Gay authors have dreamed up some of literature's most bewitching characters, from Holly Golightly to Blanche DuBois. But even these fictional page queens would have trouble outshining the wordsmiths on the opposite end of the typewriter.
In his latest book, Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America (Twelve, Feb.2), Christopher Bram chronicles the evolution of gay lit, from the innuendo-filled work of Gore Vidal and Tennessee Williams in the postwar era to I'm-here-and-I'm-queer works like Tony Kushner's 1991 Pulitzer-winning play Angels in America. Offering background and mini-critiques, Bram (also known for penning Father of Frankenstein, later adapted into Gods and Monsters), explains how these literary achievements triggered a "social shift as deep and unexpected as what was achieved by the civil rights and women's movement."
But, historical significance aside, it's the juicy private-life stories that take the text from obligatory queer-library addition to delicious, damn entertaining read. Mostly culling information from primary sources like letters and even YouTube videos, Bram drops plenty of juicy tidbits about rivalries (Vidal would frequent local libraries to see if his books were being checked out as much as Truman Capote's), blush-worthy sexual escapades (ask Allen Ginsberg about William Burroughs' "ugly old cock") and the substance abuse that eventually flat-lined the brightest queer bards of the Beat generation.
Hopefully he'll delve into some of these tales tonight, when he joins fellow gay author Edmund White, who'll share his latest, Jack Holmes and His Friend (Bloomsbury, Jan. 17), for a reading and discussion at the Free Library.
Thu., Feb. 16, 7:30 p.m., free, Free Library, Central Branch, 1901 Vine St., 215-567-4341, freelibrary.org.