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Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America Hardcover – February 2, 2012

4.6 out of 5 stars 45 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Highly regarded novelist Bram’s needed, spirited survey of post-WWII gay literature in America begins with this compelling line, “The gay revolution began as a literary revolution.” In his view, many prominent gay novelists, playwrights, and poets—as their novels, plays, and poems rose in critical and public acceptance from “outlaw” to “pioneer” status—led the way for a social change that swept the country, by which gay life in general gained in increasing acceptance. The image the reader gathers from this learned but never stuffy analysis, brimming with Bram’s own well-considered and entertaining opinions, is a door of a darkened room slowly opening to admit the light from without. We begin our visitation to seminal writers with the first wave following the end of WWII, which included such figures, now thought of as luminaries, as Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, Allen Ginsburg, and James Baldwin. Just as recovery from illness is not a perfect trajectory upward, the reaction to gay lit wavered, even in increasingly tolerant times, certainly hitting a speed bump during the AIDS crisis. Bram notes an irony in the present day: even as the economy has resulted in a shrinking publishing industry, vast strides in gay acceptance have been made. For all literature collections striving for inclusion and relevance. --Brad Hooper

Review

"Eminent Outlaws is a spectacular overview of our gay literary history."―Instinct Magazine

"Bram does a terrific job in cataloguing the lives of these important figures, from Vidal to James Baldwin to Michael Cunningham. He reveals their often tortured interior lives. His examinations of the works themselves are original and thoughtful. Eminent Outlaws is entertaining and informative, packed with interesting gossip and opinions."―Columbia Journalism Review

"As Bram's high-sounding subtitle promises-and these lives from Vidal through Baldwin and O'Hara to White and Kushner deliver-gay lib began as a literary movement; the aesthetic was always political, too....EMINENT OUTLAWS is the next (last?) step in reporting on literary lives that traces back to the gay dinner parties of yore. Few would have it any other way."―Newsweek

"Argumentative and often resonant, and lit from below by a gossipy wit. But its power is less sentence by sentence than cumulative. You don't realize how much the details of these writers' books and difficult lives have touched you until the book's final chapters.... With 'Eminent Outlaws' he has filled a gap in our critical literature."―The New York Times

"Bram's portraits of an often-reluctant gay literary vanguard is fascinating enough, but alongside a 50-year narrative of unexplored gay aesthetic, he also provides a parallel history of the gay-rights movement....Bram's bio-history is fun to read and will be the standard text of the defining era of gay literati glitterati."―Philadelphia Inquirer

"Bram uses a series of complex portraits of America's most influential gay literary lions to argue for their position in the pantheon of American culture.... Eminent Outlaws offers a crucial and fascinating overview of decades of American literary history."―Salon.com

"With keen insight into the essential relationship between storytelling and gay identity-as well as careful research into the journals, letters and books of America's great gay writers-Outlaws traces the cultural influence of gay literature throughout the second half of the 20th century.... Perhaps we have Bram's early sense of service as a boy scout to thank for the work he's done to preserve history in Outlaws. That Bram pulls it off with such style seems appropriate: it's a gay history, after all."―Next Magazine
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 372 pages
  • Publisher: Twelve; 1 edition (February 2, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446563137
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446563130
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #296,793 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In this much needed cultural history, Chris Bram covers American gay literature (novels, plays, poems, essays) from post World War II to the present. Each chapter centers around one writer in a chronologic progression, although as the book proceeds it crisscrosses back and forth to bring previously mentioned writers up to date. Because everyone seemed to know everyone else (in a six degrees of separation manner) Bram is able to keep a potentially confusing narrative straight (so to speak).

As he says in his Intro, "My models were literary histories that mix criticism with biography, social history, good gossip and a strong point of view" (p.xi) and I would say he succeeds admirably although sometimes he presses the pedal a bit hard on the gossip. He is free with his opinions and the social history accumulates a roll call of villains (Philip Roth, William F Buckley Jr, Wilfred Sheed, Elizabeth Hardwick, Stanley Kauffman among many others). The critic Joseph Epstein is quoted as writing of his four sons "Nothing they could ever do would make me sadder than if one of them were to become homosexual" (p.152). And surprises abound: Norman Mailer comes off looking relatively good!

But the focus is on literature and that is the reason to read this book. Judgements are plentiful. Of Christopher Isherwood: "A novel is such a small thing, but "A Single Man" has endured, like a mammal surrounded by dinosaurs" (p.116). Of Gore Vidal and Edmund White: "Yet while Vidal writes best about power, politics and history, White's strengths are sex, art, and - sometime - love. Each tends to stumble when he enters the other's domain" (p.175).

Like all good books of criticism, this one makes one eager to read the many works one may have missed or re-read others.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Christopher Bram's EMINENT OUTLAWS covers roughly fifty years of writing by gay authors of fiction, poetry and plays that he believes changed America. In his introduction, Bram says that the book is not an "all-inclusive, definitive literary history" and that he is not objective. Works that he admires are often works that influenced him or that he feels a "kinship with." GoreVidal is central to the first half of the book while Edmund White dominates the second half. Beginning with the publication of THE CITY AND THE PILLAR, Bram traces Vidal's long life and career, his writing of MYRA BRECKINRIDGE, his essays, his very public fights with William F. Buckley, Truman Capote and White, suggesting that Vidal in old age has "suffered a hardening of intellectual arteries." Bram calls him "a godfather of gay literature in spite of himself--a fairy godfather." Edmund White, "a brilliant prose stylist," gets equal treatment: his early days in New York, his role as one of the founders of GMHC, his life in France, and the publication of his many books, both fiction and nonfiction. Bram also includes Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, Allen Ginsberg, James Baldwin, Christopher Isherwood, Mart Crowley James Merrill, Edward Albee, Larry Kramer, Andrew Holleran, Armistead Maupin, Thom Gunn, Michael Cunningham, and Tony Kushner along with many other writers as well. The book begins with Part I, "Into the Fifties," followed by the sixties, seventies, eighties and the nineties and after. Mr. Bram also includes Notes and an exhaustive Selected Bibliography.Read more ›
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The first two thirds are fascinating...in part because Bram gives the history of fascinating people such as Christopher Isherwood, Gore Vidal, Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, Allen Ginsberg, James Baldwin and Edward Albee. Included here are detailed portraits of the artists along with a deft analysis of their most representative works.

I found myself completely enthralled despite the fact that I am intimately familiar with much of the history and anecdotes collected here. Indeed, this is a great book for anyone who wants to increase their knowledge of these great gay writers but isn't necessarily interested in reading any of the many exhaustive biographies available. The writers covered in the first two thirds truly changed America; their works have become an indelible part of our history and culture. [I do wish Bram would have included a few ladies; certainly a chapter could have been dedicated to Gertrude Stein, Lorraine Hansberry, Patricia Highsmith, Carson McCullers, Alice Walker, Rita Mae Brown, et al.]

Armistead Maupin and "Tales of the City" are discussed at length, and Mart Crowley's play "Boys in the Band," deservedly gets a thorough going over. These works are beloved to gay men of a certain age. Novels by Peter Cameron, Stephen McCauley and Michael Cunningham are mentioned to varying degrees. The author writes compellingly about the AIDS epidemic and the poetry and prose written in response to the disease. Long passages are dedicated to the brilliant dramas "Angels in America " and "The Normal Heart," though he ignores the musicals "Falsettos" or "Rent," which also dealt with the plague.

As interesting as these topics are, there is no denying that the last third is not nearly as interesting or focused as the first two.
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