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Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America

by Christopher Bram

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1854112,129 (4.19)4
Describes how the trailblazing, post-war gay literary figures, including Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, Truman Capote, and Allen Ginsberg, paved the way for newer generations, including Armistead Maupin, Edmund White, and Edward Albee.

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This is one of those perfect matches between author and content. Bram knows the subject intimately. His judgments about the writers and their respective novels, poems, plays and stories are measured and well-informed. He looks back to the years just after World War II and the earliest work by Gore Vidal and Tennessee Williams; he assesses the way homophobia shaped the criticism of James Baldwin's novels and Edward Albee's plays; he traces the evolution of writers ranging from Christopher Isherwood to Edmund White; the "de-gayification" by mainstream critics of writers like Baldwin and Allen Ginsberg; and the huge impact of AIDS on the gay male literature, both the content of the stories told by gay writers in the 1980s and 1990s and the way those stories were received by gay and non-gay readers; and also how the transition from AIDS as death sentence to a manageable, chronic disease corresponded to the acceptability to new, mainstream depictions like the "Will & Grace" television show and, perhaps paradoxically, the decline of the importance of gay writing. Along the way, he provides shrewd portraits of the writers named above and others, among them Larry Kramer, Armistead Maupin and James Merrill. This is a necessary book, recommended for anyone with an interest in gay men's literature in the second half of the 20th Century. ( )
  STLreader | Aug 16, 2020 |
I found this book very good. I don't read a lot of non fiction but it gave a great history on public perspective of gay history and authors. ( )
  bibliophile_pgh | Dec 14, 2013 |
This is a crafted and sweeping literary theory, with the thesis that gay authors/playwrights helped set the stage for the gay liberation of the late 20th century.

Although might dispute the central tenets of this thesis, the biographical discussion of these novelists and their work is worthy enough reason to start reading.

This chapter of history starts in 1945 and continues to the present. It starts with Vidal and Capote and Isherwood and Baldwin and moves slowly and inexorably to the present day.

The author, a gay writer himself, offers a fine perspective, and allows personal interviews and archives, as well as literary analysis, to define the story.

It says something about the personal bravery of these authors, to say and think and act on what they did, especially in the 40s and 50s. Even the 1960s, which we like to think of as tolerant, was still filled with angry slurs and dismissive reviews. Of course, the author isn't writing biographies of saints. He details the feuds and botched novels and inner demons of the writers portrayed here, but their best qualities are shown as well. Most often it's bravery.

The big gap is that there aren't any lesbians here - the author confesses as much in the introduction (they have their own grand story to tell, and the volume would easily triple in size), and I'd like to get ahold of a companion volume someday.

A good history of American letters, and of the colorful cast who wrote them. ( )
  HadriantheBlind | Mar 31, 2013 |
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...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. ( )
  rmharris | Mar 23, 2012 |
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Describes how the trailblazing, post-war gay literary figures, including Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, Truman Capote, and Allen Ginsberg, paved the way for newer generations, including Armistead Maupin, Edmund White, and Edward Albee.

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Haiku summary
Once we were outlaws.
Now we are our kid's inlaws.
Window breaks the bird.

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