Christopher Bram opens the introduction to this informative and highly entertaining overview of gay male writing since World War Two with, “The gay revolution began as a literary revolution.” Later, he elaborates on this thesis:

{B}etween 1948 and 2000, a tiny literary species, a handful of books and plays that appeared only now and then to abuse or silence, grew into a lively ecology of many animals, hundreds of titles that came out every year and sometimes won national praise and prizes. The world changed too, but the literature itself was an agent of that change, feeding it and reporting it, serving both as cause and effect.

Eminent Outlaws (the title is a mash-up of Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians and John Rechy’s The Sexual Outlaw) is a briskly paced and much needed exploration of how gay male literature created that change. Beginning with Gore Vidal, the “godfather of gay literature in spite of himself” who, post-Stonewall, becomes more like a Moses who “pointed us in a new direction, but he could not go there himself,” Bram explores how literature shined a light on the previously unspoken of world of gay men. The work of Vidal, Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, Christopher Isherwood and James Baldwin were not only guides to that world for courageous heterosexual readers, but also gave gay men their first glimpses of themselves in mainstream print and onstage.

Moving decade by decade into the current century, from The Boys in the Band through The Violet Quill to Michael Cunningham, Bram gives a précis of each author’s important works, and discusses the intersection between their lives, American literature, and concurrent social movements. Along the way he also makes a strong case for the importance of the imagination and the written word in advancing those movements, something the more politically oriented has forgotten at times. He also helps to bring much needed reconsideration of the importance of some figures that are not as well-known as they should be, such as the campy comic genius Charles Ludlum and his influence on the work of Tony Kushner and others.

Reading Eminent Outlaws, one can’t help but be shocked at how virulently anti-gay many reviewers and critics were, particularly in the supposedly more permissive 1960s—especially, and, perhaps a bit confusingly, theater critics. Bram also notes how homophobia continues to limit the consideration of gay writers’ work, from many critics’ preference for Baldwin’s essays over his more sexuality-centered fiction, to how often the gayness of Allen Ginsburg and his most famous poem “Howl,” which Bram calls “a coming out poem,” gets ignored.

Edmund White becomes the overarching ‘godfather’ figure in the second half of the book, in much the way that Vidal is a touchtone in the first half, as Bram covers the rise and fall of the gay bookstore, literary responses to the devastation of AIDS, the work of Armistead Maupin, Larry Kramer, and the gay presence on stage, from The Normal Heart to Angels in America. He even manages to leave the reader hopeful about the future of gay literature during this current time of turbulence and uncertainty in the publishing world. Author of nine novels including Father of Frankenstein (basis for the film Gods and Monsters), Bram continually manages to be personal yet balanced in his assessments of writers of the past and present, as well as deliciously gossipy. Eminent Outlaws is reminiscent of a gay version of the documentary A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies, with a practitioner of the art looking back at its history, his influences and his peer. This fleet yet solid literary history was so engrossing that I even read through the footnotes, not wanting stop listening to Bram’s entertaining voice or for the book to end.

History is made not simply with events, but by remembering those events, a double drumbeat like a heartbeat. History can be written not only with books but with ceremonies. Yet a real event read about in a newspaper is not always more important than a fictional one in a novel or a play or a poem

Eminent Outlaws focuses on writers of fiction and for the stage, only briefly covering a few poets other than Ginsburg—Frank O’Hara, Mark Doty, James Merrill, and Thom Gunn. The absence of writers of color other than Baldwin is also noticeable–Randall Keenan’s black gay take on southern literature in A Visitation of Spirits and Let The Dead Bury Their Dead, could have been mentioned, for example, although most out minority fiction writers during most of the years covered by the book have made more of a mark with short fiction or poetry. A number of minority writers, such as Rakesh Saytal and Michal Nava, are mentioned as he comes closer to the more diverse contemporary scene.

As delicious as your favorite desert but far less ruinous to your waistline, Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America, should, in fact, come with a warning label: “Do not start this book unless you have time to finish it in one sitting.” I hope someone is working on a lesbian sister for this divine history.

 

Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America
By Christopher Bram
Twelve
Hardcover, 9780446563130, 384pp.
February 2012



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  • Lou Kief

6 Responses to “‘Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America’ by Christopher Bram”

  1. Terry 13 April 2012 at 5:30 PM #

    Eminent Outlaws goes to great lengths to make negative remarks about straight theatre critics in the 1960s. It does not mention that many straight critics during the era championed LGBT works, including Kenneth Tynan and Penelope Gilliatt at the London Observer. The book mentions the brilliant theatre critic Stanley Kuaffmann and reduces an article he wrote in the NYT favoring LGBT writers having the absolute same right to explore their lives and sexuality on stage. Sadly, several LGBT writers misinterpreted the article, which I read when I was a gay kid in Alabama in the 1960s, and there has been a deliberate attempt to make Kauffmann into a homophobe, which is the furthest thing from the truth. A lot of the misinformation has been spread by Edward Albee and his acolytes. Kauffmann charged Albee with deliberating distorting his article and called Albee’s heterophobic attempt as “Malicious.” I agree with Kauffmann. We will never know how many jobs in theatre that Kauffmann has gotten for LGBTs, but his LGBT students from Yale School of Drama have said in the Village Voice that it must be in the hundreds. What a tragedy that Stanely Kauffmann is misrepresented in this book and that his incalculable contributions to LGBT theatre are unheralded here. Edward Albee, responsible for this malicious distortion, should apologize not only to Kauffmann, but to the theatre-going LGBT community of this country.


    • Chris Bram 24 April 2012 at 6:31 PM #

      In response to Terry: Stanley Kauffmann may have been nice to gay people in person, but the article I discuss, “Homosexual Drama and Its Disguises” (New York Times, January 23, 1966) really is an ugly piece of work. Go back and reread it. Young Mart Crowley gave it the same positive reading you do when he read it back in 1966, but I read it recently for my book and I only found it negative and poisonous–and I am hardly an acolyte of Edward Albee.

      However, I would love to hear about Kauffmann’s positive contributions to LGBT theater. Did he praise plays in print or did he help people personally? It’d be good to know he changed with the times.


      • Terry 26 April 2012 at 5:19 PM #

        Stanley Kauffmann did not have to change anything about himself or his values with regard to Edward Albee or the LGBT influence on American there.. What shocks me is that you ask me to do the homework you should have done before writing the book. I have reread Kauffmann’s article many times since reading it the day it was published in the 1960s. It remains one of the bravest, most candid, and pro-LGBT works that I can recall. It’s one of the reasons that Martin Duberman and Susan Sontag (I doubt you are familiar with their work, either.), and many other members of the LGBT community have referred to him as “a national treasure” (Sontag), “one of the most sensitive and human men” writing on film and theatre (Duberman). The quality of your research is slipshod and sloppy, and your comments about Kauffmann are, in my view, heterohopbic. Why didn’t you research Kauffmann ON YOUR OWN to learn his contributions to LGBT theatre. How can you NOT KNOw? Then you ask me to do your homework for you. No wonder you did not comprehend Kauffmann’s brilliant, progay article that demanded LGBTs have an equal right to present their lives, their humanity, their sexaulity on stage as freely as heterosexuals. Kauffmann and his LGBT supporters have exposed the lie that Kauffmann was or is homophobic. Clearly, you are utterly unread in Kauffmann’s film and theatre criticism to know there has never been (with the possible exceptions of Ken Tynan and Penelope Gilliatt), any straight major critic who is as progay as Kauffmann. He called Edward Albee’s comments a malicious distortion of his work, and in my view, your book, worthless and heterophboic as it is, is no better. YOur book is “lite” on black LGBTs and “lite” on the truthfulness about our heterosexual allies. I read Kauffmann’s article the day it came out. He has been a hero of mine and many other LGBTs, and there is nothing your worthless, phobic, pseudo-intellectual nonsense can ever do to change that. I suppose anything can get published these days. Do your own homework. You might learn something. By the way, your book covers a lot of writing that is valueless, unread, and uncared about by younger LGBTs. Again, I can seldom recall a books so lazily and poorly researched. To paraphrase Renata Adler, Eminent Outllaws, page by page, line by line, word for word, is worthless. I hope this site will not make a practice of trashing our straight allies. It is immorally repugnant to do so. Last, Kauffmann did not change with the times, he was one of the bearers of light to LGBT theatre and films. Only someone who never read his body of work could NOT know.


        • David Ehrenstein 27 May 2015 at 3:29 PM #

          Seeing as you cite Renata Adler so admiringly Terry it’s no wonder you misread Kaufmann. Edward Albee was right. The piece was an attack on him, Tennessee Williams and William Inge, made all the worse by not using their names outright but referring to the “three leading playwrights” in a smarmy “nudge-nudge, wink-wink” manner. Kaufmann declares that homosexuality renders them not only inauthentic but devious. The women in their plays are “really” men, because that’s all a homosexual knows about. It’s as if we lived entirely within a ghetto in which heterosexuality is observed from afar and therefore despised. The truth is the exact opposite.


  2. […] newest book, Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America (Twelve), covers a 50-year period and deliciously fills in details on the lives of a dozen gay […]


  3. […] books were Patricia Highsmith’s novel Carol (1952) and Christopher Bram’s non-fiction work, Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers who Changed America. Carol is a wonderful lesbian novel, noirish, romantic, suspenseful and ultimately […]



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