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Fifteen from 1984

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At 81, Kenward Elmslie is the oldest writer still living who was featured in the 1984 fall reading series at A Different Light. A postmodern poet, a librettist, a playwright, even a novelist (The Orchid Stories), Elmslie has pursued his unique artistic vision over the course of more than six decades. It is a testament to how many books he has released and how many projects he has worked on that I have no idea which of the many he was promoting at A Different Light.

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In a reading series full of poets, novelists, dramatists, and performers, George Stambolian stands out for being best known in a supporting role: as an editor and scholar, one of the leading proponents of gay literature in the United States. Many of the best gay novelists of the 1970s through the 1990s owe a huge debt to him for laying the groundwork that would allow their writing to thrive.

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Roche served as a volunteer and occasional writer for the Toronto-based gay newspaper The Body Politic (TBP) from 1976 to 1981. He was described as “a sparkling young fag about town” by renowned Canadian playwright Sky Gilbert, about whom Roche wrote a profile for TBP. In fact, Roche’s sparkling performances were his claim to fame. An early 1980s extended monologue, Dirt is My Profession, found Roche presenting himself in an old-school gown and focusing on his career cleaning people’s houses.

Books, Columns, Culture, Fifteen from 1984, History »

From the sexually profligate Don Juan in the Village to the disturbing S&M fantasies of Leash, Jane DeLynn has been a leading—but not often discussed—lesbian novelist. Beginning with Some Do (1978), DeLynn built a cult audience for her often dark worldview. By the time of her appearance at A Different Light in 1984, DeLynn had released what is still her best known novel, In Thrall (1982).

Books, Columns, Culture, Fifteen from 1984, History »

It was not Jane Chambers, but women listed as the “Friends of Jane Chambers,” who appeared at A Different Light late in November of 1984. Suddenly, tragically, Jane Chambers had died of cancer the previous year, aged only 45. Before her death, though, Chambers had become the leading light of lesbian theater, one of the first dramatists to feature naturalistic portrayals of open lesbians and their friendship groups in her work. Plays like A Late Snow, Last Summer at Bluefish Cove, and My Blue Heaven were gaining notice on the New York stage, and Chambers seemed poised to become much more widely known at the point of her untimely death.

Books, Columns, Culture, Fifteen from 1984, History »

Darrell Yates Rist courted notoriety throughout his career as an open and militant gay journalist. By 1984, he had been published in numerous magazines and newspapers, including Christopher Street, where he would serve for years as a contributing writer, Harper’s, and The New York Native. Shortly after his appearance at A Different Light, he would be one of a group of New York activists (including writer and professor Arnie Kantrowitz and film historian Vito Russo, among others) to found the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), still prominent today in the fight against stereotypical and harmful representations of GLBT people in the media. He was named a writer in residence at Columbia University’s Center for American Cultural Studies.

Books, Columns, Culture, Fifteen from 1984, History »

Ethan Mordden has fashioned a dual career over the course of three decades: one as a musical theater, classic film, and opera historian and commentator and the other as a gay novelist. His appearance at A Different Light in 1984 marked the point where Mordden’s reputation began to tip from one side of the scale to the other, as his cycle of episodic Buddies novels would begin in 1985.

Columns, Culture, Fifteen from 1984, History »

Although more associated with the West Coast, activist and lesbian-feminist poet Judy Grahn appeared at A Different Light in New York to share material from her recently published Another Mother Tongue: Gay Words, Gay Worlds (1984). Another Mother Tongue is still Grahn’s best-known work of nonfiction, and in its combination of gay and lesbian lived experience, culture, and myth, it dovetails with the topics and themes of Grahn’s poetry and fiction.

Columns, Culture, Fifteen from 1984, History »

One of the most prolific writers and editors of the gay liberation era, John Preston was something of a publishing phenomenon by the time he appeared at A Different Light in 1984. Just as with Armistead Maupin (Week 4), Preston had achieved his greatest fame to date with a serialized story. The similarities ended there. Unlike Tales of the City, Preston’s Mr. Benson, the tale of the world’s most perfect leather master and the training of his slave Jamie, was unlikely to be made into a TV minseries.

Columns, Culture, Fifteen from 1984, History »

By the time of his death at the age of 90 in 1999, Britain’s Quentin Crisp was definitely in the running for the best-known gay man of the 20th century, but he hadn’t come to public attention at all prior to the release, in 1968, of his memoir The Naked Civil Servant. Justifiably widely read and still in print (from Penguin Classics, no less), the memoir detailed Crisp’s youth flaunting English gender and sexual mores. Highly effeminate—and perhaps with a death wish—Crisp hennaed his hair, put on makeup, and walked the streets of London in the 1930s, meeting with amazement and sometimes violence from passersby. The Naked Civil Servant goes on to discuss Crisp’s life during World War II and his later work as an artists’ model.