24 November 2010

Guest Blogger author 'Nathan Burgoine shares about Queer Youth and the Arts

‘Nathan Burgoine is an ex-pat Brit living in Ottawa, Canada with his husband. His works appear in FOOL FOR LOVE (Cleis Press), edited by R.D. Cochrane and Timothy J. Lambert; I LIKE IT LIKE THAT (Arsenal Pulp Press), edited by Lawrence Schimel and Richard Labonte; 5×5 Literary Magazine; and I DO TWO (MLR Press) edited by Kris Jacen. He has two more upcoming short stories appearing in BLOOD SACRAMENTS (Bold Stroke Books), edited by Todd Gregory; and TENTED (Lethe Press), edited by Jerry Wheeler.

In today’s blog, the role of Jory M. Mickelson will be played by ‘Nathan Burgoine.

You might be wondering “What’s with the apostrophe?” I get that a lot.

The answer is my grade eleven English teacher. She was the first English teacher to really catch my attention and introduce me to new authors and genres. In those days I was still using my full first name but when I decided to drop the first two letters – that’s a clue – I put the apostrophe where it belonged, mostly as an homage to the woman who had opened my eyes to the joy of language. I think she’d appreciate it.

She was also the teacher who handed me my first gay character. She loaned students books from her personal library, and recommended titles she thought we’d like. She had an uncanny sense of what we’d enjoy. I’m not entirely sure she intended it to be the event that it was and I’m a little embarrassed to say I can’t recall the title or author of the book. What mattered, however, was that there was a capable and strong male character who happened to be gay. He was a marine, actually, if my memory serves. He helped a woman save a child from some nefarious evil plot – and did so while being gay.

I was terrified to answer any questions about the book when I gave it back to her. I don’t recall what I said when she asked me if I liked it. It was a defining moment for me as a gay kid. Here was someone like me represented in a fictional world for the first time.

It seems like such a small thing now, but the impact was incredible back then. That I ended up having my first boy kiss later that year was in no small part built on that tiny shred of confidence I’d gained from reading that book.

With gay suicide awareness making headlines recently, I saw something on Facebook that illustrated this point far stronger than my own experience. Take a second and watch this youtube submission to the “It Gets Better Project” – though I should warn you to keep a handkerchief handy. I’ll wait for you to come back after.

[Here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/user/JonathanSmith86#p/a/u/0/a3J9ge_vyFk ]

See? I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Michael Thomas Ford at the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans, and I can only imagine the impact of this video on him. Books have power – I daresay if you’re reading this you’re likely in agreement with me – and sometimes I think we forget how much good we might do with them.

We’re represented out there a lot more than we were. There were no Kurt Hummels on television when I was young. I cannot believe some of the amazing things I hear from people about high school gay-straight alliances. It’s fantastic. It’s also urban. Those far flung rural areas like where I first encountered that gay character don’t have high speed internet access. They don’t have youtube.

But they usually have a library.

I wonder if there’s not a way to get those books and magazines and poems into the hands of more of those young people who need them – and I don’t think I’m overstating by using “need.” I think you need to see yourself represented in the world before you will believe you can – or should – be a part of it.

Those young adult books out there with gay characters – which I never found until after I was working in books and past my own young adult days – need to be where they were intended to be: in the hands of young adults. Teens and tweens are reading more than ever before. Teen fiction is one of the hottest markets out there right now – which means publishers are paying attention to it – and when I find a title that illustrates our existence in a positive light I’ll often take a moment and track down the author and thank them.

There are some fabulous young adult books out there, and more on the way – I’m personally itching to read Greg Herren’s SORCERESS later this month – and every one of them has that potential to be in the right hands at the right time.

Here you are, right on the page, says the book. You’re okay. Do you remember the first time that happened to you?

When I’m flush, a copy or two of these awesome teen and tween books will also usually end up in my local library, where I hope they end up in the hands of one of those young adults who happens to be feeling like they’ve got no place in the world. After all, I’m an adult now. What adult doesn’t enjoy proving to a teenager that they’re not right about everything?

18 November 2010

Justin Spring’s “Secret Historian” and Wendy Moffat’s “A Great Unrecorded History”

I drove seven hours in one direction for a book reading this past Monday. I have been following Justin Spring’s Book Secret Historian: The life and times of Samuel Steward, professor, tattoo artist, and sexual renegade for almost a year. When I saw that Mr. Spring was reading at Elliot Bay Book Company in Seattle, I had to go. His only other West Coast appearance was in San Francisco.

Also Wendy Moffat read from her new book A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life of E.M. Forster. Her book is an exposition of Forster’s life as a gay man. It documents his sexual and romantic life that’s been ignored by previous biographers.

Both authors said that they had spent about ten years writing their books and met because their research crossed paths. Both were writing about gay social history in the United States during the 40s, 50s and 60s. Friends of Sam Steward and E.M. Forster overlapped although they had no recorded contact with one another.

Moffat said that it was a relief to find someone else doing work in this field, because it is a veritable blank spot in American history. The life of gay men prior to Stonewall remains largely undocumented due to secrecy, shame and its clandestine nature.

What struck me was the contrast between the books’ subjects. One was a biography of a very famous person from a new angle; the other was a biography about someone that is entirely unknown. Forster’s biography was written to highlight his life and how that affects the reading of his work. Steward’s biography was generated because of the fascinating life he led.

Samuel Steward was an English professor who left a life of academia to pursue other passions. He was friends with and corresponded with Gertrude Stein. He worked with Alfred Kinsey. He was the tattoo artist for the Hell’s Angels under the name Sam Sparrow. He wrote literary gay male pornography under the name Phil Andros. Sam Steward also documented his voracious sex life from early adolescence until a decade before his death in 1993.

E.M. Forster wrote and rewrote his homosexual novel Maurice throughout much of his life. At first he said he didn’t want it published while his mother was alive because it would upset her. After her death, he said he didn’t want to publish it because it would cause problems for his long-time lover, a married police officer. Maurice was published shortly after Forster’s death in 1970.

The reading was wonderful and I hope to be speaking with these authors in the future.

A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life of E.M. Forster
416 pages
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Secret Historian: The life and times of Samuel Steward, professor, tattoo artist, and sexual renegade
496 pages
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

05 November 2010

New Poems in Print!

Please take a moment and stop by to read four of my persona poems about the constellations at Orion headless: Poetry, Art, Found Objects.  I am thrilled to have four poems picked up by a single literary magazine or website.

Stop by and you will encounter "Lyra" about Orpheus, a cranky "Orion," "Dorado" in which fish mysteriously multiply and  a reflective "Herakles."

Thanks again to Sara at Orion headless for printing my work!



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