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Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America Hardcover – February 2, 2012
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*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
"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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As an omnivorous reader, I want to find great books that I somehow missed, that may not included on great books lists because they are ancient or foreign or about an oppressed minority. Bram's book has helped guide me to those books in his area of expertise. My must-read list is now enriched.
I will also be looking into Mr. Bram's own novels. His most famous novel is Gods and Monsters and was the basis for the incredible movie starring Ian McKellen and Brendan Fraser.
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.
Bram overreaches when he tries to place contemporary writers Edmund White and Andrew Holleran in the same arena as the aforementioned giants. Though enormously gifted writers, White and Holleran have never achieved much notoriety, popularity or acceptance outside of the gay community. Neither has produced a break out "hit" on the scale of "In Cold Blood," "Myra Breckinridge," "A Streetcar Named Desire," "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" or more recent works like "The Hours" or John Berendt's "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," nor have their works been translated (to my knowledge) to other mediums such as theatre, television or film.
The author also stumbles when talking of playwrights and drama by omitting Harvey Fierstein (his "Torch Song Trilogy" gave 1,222 performances on Broadway and was filmed in 1988), and making too little mention of Terrence McNally or Lanford Wilson, despite the fact that they produced plays and musicals with gay characters and themes that won awards, enjoyed long runs and were adapted for the screen. He talks about "drama" but again does not include such landmark musicals like "A Chorus Line," "La Cage aux Folles" or "Kiss of the Spider Woman."
It seems I have more complaints than praise. Not so. This book is so good I wanted more, and at the same time I wanted it to be more.
The book is well written, filled with discriptions of personal interrelationships between authors I hadn't known about, and it makes a compelling case that the male gay writers changed America.
Also he acknowleges that there's another amazing book out there to be written about the lesbian writers who changed America. I hope a talent as good as Christopher takes on that task soon.
5 stars, without reservation.
The focus is on a few writers that get their own sensitive yet critical biographies, but together their stories tell the bigger story of a country and its people.
I read the book through and have begun to reread many chapters. It is a hard book for me to let go of. I am old enough to remember when many of the books discussed were first released. The context Bram provides helps me affix my own memories.
I would hope that someone younger or much younger and interested in this topic would also find the book enlightening.