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The Front Runner: A Novel Paperback – June 1, 1996

4.4 out of 5 stars 98 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Patricia Nell Warren is the landmark author of some of the most popular gay novels of all time. Each of her books has been a milestone in America’s understanding and acceptance of GBLT themes. Her most beloved work, The Front Runner, has sold an estimated ten million copies in ten languages. The first modern story about gay love to become an international bestseller, Warren’s celebrated saga of an ex-Marine track coach and his Olympics-bound athlete has engaged and inspired both gay and mainstream readers for over a quarter of a century. Warren’s novels have also sold heavily to libraries and are used in numerous college courses. Wildcat Press is Ms. Warren’s exclusive imprint, offering some of the best in enduring gay literature. Established in 1993, the dynamic independent publisher has released both past and present bestsellers, winning it critical acclaim. Current titles include, The Front Runner, Billy’s Boy, Harlan’s Race, The Fancy Dancer, The Beauty Queen, One Is The Sun, and The Wild Man. Dedicated to furthering free speech, Wildcat Press has been one of the plaintiffs for the ACLU in several recent landmark lawsuits, two of which went to the United States Supreme Court. Wildcat maintains that we are all one community regardless of race, creed, or sexual orientation, and that tolerance brings understanding and acceptance.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Wildcat Press; 20 Anv edition (June 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0964109964
  • ISBN-13: 978-0964109964
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.3 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (98 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #119,186 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author




Patricia Nell Warren has written and published professionally since 1954, at age 18. In 59 years, her subjects have ranged from women and Goddess Earth to human rights, from gay life and mixed-blood people in American history to wildlife, the environment and current events.

Now 76 years old, she was born in 1936 and raised on a Montana ranch. She worked as a Reader's Digest book editor for 15 years, on both the magazine staff and the Condensed Book Club.

Today Warren lives in Glendale, CA, where she co-owns an independent book-publishing and media company, Wildcat International and Wildcat Press.


Since 1971 Warren has published eight novels -- several with mainstream publishers (Morrow, Bantam, Ballantine, Dial Press, Penguin) and several under her own independent imprint, Wildcat Press. The Front Runner, Harlan's Race and Billy's Boy are a landmark series that follows an evolving family through 20 years of gay life.

She also published two mainstream novels, The Last Centennial (1971) and One Is the Sun (1991).

Warren's best-known fiction work, The Front Runner, was first published by William Morrow in 1974, and became the most popular gay love story of all time. The book has sold an estimated 10 million copies worldwide and been translated into ten languages, the most recent being Complex Chinese.

Film rights of The Front Runner have been in development for some years, and received a great deal attention as one of "Hollywood's unmade gay films" during Brokeback Mountain's run-up for the Academy Awards.

Currently Warren is working on a new novel titled Wrong Side of the Tracks.


Warren's newest title is her second nonfiction book. It's titled My West: Personal Writings on the American West, an anthology of nonfiction articles about Warren's roots in the historical and modern West. Published in 2011, it won an international Rainbow Award in the nonfiction category.

Warren's articles and op-eds have appeared in a variety of mainstream publications, including Atlantic Monthly, Los Angeles Times, Reader's Digest, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, Modern Maturity, Persimmon Hill, New York Press, Des Moines Register, Mythosphere, Corporate Africa. She has also published in various leading gay publications.

For A & U Magazine she writes a monthly column on the politics of AIDS and public health. Online, she blogs at The Bilerico Project, the most popular and politically vociferous glbt blog on the Web.

Film Development

As a result of interest in movies based on her novels, Warren has moved into active development herself as an executive producer, in partnership with Greg Zanfardino of Moniker Entertainment. At present, she has several docudrama projects on her slate, including an Australian group's novel search for the wreck site of Amelia Earhart's aircraft in Papua New Guinea.

Activism and Politics

Warren's political activism started during the 1960s, with efforts -- while still a Reader's Digest editor -- to have American media recognize the individuality of Ukrainians and other ethnic groups in the USSR.

In the 1970s Warren was the plaintiffs' spokesperson for Susan Smith v. Reader's Digest, a landmark lawsuit that resulted in a class-action victory for women. As a former amateur athlete, Warren helped lead a group of women distance runners who forced the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union, the then governing body of amateur sports in the U.S.) to change discriminatory rules in the mid-70s.

More recently, in the free-speech realm, Warren has been a named plaintiff in both federal lawsuits over Internet censorship -- namely ACLU v. Reno (which went to the U.S. Supreme Court and resulted in a victory for the plaintiffs) and the more recent ACLU lawsuit over the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), which was also struck down as unconstitutional.

As recognition for her activism, Warren has won a number of awards, including New York City's Public Advocate Award and the Barry Goldwater Award.


More information on Warren can be found at: www.wildcatpress.com and www.patricianellwarren.com.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The idea that THE FRONT RUNNER was the first novel to address gay men and their romantic and sexual relationships is myth. A host of novels predate it, including Gore Vidal's 1948 THE CITY AND THE PILLAR and Mary Renault's brilliant 1959 THE CHARIOTEER. By the 1960s gay characters began to crack the bestseller lists with considerable regularity, with Gavin Lambert's INSIDE DAISY CLOVER a case in point. But THE FRONT RUNNER was very much the right book at the right time by the right author--and it would become legendary as the voice of a new generation.
The Stonewall Riots, which marked a turning point in the struggle for equal rights, was barely five years old when THE FRONT RUNNER was published, and few people--including many in the gay community--had any serious context for the story Warren offered. Consequently, Warren took nothing for granted: she created that context through a series of meticulously described backgrounds, something that made the book widely accessible to mainstream readers. And when THE FRONT RUNNER hit the bookstore it proved a revelation for both homosexual and heterosexuals alike: it flew off the shelves, becoming one of the most critically lauded and widely read novels of its decade.
The story concerns Harlan, a college track coach who is rocked out of the closet when three world class athletes land on his doorstep after being expelled for homosexuality from a major university. One of the three is Billy--and Billy is everything that Harlan has both hungered for and feared: a man with whom Harlan could fall in love. Although many regard it as love story pure and simple, THE FRONT RUNNER is really a sociopolitical novel.
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Format: Paperback
Harlan Brown is an ex-Marine and a track coach. In 1974, after he is dismissed from Penn State due to rumors of an alleged homosexual romance with one of his athletes, Harlan finds himself as the track coach at Prescott, a smaller university which he discovers is a more diverse than any other school in the country. Harlan's coaching life is thrown into turmoil when three young track athletes, kicked out of another university for their openness about their sexuality, want to join his team.
One of the athletes, Billy Sive who looks to be a contender for the Montréal Olympics, piques his interest, and Harlan soon finds himself falling for the young man. Billy begins to have the same feelings for Harlan. Once they admit their feelings, they form a strong, positive relationghip face together the fear and hatred of the athletic world and society, determined to give Billy his shot at a gold medal.
First published in 1974, this became a national bestseller. Patricia Nell Warren's depiction of two gay athletes in the 1970s is filled with so much that's positive about being gay: Harlan and Billy form a strong, monogamous relationship and don't hide it from the rest of the world. (They also don't flaunt it.) They tackle many issues that gay men and women are struggling with today: gay marriage, children, gay rights. The novel also handles the societal negatives regarding homosexuality with much humanity and empathy. You can either run and hide from it, or you can stare it down, be happy with yourself.
I also liked the characters. Harlan has only recently come out and is trying to deal with his feelings and jealousies along with his memories of the past and society.
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Format: Hardcover
How is it that a female story teller so adeptly delved into the emotions and mind of gay men? I was 27 when I first read The Front Runner, it was published when I was only 5 years old. Even though it is a story about life set in the 70s, it is a truly remarkable tale about love, destiny, passion and the search for that special love we all seek. Harlan, the track coach at the center of the book, has paid some tough prices for coming out as a gay man. He lost a wife, a family, and yes it would be easy to say he should never have gotten married and cheating on his wife...through Ms. Warren's words, we see the pain and confusion that his sexual identity has caused him. It is not until he is into his 40s that he finds he can be out and lead a life deserving in respect & love. The tragic ending will move any heart I'm sure, gay or staright or questioning. Along with its sequels, each just as brilliant, TFR is a landmark book that is a celebration of the gay & lesbian community.
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Format: Paperback
I first read this book when I was in my adolescence in the mid-seventies, after learning that Paul Newman was considering taking the lead role in a film version of the story (which, sadly, never came to fruition). It was the first book I read with gay characters and, being as I was young enough to be largely unaware of hateful or offensive stereotypes, I owe it a fair bit of credit for helping me to grow up with a healthy self-image. For that alone, it's worthy of my five stars.

With thirty years of queer literature under my belt, I decided to re-visit this old friend (I still retain my original dog-eared and yellowed Bantam paperback - eighth printing, circa 1975) and see if it lived up to my fond memories. First off I'd like to say that, like Billy Sive, the openly gay athlete and front runner of the book's title, the author and original publisher displayed enormous courage in putting this book out into the mainstream in the early 1970's, daring anyone to challenge its right to exist. Kudos to both.

In brief, "The Front Runner" is a tale of international athletic competition as well as an extremely moving and romantic, May-September love story that ends in both triumph and tragedy. What distinguishes it from many earlier queer novels and films is that the book's tragedy stems not from the character's self-loathing but from a senseless act of hatred perpetrated by an otherwise anonymous bigot. Perhaps befitting a book about sports, the writing is straightforward, plain and sturdy without any fey poetic flourishes.
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