Thursday, December 29, 2016

On the Move

The title of the Oliver Sacks' memoir we'll be discussing next Wednesday, but also that of the first poem in Thom Gunn's second book, The Sense of Movement (1957). Highly regarded in general, this poem, and not just by Sacks. Here's a link. The last three lines are quite quotable on their own:

At worst, one is in motion; and at best,
Reaching no absolute, in which to rest,
One is always nearer by not keeping still.

—and the last even more so (surely a poetic fiction but a good one).

Cannibalism on Southern Plantations

This isn't the cheeriest topic, but I did want to respond to Tim's request (via a comment on my recent posting defending Vincent Woodard's The Delectable Negro):

Meanwhile, perhaps you could, for the record, list the page numbers where Woodard “documents several examples of literal cannibalism on antebellum plantations.” I’d like to read up on those as well.

Let me begin by backpedaling.  After rereading a number of ambiguous passages, I see that only the following two clearly refer to instances where whites literally consumed body parts of slaves:

pp. 59-62: Lilburn Lewis' literal butchering of his slave Georges

pp. 91-94: "After [Nat] Turner was captured, he was hung, skinned and bled, and his body was boiled down to grease."  Admittedly, Woodard doesn't prove that it was Turner's oil that local whites consumed as castor oil, but the preponderance of the evidence he presents (particularly the refusal of local blacks to swallow any castor oil for two years) is good enough to convince me.

And, for what it's worth, footnote 14 to Chapter 2, on p. 252, says the following: "Here I am thinking of persons such as Frederick Douglass, David Walker, John S. Jacobs, Solomon Northup, Harriet Jacobs and Moses Roper, among others.  Most of these individuals I treat in later chapters.  Typically, somewhere in the body of their slave narratives or some other such writing, these African-Americans made reference to a culture of human consumption that shaped and informed slave life.  Their oftentimes very personal and intimate observations on this topic had the effect of implicating plantation owners or broader U.S. culture in cultural practices of consumption."

I'll be the first to admit that Woodard's insinuation here, that any of these authors documented literal cannibalism in the antebellum South, is shockingly thin.  (If there were such a case, I'm sure he would have highlighted it in Chapter 2.)  Yet I also find the notion that Lilburn Lewis was unique in his cannibalism ludicrous.

Again, as I acknowledged in my original posting,  The Delectable Negro would have been a stronger book had Woodard resisted the temptation to stretch and sensationalize his meager evidence.  But the fact that he badly overplayed his hand doesn't mean there is no truth to his claims.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A New Day for Gay Plays?

This is the title of a long article written by Charles Isherwood and published in yesterday's New York Times.  "Old themes are still explored, but the context has changed."

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

In Defense of "The Delectable Negro"

In the next posting (below), Tim trenchantly critiques Vincent Woodard's many shortcomings as a writer and analyst, which we discussed at length during the Dec. 7 Bookmen meeting. However, with all due respect, I would still like to offer a qualified defense of "The Delectable Negro."

Yes, Woodard's obsession with cannibalism not only weakens the book, but obscures the many valid points he makes. And yes, like Tim, I wish he had focused primarily on relations, intimate and otherwise, between plantation owners (and their families) and slaves, precisely because I believe he made useful observations about those dynamics. (In that respect, it is striking that he never even alludes to the most enduring of myths about that era, one that is alive and well today: the Mandingo fantasy of virile black men seducing, or overpowering, white women—and white men.)

Let us not forget that Woodard documents several examples of literal cannibalism on antebellum plantations. To my mind, his ability to do that in an era from which we have few primary sources, and in which there was a much greater incentive to bury such accounts than to publicize them, is remarkable. I'd also be willing to bet that such horrors happened more frequently than we'd like to believe, though I'm sure they were still much rarer than Woodard insists.

I also think we should be careful about criticizing authors for not writing the books we think they ought to have written. Yes, "The Delectable Negro" is seriously, perhaps even fatally, flawed. But I still learned quite a bit about the reality of slavery from it—and I say that as a native Louisianan who, even as a boy, knew better than to believe all the crap about happy slaves who delighted in serving their masters.

Here's my bottom line: This book is not an easy read, and it's definitely not for the general or casual reader. It's chockfull of unpleasant material, made even more unpleasant by repetitious, jargon-laden prose. But for all that, it is still worthwhile. If nothing else, look at the final two chapters, which are lively and relatively short.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Indigestible "Negro"

Sorry I had to miss the discussion of Vincent Woodard’s Delectable Negro last night. Sounds like a lot of good clean fun was expended on this, this … [trying to look for a neutral term: farrago, gumbo, hash, jumble, mélange, mishmash — olla podrida! (thank you Mr Webster)]  book  (burp); or, to follow up on Woodard’s own story of poor George, the dismemberment and incineration of its various parts (I’m sorry Vincent—we would have done the head first, had we only found it!).

The story of Lillburn Lewis and his slave George begins the second chapter. His dismemberment and incineration create quite a ruckus. “When his wife asked the cause of the dreadful screams she had heard, he said that he had never enjoyed himself so well at a ball as he had enjoyed himself that evening [Lydia Maria Child, original source]. And Woodard continues:

Lewis's response to his wife, as disturbing and incongruous as it is, puts this entire scenario into context. Contrasted against the plantation mistress and the domestic sphere, we see more clearly George's erotic significance to his master and the clandestine pleasure taking that the white man associates with his slave. The metaphor of the ball is significant insofar as one goes to a ball with someone. Lewis would, under normal circumstances, attend a ball with his wife, dancing with her, holding her close, smelling and touching her body. Instead, we have George as the unwilling feminized partner and conjugal mate; it is George whom the master touches, smells, violently lavishes with attention and care, and ingests with the same relish that he would hors d'oeuvre, fine music, or cocktails served at an open bar at a ball.

How straitlaced Woodard's imagination! How careless with details! Master Lewis may not like balls. He might say—may have said many times—the same thing about any number of his other activities: drinking, hunting, voting, sleeping in his own bedroom (as opposed to hers or theirs). Woodard's imagining the pleasures and sensations that Lewis experiences when being at the ball with his wife are (oh dear, yes, I'm about to say it) heteronormative!  As for "cocktails" and "open bars at balls," just imagine Scarlett sidling up to a bar at Tara and asking for a Harvey Wallbanger!

Woodard's undelectable volume might have been situated anywhere along a spectrum from explicit homosexuality to "cannibalistic" re-interpretations of ante-bellum slavery (with all the gustatory frenzies of a man starving on a desert island). The former lacks documentation. The latter, much grounding in reality. The mean that might have been most practicable and interesting would have been to explore the homosociality of white owners and black slaves. I'm sure there was some, and much might be inferred. Maybe it's already been published. Comments?

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Smelling It (the infamous "gay sensibility")

We'll be talking about Almodóvar when we discuss Emanuel Levy's Gay Directors, Gay Films? — but in the meantime for those of you who have seen the movie (not I) of the book we read (not Pedro), this extract from a recent New Yorker article may be of interest.

This did not stop him [Almodóvar] from playing with the question of whether there was such a thing as a gay sensibility in film. “The furious aesthetic of my films has to do with a liberation that is connected to sexuality,” he said. But, he noted, gay people don’t always make gay art. He offered Truman Capote by way of example: “In ‘In Cold Blood’ there’s no trace of the person who is Truman Capote. But Holly Golightly in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ is a predecessor of all the drag queens of the nineties. She’s a transvestite. You probably have to be gay to see it.” He went on, “And the role of George Peppard? He’s a hustler, and his clients aren’t women—they’re guys! You get this. You smell it.”

(And please, people, start trying to get the accent of his name right.
  Hint: the syllable accented is the syllable with the accent mark!)

Luke's Story

From the penultimate chapter ("The Fugitive Slave Law") of Harriet Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1860), which Vincent Woodard discusses in The Delectable Negro, pp. 131-140. Woodard only quotes snippets interpolated into his analysis, and I thought people might like to see and judge the whole text.

This brings up one of my Southern reminiscences, which I will here briefly relate. I was somewhat acquainted with a slave named Luke, who belonged to a wealthy man in our vicinity. His master died, leaving a son and daughter heirs to his large fortune. In the division of the slaves, Luke was included in the son's portion. This young man became a prey to the vices [; when] he went to the north, to complete his education, he carried his vices with him. He was brought home, deprived of the use of his limbs, by excessive dissipation. Luke was appointed to wait upon his bed-ridden master, whose despotic habits were greatly increased by exasperation at his own helplessness. He kept a cowhide beside him, and, for the most trivial occurrence, he would order his attendant to bare his back, and kneel beside the couch, while he whipped him till his strength was exhausted. Some days he was not allowed to wear any thing but his shirt, in order to be in readiness to be flogged. A day seldom passed without his receiving more or less blows. If the slightest resistance was offered, the town constable was sent for to execute the punishment, and Luke learned from experience how much more the constable's strong arm was to be dreaded than the comparatively feeble one of his master. The arm of his tyrant grew weaker, and was finally palsied; and then the constable's services were in constant requisition. The fact that he was entirely dependent on Luke's care, and was obliged to be tended like an infant, instead of inspiring any gratitude or compassion towards his poor slave, seemed only to increase his irritability and cruelty. As he lay there on his bed, a mere degraded wreck of manhood, he took into his head the strangest freaks of despotism; and if Luke hesitated to submit to his orders, the constable was immediately sent for. Some of these freaks were of a nature too filthy to be repeated. When I fled from the house of bondage, I left poor Luke still chained to the bedside of this cruel and disgusting wretch.

One day, when I had been requested to do an errand for Mrs. Bruce, I was hurrying through back streets, as usual, when I saw a young man approaching, whose face was familiar to me. As he came nearer, I recognized Luke. I always rejoiced to see or hear of any one who had escaped from the black pit; I was peculiarly glad to see him on Northern soil, though I no longer called it free soil. I well remembered what a desolate feeling it was to be alone among strangers, and I went up to him and greeted him cordially. At first, he did not know me; but when I mentioned my name, he remembered all about me. I told him of the Fugitive Slave Law, and asked him if he did not know that New York was a city of kidnappers.

He replied, "De risk ain't so bad for me, as 'tis fur you. 'Cause I runned away from de speculator, and you runned away from de massa. Dem speculators vont spen dar money to come here fur a runaway, if dey ain't sartin sure to put dar hans right on him. An I tell you I's tuk good car 'bout dat. I had too hard times down dar, to let 'em ketch dis nigger."

He then told me of the advice he had received, and the plans he had laid. I asked if he had money enough to take him to Canada. "'Pend upon it, I hab," he replied. "I tuk car fur dat. I'd bin workin all my days fur dem cussed whites, an got no pay but kicks and cuffs. So I tought dis nigger had a right to money nuff to bring him to de Free States. Massa Henry he lib till ebery body vish him dead; an ven he did die, I knowed de debbil would hab him, an vouldn't vant him to bring his money 'long too. So I tuk some of his bills, and put 'em in de pocket of his ole trousers. An ven he was buried, dis nigger ask fur dem ole trousers, an dey gub 'em to me." With a low, chuckling laugh, he added, "You see I didn't steal it; dey gub it to me. I tell you, I had mighty hard time to keep de speculator from findin it; but he didn't git it.

This is a fair specimen of how the moral sense is educated by slavery. When a man has his wages stolen from him, year after year, and the laws sanction and enforce the theft, how can he be expected to have more regard to honesty than has the man who robs him? I have become somewhat enlightened, but I confess that I agree with poor, ignorant, much-abused Luke, in thinking he had a right to that money, as a portion of his unpaid wages. He went to Canada forthwith, and I have not since heard from him.

Monday, November 28, 2016

A chance to view "Dragged Mass Displacement"

The renovated East Building of the National Gallery, which reopened two months ago after a three-year closure, is a triumph that is well worth a visit. In particular, those of you who read Philip Gefter's Wagstaff: Before and After Mapplethorpe will want to check out a special exhibition that will be up there through Jan. 29: "Los Angeles to New York: Dwan Gallery, 1959-1971."

Like Sam Wagstaff, Virginia Dwan—who at 85 continues to support and nurture artists working in almost every style and medium—is closely associated with the earthworks movement and other site-specific installations. In this show, you'll see photos and videos not only of "Dragged Mass Displacement," the Michael Heizer piece with which Gefter begins his biography of Wagstaff, but many other examples of the genre. (Personally, I find them more interesting in theory than in practice, but at least now I can say I've seen them for myself!)

Truman's Finest Hour?

Precisely 50 years ago today, on Nov. 28, 1966, Truman Capote threw his (in)famous Black & White Ball, an event several of our recent selections have referenced, directly or indirectly, as a cultural turning point.

The Style section of today's Washington Post marks that anniversary with a fascinating article that explores Capote's close relationship with Katharine Graham. It notes that she was one of the very few prominent people to remain his friend even after the Unanswered Prayers debacle.

[Editor's Note: Truman
   punching above his weight
    dancing above his height
with Katharine's daughter Lally.]

Friday, November 18, 2016

Trigger Warning: "Delectable Negro"

Multiple appearances of the N-word (though obviously not in the title). For those who may be traumatized by more than words, I add the subtitle:

  Human Consumption and Homoeroticism within U.S. Slave Culture

See you on the Seventh!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Lorca's Duende

This is the Lorca I mentioned. Merriam Webster defines Duende as: "The power to attract through personal magnetism and charm."
On the back cover: The notion of "duende" became a cornerstone of Federico Garcia Lorca's poetics over the course of his career.  In his lecture "Play and Theory of the Duende," he says, "there are no maps nor disciplines to help us find the duende.  We only know that he burns the blood like a poultice of broken glass, that he exhausts, that he rejects all the sweet geometry we have learned..."  The duende is portrayed by Lorca as a demonic earth spirit embodying irrationality, earthiness, and a heightened awareness of death.  In Search of Duende gathers Lorca's writings about the duende and about three art forms most susceptible to it: dance, music, and the bullfight.  A full bilingual sampling of Lorca's poetry is also included, with special attention to poems arising from traditional Spanish verse forms.  The result is an excellent introduction to Lorca's poetry and prose for American readers.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Munkacsi's "Liberia"

[Be sure to click on the image!]

"This picture is music!"
"I held it out from the collection for you and I want you to have it … I am only going to charge you what I paid for it."

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Dragged Mass Displacement

Books, Forthcoming (2017)

Song of the Loon  by Richard Amory
What Belongs to You  by Garth Greenwell
Guapa  by Saleem Haddad
Memoirs of Hadrian  by Marguerite Yourcenar

Gay Directors, Gay Films?  by Emanuel Levy
A Little Gay History  by R.B. Parkinson
Not Gay: Sex between Straight White Men  by Jane Ward
A History of Gay Literature  by Gregory Woods

On the Move  by Oliver Sacks
The Best Little Boy in the World  by "John Reid" (i.e. Andrew Tobias)

Sons of the Prophet  by Stephen Karam
The Green Bay Tree  by Mordaunt Shairp

In the Empire of the Air  by Donald Britton
My Alexandria  by Mark Doty

Hidden: The Intimate Lives of Gay Men Past and Present  by Clinton Elliott
Gay Travels in the Muslim World  ed. by Michael Luongo

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Least Photographed Boy in the World

Everyone last night found Arthur Vanderbilt's book unsatisfactory in one way or another. We all complained about the lack of photographs, which can be expensive. But what's extraordinary (it occurs to me today) is that the only photograph in the book (on the cover) appears with neither comment nor commentary (such as when it was taken, by whom, under what circumstances etc). One should probably excuse the author but it's no credit to publisher Riverdale Avenue nor its "imprint" Magnus [sic] Books. One can rummage about in Google Images and find all manner of junk. This however

may be a Platt Lynes' photograph of the twenty year old Fouts. It certainly makes more credible his legendary allure.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Saturday, September 17, 2016

R.I.P., Edward Albee

Sad news from the theater world:

Edward Albee, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of modern masterpieces dies at 88.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Post Medici Boy

Readers who liked The Medici Boy and even (or especially) those who didn't may be interested in reading the author's story  "Three Short Moments in a Long Life"  in a recent New Yorker. The "especially" above is for those who found his writing slack and repetitious. Maybe it was just the narrator.

And for those who are still interested in the MB, I've come across the publisher's Book Group Guide. It includes none of the interesting questions we discussed but … a window into how the other half reads (or to how Astor+Blue thinks they do or should). Followed by an interview with author L'Heureux.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

"He would have sinned incessantly..."

My favorite poet is Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869-1935), who won three Pulitzer Prizes but has, alas, fallen into undeserved obscurity. "Richard Cory" is the one poem of his that is still in virtually all anthologies, but this one, "Miniver Cheevy," also often makes the cut.

Since we'll be discussing The Medici Boy on Wednesday, I'm seizing the opportunity to shine a little reflected glory on a great poet (see Stanza 5 for the connection). For what it's worth, by the way, I strongly suspect Robinson was one of our own, though a recent biographer insists he was straight.

Anyway, for your reading pleasure:
Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn, 
   Grew lean while he assailed the seasons; 
He wept that he was ever born, 
   And he had reasons. 

Miniver loved the days of old 
   When swords were bright and steeds were prancing; 
The vision of a warrior bold 
   Would set him dancing. 

Miniver sighed for what was not, 
   And dreamed, and rested from his labors; 
He dreamed of Thebes and Camelot, 
   And Priam’s neighbors. 

Miniver mourned the ripe renown 
   That made so many a name so fragrant; 
He mourned Romance, now on the town, 
   And Art, a vagrant. 

Miniver loved the Medici, 
   Albeit he had never seen one; 
He would have sinned incessantly 
   Could he have been one. 

Miniver cursed the commonplace 
   And eyed a khaki suit with loathing; 
He missed the mediæval grace 
   Of iron clothing. 

Miniver scorned the gold he sought, 
   But sore annoyed was he without it; 
Miniver thought, and thought, and thought, 
   And thought about it. 

Miniver Cheevy, born too late, 
   Scratched his head and kept on thinking; 
Miniver coughed, and called it fate, 
   And kept on drinking.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Angels in America  at Round House in Bethesda

Angels in America [click on the banner above] is soon coming to the Round House Theatre in Bethesda, produced jointly with Olney Theater from September 7 through October 30. The epic is performed as two separate but inter-related plays, "Part 1: Millennium Approaches," and "Part II: Perestroika." I got information about a group discount and discovered that other, better discounts are available, allowing all who are interested to select his own convenient date. Among the discounts are: 1) 25% off, when you buy both together on-line or over the phone, and use the code TWOANGELS at checkout; 2) Also, each show has a very limited number of $10 Tuesdays (the seats are blue on the seating charts); 3) If you are a member of any of several professional theater organizations, there are special discounts for you; 4) There are a couple PWYC nights (pay what you can), which look like they may serve as final dress rehearsals. There are a few days during the run when it is possible to catch both plays on the same day, with a break for dinner. For tickets on-line, visit Angels in America or call (240) 644-1100 (only during business hours M-F). I suggest acting right away if you are interested, because desirable dates and discounted tickets are selling fast.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Testa de Cazi

Posted here is as something of a curio. It comes from the Ashmolean where more can be learned about it. My only observation is that if the dicks are supposed to be circumcised (the basis of the maiolica's supposed antisemitism), Francesco hadn't seen many Jewish men naked.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The SCOTUS sausage factory

The June 28 issue of "More Perfect" (a WNYC spin-off of their deservedly popular "Radiolab") tells the story (literally, audio) of Lawrence v. Texas (which we read about in Dale Carpenter's Flagrant Conduct). Go to the "More Perfect" webpage, scroll down to "The Imperfect Plaintiffs" episode and click on the blue "Listen" button. Takes about 30 minutes. It's fun to hear their voices.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

"No Important Homo Composers"

I ran across the following which I thought might be great for the blog, considering our reading of Michael Sherry's book. It's from the May 1967 issue of the physique magazine Grecian Guild Pictorial, from its "Newsfront" column under the headline above:

"In the history of music, there's not one important woman composer, let alone a homosexual composer. Music, of all the arts, demands total virility." So says Allan Jay Lerner, America's leading lyricist, musical comedy writer and lyricist of "Brigadoon," "Gigi," "My Fair Lady," "Camelot," and "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever." In an interview for McCall's magazine with Richard Heffner, Lerner went on to say that "the world of serious music, unfortunately, is dominated by homosexuals. Why? I just don't know. It isn't just in America...I don't know what's happened, but something's gone wrong somewhere. It may have nothing to do with anything psychological. It may have to do with fallout, for all I know. There's no question that in the serious theater there is today a tremendous domination by homosexuals, which accounts for this one-sided view of life. In the musical theater, it isn't true." One might question whether Mr. Lerner does not have much to learn himself about music history. What about Peter Tchaikovsky? Or Frederick Chopin, or the closet-queen type composer, such as the most thunderous of the three B's? Could there not have been many more great "lady" composers than Mr. Lerner realizes?

[posted for Philip]

"Always a godfather, never a god..."

Here's the review by Andrew Holleran that I mentioned last night at the discussion of In Bed with Gore Vidal. If the book had had photos, it might have included this one of Gore Vidal with sidekick Wendy Stark and unknown model.

For those interested in visiting his grave at Rock Creek Cemetery, look for this marker that Gore inspected after Austen died.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Our own Philip Clark strikes again! :-)

When I posted the reminder about this weekend's Outwrite Festival this morning, I failed to highlight a Bookmen connection.  Here it is, better late than never I hope:
Muses Fair and Sundry
Poetry Reading, Saturday, August 6th, 12:00 PM
with Philip Clarke, RJ Gibson, Imani Sims and Francisco-Luis White

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Outwrite Festival Is This Weekend! (Aug. 5-7)

Don't forget that the DC Center (our third-Wednesday venue) is hosting the OutWrite festival this weekend.I plan to stop by on Friday night and hopefully Saturday afternoon, as well; hope to see many of you there!

Monday, July 11, 2016

We're everywhere, even in theater (imagine!)

Our recent discussion of Michael Sherry's Gay Artists in Modern American Culture: An Imagined Conspiracy triggered a memory of a "Doonesbury" strip from the late 1980s/early 1990s that is very much on point.  Alas, I no longer have the actual comic, and my efforts to find it online have been in vain.  So the best I can do is to share the following description of the episode I found online:

"I was looking for an old Doonesbury strip where Jeremy Cavendish learned someone was gay, and said he hoped none of those people ever got into the arts. It was really well done."

(The posting that inspired this comment is well worth reading in its own right, by the way, as are the other comments.)

If any of you happen to have a Doonesbury collection from that era and find that strip, do let me know!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Collecting LGBT at the LoC

The following article appeared last week in the Library of Congress Gazette, an in-house staff rag. It reports on an hour-long symposium in which the speakers discussed the LGBT collecting policies at the Library. The interest of the Library in LGBT materials has understandably increased in recent years. While there is certainly much more to collection policies and the handling of these particular materials than presented here, still, this may be of interest to members of BookmenDC. (Click the image to read the article.) —Giogio

Thursday, June 23, 2016

"My First Gay Bar"

Following up on the great column by Justin Torres in the Post, some well-known gays reminisce in the Times about their first experiences in gay bars. Especially good is Torres's own contribution.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

In Praise of Latin Night at the Queer Club

I was MIA last week … just getting around to reading the papers.

This op-ed by Justin Torres should be written on vellum.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Short Story Readings

Jonathan Harper from Daydreamers and Greg Shapiro from How to Whistle — TONIGHT  7:00pm at Upshur Street Books.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Good Gray Poet

Today is Walt Whitman's birthday (born in 1819).

Happy Birthday, Walt!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

"In the Empire of the Air"

Philip Clark's edition of Donald Britton's poems has just been published by Nightboat Books. Christopher Bram interviews him at Lambda Literary.

Main ®eading

I'm headed up to our camp next week at Beech Hill Pond in Maine. It's a great setting for reading classics. I'm going to delve into Pushkin's "Eugene Onegin." Any other suggestions?

Monday, May 16, 2016

A Firefly Loses Its Luster...

[Posted for our colleague Lee Levine]

Back in July 2014, Bookmen discussed Janette Jenkin's Firefly, a fictional account of Noel Coward's last years in Jamaica. The book didn't end especially happily, though the island setting dovetails with Our Caribbean, the Thomas Glave anthology we'll be starting this Wednesday. Sadly, if a column in the May 7 London Spectator is true, the real Firefly is suffering a sad fate as well. Says the usually sprightly Petronella Wyatt:

Coward's Jamaican home, Firefly, is almost derelict now. Weeds grow in the rooms and the walls are discolored with damp. Coward's piano is missing three keys. A dining room table is laid out with cracked crockery, as it was when Princess Margaret came for lunch. Coward died here a disappointed man. It was strange that he was only knighted four years before his death, given his propaganda and intelligence work during the second world war. The Queen Mother spoke of it to me once: "I loved 'The Master.' Winston liked him, too. It was Philip who was always against. He had a thing about the more flamboyant sort of queer."

Don't shoot the messenger!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Happy 17th Anniversary to Us, Fellow Bookmen!

The exact date of our group's first meeting seems lost in the mists of history, but it was in May 1999.  Tim Walton, our blogmaster extraordinaire, has diligently maintained the running list of the many, many books we've read over that period (thanks!), which you'll find at the bottom of the homepage.

Happy Anniversary to us!

To Be Young and Gay in Cuba...

I thought the full version of this piece, which appeared on the website of the Washington Post on May 6, was timely as we prepare to discuss the first set of selections in our new anthology, Our Caribbean .

(In case you're wondering, what ran in the print edition yesterday was essentially a teaser for the original article, which was published online as part of the Post 's "In Sight" department.)

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Gay in the Caribbean

Thought folks might be interested in a NYT editorial from last October which used Marlon James's winning of the Man Booker Prize for his novel A Brief History of Seven Killings to talk about the dismal situation of living gay in the Caribbean.  —Giogio

Monday, May 9, 2016

Broderick, MacLaine Star in "Bettyville" !

When I posted the item from Jeff about the CBS "Sunday Morning" segment on Bettyville, I had no idea that a TV series about it was in the works.  But thanks to James Daubs, here's the scoop!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Betty Hodgman on TV!

While watching the CBS program, "Sunday Morning" today, our friend Jeff Sturman saw a segment featuring George and Betty Hodgman of Bettyville. He has been kind enough to share it for our viewing pleasure.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

What's on the Menu for Bettyville?

Thanks to Terry for alerting me to this bit of cultural fluff!

So whatever happened to Betty?

A tip of the hat to James Daubs for finding not just one, but TWO Betty obits!  One from the funeral home, the other from the Columbia Missourian.

Monday, April 18, 2016

"A Taste of Honey" on Turner Classic Movies

Lee Levine has been kind enough to pass the word that the 1961 film version of Shelagh Delaney's play, "A Taste of Honey," which we discussed almost exactly two years ago, will be shown on TCM at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, April 19.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Lederhosen in Gay Berlin?

John Lehmann, a friend of Christopher Isherwood, visited the Cosy Corner, the Berlin night spot during his 1932 visit. He writes (quoted in Gay Berlin, 207), "The place was filled with attractive boys of any age...nearly all dressed in extremely short Lederhosen which showed off their smooth and sunburnt thighs." 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Volunteer with #OutWrite2016

Interested in serving on the planning committee for OutWrite 2016? Meetings are at the DC Center on May 17, June 7, June 21, and July 19
at 6pm.  For further information contact co-chair Dave Ring —

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Mark Doty at the Phillips This Thursday!

Gay poet Mark Doty, winner of the 2008 National Book Award for Poetry, will give a reading this Thursday, March 10, at 6:30 p.m., at the Phillips Collection, 1600 21st Street NW. Reading with Doty will be Asian-American poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil. They will be reading work in response to the current Phillips exhibit of landscape masterpieces: "Seeing Nature". The reading is cosponsored by the Folger Shakespeare Library poetry series. For tickets, visit the Folger website. The event is general admission, free to Phillips members, $12 to Folger members, $15 for others.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Bow [comma] and Arrow

We had great fun the other night with the comma in the title but I think now that it means something and I have an idea of what it means. But first, since it's short, the poem:

Bow, and Arrow

Not the war, but the part just after,
when a great stillness whose beauty we'd have
missed, possibly, had we instead
been spared, hovers over the ruins.

Put your head in among the flowers—
do it: but for
me this time, not yourself,
is what I think he said.

"Bow and Arrow" makes perfect sense in the first stanza, the ancient archery weapon standing in for the Queen of Battle (artillery, the mass slayer of troops in WWI). But the second stanza? What's it got to do with bows and arrows. Apparently not much. But here the comma after "Bow" in the title suggests we're dealing with a different "bow", a different sense, such as when someone comes on after a performance and bows to the audience (to thunderous applause in contrast to "great stillness"). As when a ballerina, say, bows her head over a bouquet she's just been handed, her partner, perhaps, whispering to her to do it again but for him this time (or that's what she thinks he says).

There are, of course, no ballerinas in Verdun. But there were graves and flowers were placed on them. And a disquieted corpse might "say" to a self-conscious mourner to repeat her gesture of mourning but for him this time — as we readers should hear the poem itself calling for our closer consideration.

Jonathan — the Last Name

“Jonathan’s family name was in the Domesday Book. The name meant Dweller by Low Water. They had been a marsh peopole, farming for their master and hunting birds in the reeds in what was now the county of Hampshire in England.” (p. 276)

I continued the search that we began last night, futilely, with smart phones and library WiFi. I have fared no better today with my high-powered iMac and fiber-optic connection. How coy of Ryman, to never mention our hero’s last name but to hint at it in the one passage above! The paragraph in which it appears begins “There was a great weight of things that had been lost.”

Anyway, my futile little search—not just for the name but why it should not be named!—prompts me to notice what none of us had a chance to observe the other night: how well the search/research in old libraries and registries is depicted in the last part “Oz Circle”. Even if the final “Reality Check” and “Acknowledgments” hadn’t called it to our attention, the life of research was vividly brought before us.

And that leads me to speculate that it’s no accident we never learn Jonathan’s last name or that “Mrs. Langrishe” makes her one and only appearance on page 357. The historical record—the original sources—is always fragmentary, no matter how gratifyingly complete it may sometimes seem. Things drift off, are named or unnamed, are not spelled out or detailed to no apparent purpose. And our book, even if fantasy, is similarly “incomplete.” “A heritage is something that was nevers yours, and which has been destroyed.” (p. 356)

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Was: The Musical

From Paul Simpson’s A Brief Guide to OZ :

Was has been brought to the stage in two different versions. Paul Edwards penned a version for Northwestern university in 1994, which he intitially intended as a staged reading of various chapters. As he worked on it, he realize the potential for a small chamber-theatre piece, which was subsequently put on, directed by Edwards himself, in Chicago. Given that many authors complain about the liberties that are taken with their text in adaptations for other media, Ryman found that this version was too faithful to his story. In a 2001 interview, with the British Science Fiction Association, he explained that it ‘was very educational because it was terrible’ — not because of the acting, but because they tried to jam four hundred pages of text into two hours on stage. He wouldn’t allow further productions, despite the Chicago Reader calling Edwards’ interprestation ‘a jewel on the stage as on the page, a beautifully blanaced work of brain, courage, and heart’.

A musical version, with a book by Barry Kleinbort and score by Joseph Thalken, was workshopped at the Lincoln Center Theater in New York, and subsequently mounted at the Human Race Theatre Company in Dayton, Ohio; and then by Northwestern University’s American Music Theatre Project in 2005. This eliminated the Judy Garland plotline from the book entirely. Kleinbort and Thalken had both been taken with the book, and wrote twenty minutes of material that they performed for Ryman in 1998. He gave them permission to proceed, and the show received various awards for excellence in music theatre.

There must be snippets on YouTube or somewhere (over the rainbow?) but I can't find them. Help!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

A View of Forster's Homosexuality

I’ve just finished reading Artic Summer Damon Galgut’s thoroughly researched book on E.M. Forster and his pursuit of love in England, Egypt, and India. He is particularly vivid in portraying Forster’s several visits to India, including his time as the Private Secretary of the Maharajah of Dewas where he engaged in an affair with a young barber. (Needless to say, no mention is made of this in Hill of Devi, the novel he wrote about his time with the maharajah.)  His three year period in Egypt with the Red Cross (1915-18) is less successful, despite his well-known friendships with Cavafy and Muhammad al-Adl whose portrayals – to me, at least – seem stiff and unrealistic. However, I have not seen Forster’s correspondence with either. The book is available in paperback from Europa editions. It received numerous and highly (too?) favorable reviews in the Guardian, the NY Times, and the
Washington Post when it was first published in 2014.

Monday, February 29, 2016

"Persistent Voices" lives up to its name

Once I made it through the Oscars coverage in today's Style section of the Washington Post, I found a dance review by Celia Wren of what sounds like a fascinating multimedia performance by Dakshina/Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company. Presented this past Saturday as part of the Atlas Intersections Festival, it was inspired by the anthology Persistent Voices: Poetry by Writers Lost to AIDS--which was co-edited by none other than our very own Philip Clark!  (We read it as one of our third-Wednesday books during 2010 and 2011.)

The good news is that the piece will be repeated at 1:30 p.m. this coming Saturday, March 5, at the Atlas Theater (1333 H St. NE).  I plan to attend and hope to see some of you there!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The James Family Closet

Colm Toibin on Henry James is always interesting to read. Here's a new article in the Guardian on his family's attempt to keep him in the closet.

the young Henry James.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Carl Phillips

—a worthy addition to our list: Whitman, Houseman, Cavafy, Seth, Gunn, Crane, Merill, Ginsberg, Schneiderman, O'Hara, Bidart …

I hope readers will give him a chance.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

"Silverchest" Links

Carl Phillips' 2013 poetry collection, Silverchest, which we'll be discussing on Feb. 17, can most certainly stand on its own without any critical apparatus.  That said, reading this slender volume (and rereading it) only whetted my appetite to learn more about the poet and his work, so here are a few links for your consideration.

To hear Phillips read the title poem in the collection  

To visit the poet's faculty page (Washington University in St. Louis)

To read a New Yorker review

To read a Lambda Literary review

Monday, February 8, 2016

Glass Menage @ Ford's

From John —

The production of The Glass Menagerie at Ford's Theatre is superb. At the Super Bowl Sunday matinee it got a well-deserved standing ovation. Strong performances by all four actors, including Madeleine Potter as Amanda. Unobtrusive, effective staging. Very interesting to see after our discussions of Williams. The play runs through February 21.

The program advertises two other local Williams productions this spring:
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at Round House Theatre, March 30-April 24
A Streetcar Named Desire at Everyman Theatre (Baltimore), April 13-June 12.

Saturday, January 23, 2016


Snowbound, BookMen continue their Mad Pilgrimmage of the Flesh.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The enormousness of "enormity"

Can't imagine how I've managed to be ignorant (blissfully) of this nit-pick. No one who's serious about such things can be without Webster's Dictionary of English Usage (first published in 1989). Everyone may have their [sic] preferences and I have mine, but it's foolish to presume that they amount to much more than that. Webster's concluding paragraph from its documentary four columns is:

We agree with these two commentators [one of whom, William Safire]. We have seen that there is no clear basis for the "rule" at all [a common conclusion]. We suggest that you follow the writers rather than the critics: writers use enormity with a richness and subtlety that the critics have failed to take account of. The stigmatized sense is entirely standard and has been for more than a century and a half.

My purpose in this post is more to call attention to the work cited than to engage in the dispute. I haven't yet summoned sufficient interest to read the full entry.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

10 @ most photogenic

Merlo, Kazan, Tenn, and Feldman

      "the best photo that Tennessee Williams ever took" — Lee Levine

Wednesday, January 13, 2016


Anyone should get the first four (first six?) of this tongue-twisting acronym … but the last six!? Test yourself before clicking on the link that reveals all. Once you've got it down pat, try it out as a pick-up line in your favorite bar (or at least a conversation starter). Write a "comment" to report on your success.

Reeves Center Parking

Thanks to John for this information:

"There is an underground parking garage with its entrance on the north side of U Street just west of the building housing the DC Center—in fact, I think it's within the same structure. It costs a flat $10 in the evening. I have never found it anywhere close to full. Having circled many blocks down there hunting for a space in the past, I now go right to the garage."

Friday, January 8, 2016

"Disreputable Anal Rhetoric"

Washington Post cultural critic Alyssa Rosenberg (always worth reading), has a new column up titled "What Marlon Brando can teach us about the fight for equality in Hollywood." In it, she praises Susan L. Mizruchi's 2015 book, Brando's Smile, citing its "lessons for socially conscious actors in the legacy and negotiating style of one of their greatest colleagues." Here's the pertinent quote for our purposes, following up on our ongoing discussion of John Lahr's biography of the playwright:

In 1963, Mizruchi points out, Brando went on the "Today" show to read excerpts from Magazine’s coverage of playwright Tennessee Williams, “calling attention to the anal rhetoric and physical slurs so obviously misplaced in a reputable journal,” and criticizing for letting homophobia color the publication’s coverage.

Pretty ballsy for 1963, I'd say!  And it would still be brave today.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Lucky 17!

I don't usually report attendance at our meetings, but I'm so thrilled at the turnout of 17 Bookmen (one brand-new) for tonight's discussion of the first half (five chapters) of John Lahr's Tennessee Williams: Pilgrimage of the Flesh that I thought that worth sharing.  As a bonus, our usual wide-ranging discussion flowed well despite the large crowd.

Besides being remarkable in its own right, that turnout sets a new record for our group.  The previous high-water mark came nearly a decade ago (June 20, 2006), when 16 guys attended a discussion of Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty (also at the Cleveland Park Library).

We'll discuss the biography's second tranche, also consisting of five chapters, four weeks from now, on Feb. 3.  Hope to see lots of you then, too!