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The first gay novel I read, The Front Runner by Patricia Nell Warren, was published in 1975. It changed the way I viewed myself and my relationship with the world around me. It released an inner being that I had kept locked in a deep cave, and finally gave me a picture of myself that I found acceptable. I have read, and written, many gay-themed novels published since then, but I had little idea of the rich history of gay novels that were published before 1975. That is, until now.
Gay historian Drewey Wayne Gunn has compiled a series of essays that chronicle the history of gay themed fiction from as early as the 1940s, to Stonewall, to the beginning of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. These twenty-two essays are written by nineteen authors, scholars, collectors, and publishers, many of whom, like writer Victor J. Banis, were writing or involved in publishing during the time they write about. These works will inform and amuse you while they lead you down the literary corridors of gay history. Over 200 illustrations, mostly original cover art, enhance these essays to provide a visual record of why this period in gay literary history was so important in building the foundations of everything that came after.
These nineteen writers delve into not only the paragons of gay literature (of which there were several) but also the paperback novels – the pulps – that were cheaply printed, broadly distributed in dime stores, and widely read. These pulps have been ignored by “scholarly” gay literature, that is, until this wonderful book shines a bright light on them.
The book is divided into four parts. Part I (O Brave New World) reviews the early “mainstream” novels, most of which have sunk into obscurity. Part II (I Know It When I See It) focuses on the explosion of paperback originals in the 1960s. Part III (Frightening the Horses) examines four different writers generally ignored by academicians. Part IV (Secrecy and Adventure) examines five popular genres: science fiction, crime writing, horror, westerns, and military fiction.
My one complaint about this read is that many of the same books are mentioned in multiple essays, so that it becomes a bit redundant. However, each writer comes at the subject from a slightly different approach, which helps to keep it interesting. These essays are extremely well written and interesting while oscillating between serious and funny, journalism reporting and personal accounts. I came away with a list of books to read: Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote; Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin, The City and the Pillar by Gore Vidal; A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood; and City of Night by John Rechy. But of course, these books only scratch the surface of all the marvelous books that were published before the 1980s. Do yourself a huge favor and read The Golden Age of Gay Fiction to create your own reading list of gay classics to read.
THE GOLDEN AGE OF GAY FICTON
Multiple authors, Ed. by Drewey Wayne Gunn
Paperback, $69.99, 280 p.