schools program. I have admired Christopher’s work as well as his dedication to promoting diversity and the history of LGBT literature.
How important was your involvement in the LGBT community at the beginning of your writing career?
It was invaluble. In fact, I don’t know where I’d be without it. I had been writing steadily since college, but wasn’t able to sell anything until I wrote my first “gay” story in 1977. I was able to publish it in Christopher Street magazine. And I realized I could write about this secret thing that mattered to me and not only sell it, but produce my best writing. So I wrote more. My imagination was constantly being invaded by stories that nobody was telling yet. If there hadn’t been a gay community–which is a lively mix of audience and market and political belief–I know I could not have written and published nine novels.
Considering how successful you have been as a writer, do you find it important to stay connected and supportive of the LGBT community?
Absolutely. Gay people are my best readers. They help to keep me honest. I’m sure I have some straight readers, too, but based on the reviews they post on Goodreads and elsewhere, they don’t always understand what I’m doing. Gay readers have been in the same places I’ve been and they get my stories–for the most part. (Okay, they can misunderstand me, too, but their misunderstandings tend to be more interesting.)
Why do you think it is important to talk about LGBT writers and literature?
Reading is a very private experience, so private it can seem solipsistic at times. It’s necessary to talk about books now and then, just to get out of our heads and into the world. I believe that’s true for all literature, but it’s especially true of LGBT literature. We read in order to learn we’re not alone, but you still need to compare your private experience with the experiences of other readers.
The writing is important as history, too. Because we forget. When I started writing Eminent Outlaws, I knew in an abstract way how far we’d come in the past sixty years. But to read those earlier novels and research the lives of the men who wrote them was eye-opening. It’s one thing to be told that life was harder in the Fifties or Sixties. But when you go back to a novel about it like Giovanni’s Room or A Single Man, the experience is made painfully real and immediate. These books provide us with a map of where we’ve been and–maybe–where we’re going.
Do you think that LGBT literature has a place in our classrooms?
Definitely. There are committed readers who’ll read anyway, but, the world being what it is, many people read only in school. If they read the right books there, however, books that speak to them personally and directly, they will keep reading for the rest of their lives. This is especially true of LGBT books. A good teacher can make sure they will read in the most open, responsive manner. And straight students, too, can enjoy these books. After all, we are a good story.
You have recently done a visit with a university through our LGBT Writers in Schools program. Why did you decide to participate in our program and what was your experience?
I Skyped with a class at the University of Wisconsin back in November and it was an excellent experience. They had read one of my older novels, Gossip. They asked good questions and made me see my own book in a new light. And it was nice just to see what my readers look like. Writing can be an overly private, solipsistic experience itself. So it was wonderful to meet flesh-and-blood readers.
Why is it important for gay and straight students to read LGBT works?
Simply to get as much life experience as they can. Which is also why everybody should read all kinds of literature. It gives us a wider frame of reference. There’s nothing like good fiction to put you inside another person’s skin and enable you to see things you wouldn’t see otherwise. You can experience a new gender, or nationality, or race, or sexuality. You can even experience your own identity with a freshness and clarity that’s impossible to find in everyday life.
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