By Richard Labonte
“Broadway Nights: A Romp of Life, Love, and Musical Theatre,” by Seth Rudetsky. Alyson Books, 342 pages, $15.95 paper.
For whatever genetic reason, many queer boys have an affinity for show tunes – and some, of course, are obsessively starstruck about Broadway musicals. Curtain up on good times: Broadway pianist (and more recently performer) Rudetsky’s deeply dishy debut novel is just the thing for their inner show queen. Central character Stephen – a Broadway pianist, as it happens – has been toiling in the orchestra pits for years, his Great White Way career established but stalled. And his love life isn’t going anywhere either – his main squeeze is reluctant to leave a rich boyfriend. All that changes, endearingly, when a friend asks Stephen to become musical director of a new show. Pretty chorus boys flirt with the world, backstage liaisons complicate rehearsals, and old friends finally become happy lovers – this is a gay romance, after all. But the real fun of the fictional romp is the wealth of factual showbiz lore – much of it bitchy and most of it hilarious – that theater insider Rudetsky packs into his charmingly giddy plot.
“Wall of Silence,” by Gabrielle Goldsby. Bold Strokes Books, 296 pages, $15.95 paper.
Child molestation, blazing gunplay, menacing double-crosses, ruthless cover-ups, a puzzling suicide, sleazy cop corruption, and trafficking in young children – this is one gritty police procedural. Detective Foster Everett is battling alcohol and relationship demons, not getting along with her female superior, and uneasy being a dyke in a macho office. She and her supportive male partner become enmeshed in a stomach-churning case involving the filming and distribution of kiddie porn, a situation that reaches into the highest ranks of the police department – and runs right into the fabled “wall of silence” that shields law enforcement misdeeds. Goldsby’s zip-quick novel is packed with a multidimensional cast of complex characters, most prominently lesbian bar bouncer Riley Meideros, an aloof woman with unexpected emotional depth for whom Foster inevitably falls. The romance element sizzles with its own tension, but the crackling appeal of this gripping mystery lies in how ably Goldsby depicts unsettling sex crimes and immoral police conduct.
“Jack Nichols, Gay Pioneer: “Have You Heard My Message”,” by J. Louis Campbell III. Harrington Park Press, 348 pages, $29.95 paper.
Nichols, who died in 2005, was a second-generation queer pioneer, a child-of-the-’60s activist who followed in the wake of ’50s forebears like Harry Hay and Hal Call, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon. By the time he was barely 20, he was working with legendary D.C. activist Frank Kameny to found a Washington branch of the Mattachine Society. Before he was 30, he was writing a popular gay column for “Screw,” the notorious heterosexual underground sex newspaper, and then editing – along with his lover, Lige Clarke – the first (albeit briefly) weekly queer newspaper, “Gay.” And he kept up with the times: until shortly before his death, he was editor of an online journal, “GayToday.” Campbell’s welcome biography compiles the facts and chronicles the years of Nichols’ life with affable competence. But the often pedestrian prose doesn’t invest Nichols’ accomplishments as an activist, a visionary, a lover, and an author – he wrote four books, and co-authored two more with Lige – with a truly vivid sense of the personality he brought to queer politics.
“Carry the Word: A Bibliography of Black LGBTQ Books,” edited by Steven G. Fullwood and Lisa C. Moore. Redbone Press/Vintage Entity Press, 212 pages, $16.95 paper.
This compilation of almost 700 black queer titles – fiction and poetry, essays and anthologies, gay studies texts and lesbian biographies – has value enough as a useful library resource. The entries aren’t annotated, though each comes with complete bibliographic information, so tracking down titles is easy enough. And there’s a value-added component: more than two dozen interviews (and a few reviews) that add personality to the book’s bare-bones booklist. SF author and gay novelist Samuel Delany, Audre Lorde biographer Alexis de Veaux, and poets Marvin K. White, Cheryl Boyce Taylor, and Reginald Harris are among the better-known writers profiled; Delany tells what it’s like to be a black, gay, genre writer – and how those three elements don’t overlap much in his life, and de Veaux tells about the 10 years it took her to write about Lorde’s life. But the richest interviews come from lesser-known authors, among them Rashid Darden, R. Erica Doyle, and Travis Montez, who, like their peers, are passionate about the power of black words to chronicle black lives.
Nichols cited an op-ed article written by gay AIDS activist Larry Kramer, in the December 12 “New York Times,” as an example of an ineffective approach. Though Nichols had great respect for Kramer, he expressed the view that Kramer was too bitter and blaming as he urged sexual restraint among gays as a means of curbing HIV infection. While Nichols also believed in responsible behavior, he thought that Kramer sounded too much like “the orgasm police.”
-from “Jack Nichols, Gay Pioneer”
BOOKS TO WATCH OUT FOR: Barnes & Noble has decided it will not carry “Fucking Daphne,” reports the blog of publisher Seal Press – because of the title. The collection of “mostly true stories and fictions” has writers imagining what it would be like to have a sexual encounter with San Francisco-based performance poet Daphne Gottlieb. The book is coming from the Perseus group next spring… REDBONE PRESS has reissued the 1991 Alyson Books anthology “Brother to Brother: New Writings by Black Gay Men,” edited by Essex Hemphill, who took over the project after its original editor, Joseph Beam, died of AIDS in 1988; Hemphill died of AIDS in 1995. The book has a new introduction by University of Texas anthropology professor Jafari Sinclaire Allen, and an afterword by Chuck Tarver, a friend of Hemphill’s. Redbone plans to reissue Beam’s 1986 anthology, “In the Life” – a seminal collection of black gay writing – in a few months. Both books have been out of print for several years… C. BARD COLE’S “This Is Where My Life Went Wrong” is one of five finalists in the “Novel of Novels” contest conducted by BLATT Books, with the winner promised publication next spring. Cole’s gay short story collection, “Briefly Told Lives,” was published by St. Martin’s in 2000.
“Richard Labonte has been reading, editing, selling, and writing about queer literature since the mid-’70s. He can be reached in care of this publication or at [email protected]”