by Richard Labonte
“Impossible Princess,” by Kevin Killian. City Lights Books, 168 pages, $14.95 paper.
What’s the secret of Killian’s prodigious talents with prose, poetry, plays, biographies – and, as is the case with most of the tales in this genius collection, literary porn? All is revealed in “Rochester” (written with Tony Leuzzi), in which a star-struck reader of “this great man” finally meets “Kevin Killian” after hot and heavy e-mail correspondence – only to find he’s a dirty old man living with a chimpanzee who hammers out stories for him on a battered electric typewriter. “Spurt,” more grounded in morose reality, is about a jaded commuter’s motel trysts with damaged men; erotic fantasy also fuels “Too Far,” in which a virginal, sexually confused swimming pool salesman, obsessed by Kylie Minogue, meets a has-been British pop star who tickles his libido. Five of the 10 short stories in this exhilarating collection by one of gay lit’s luminaries are reprints – but because the books in which they originally appeared are long out of print, and because they’re so darned good, this collection is as good as new.
“My Red Blood: A Memoir of Growing Up Communist, Coming Onto the Greenwich Village Folk Scene, and Coming Out in the Feminist Movement,” by Alix Dobkin. Alyson Books, 272 pages, $16.95 paper.
From an elder Paul Robeson to young Bill Cosby, from folk music statesman Pete Seeger to a boyish Bob Dylan, from registering black voters in the racially turbulent South of the 1960s with Judy Collins to encountering Gloria Steinem at a feminist conference abroad: Dobkin documents a breathtaking array of artistic friends and political activists in this compelling and candid memoir. The book recounts her Communist Party youth, her emergence as a female folk troubadour in the early ’60s, and her coming out (after one marriage and several men) in 1972, the year before she released “Lavender Jane Loves Women,” said to be the first openly lesbian LP. Not many queer memoirs credit the FBI – wryly – for providing its author with dates and places that had slipped her memory; Dobkin was under government surveillance from ages 13 to 30. The author’s account of attempting a self-induced abortion is wrenching; her closing chapter about accepting her lesbian self is celebratory; her life story is an epic journey through decades of musical, feminist and sexual ferment.
“A Report from Winter,” by Wayne Courtois. Lethe Press, 284 pages, $18 paper.
For 10 years, Courtois maintained an aloof emotional and geographic distance from his family in Portland, Maine, content to forge a settled domestic life with his partner, Ralph. When he does come “home,” it’s to spend time with his bed-bound, cancer-stricken, dying mother; to butt heads with his also-gay but impossibly square brother; and to bond with a feisty, favorite aunt; his father hovers mostly in the background. Their varied personalities pepper this compassionate, spiritual memoir – but Courtois’ account of returning to his boyhood haunts is as much about the place he grew up in, and how it shaped his life, as it is about the people he grew up around, and then distanced himself from. Every other half of a gay couple will find shades of himself in Ralph’s arrival to “meet the family”; Wayne, fearfully alone, asked his partner to come provide the kind of nurturing, loving support lacking from his own dysfunctional family. There is wit here, and heartbreak, and grief. But, mostly, this is a memoir about living a good life.
“Hos, Hookers, Call Girls, and Rent Boys: Professionals Writing on Life, Love, Money, and Sex,” edited by David Henry Sterry and R.J. Martin, Jr. Soft Skull Press, 334 pages, $15.95 paper.
If you’re a queer fellow, you’re likely to first sniff out the “rent boy” pieces in this scintillating collection of sassy, sexy and certainly informed essays by sex workers. So, for quick reference, among those would be entries from Perry Brass, who purveyed his lithe bod as a young hitchhiking adventurer; Alvin Orloff, who decided at an age older than most to become a nude dancer; Tod Jackson, who for two years was “Young, Dumb, and Full of Cum”; Kirk Read, who shows up to hotel rooms with toys for every occasion; Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, who wonders when the sex crosses over to rape; and Justin Jones, a one-time Olympic hopeful who turned a dot.com disaster into a thriving web-cam business. But, please, don’t give the other 50 or so writers short shrift. Some are well known, and fine writers: performer Annie Sprinkle, sex educator Carol Queen, “happy hooker” Xavier Hollander, British writer Sebastian Horsley. But the oral histories by hos and hookers that conclude this collection – funny and tragic, matter-of fact and terrifying – give the book its authentic heft.
After my relationship with Nancy ended, I told Louise that we had been lovers. She was surprised. “I didn’t think you had the guts to actually do anything,” she said. Of course, we hadn’t done that much. On the other hand, many years after I had come out, Louise heard me mention having been “straight,” and remarked, “You were never straight, Alix.” Maybe not, but I was certainly nothing like that crowd of women with whom Louise hung out. Their world seemed gray, shadowy, and wounded: a world where saloons provided common ground and alcohol was currency. Finding a multitude of differences between me and lesbians, I was grateful for the discomfort I experienced.
-from “My Red Blood,” by Alix Dobkin
MICHAEL NAVA, author of seven acclaimed mystery novels featuring attorney Henry Rios – five of which won Lambda Literary Awards – has launched a campaign for San Francisco Superior Court Judge; the election is in June 2010. Nava’s 28-year career as an attorney in both private practice and working for judges, his wide-ranging endorsements, and a call for donations can be found at navaforjudge.com; his much-less-dry, engagingly personal chronicle of running for elective office is at michaelnava.blogspot.com… GRANT MICHAELS, pen name for Boston resident Michael Mesrobian, died recently of cancer; he was the author of six novels (among them “Love You To Death,” “Mask for a Diva” and “A Body to Dye For”) featuring sassy hairdresser Stan Kraychik and the hunky straight cop after whom he lusted, Lt. Vito Branco… GORE VIDAL was awarded the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters by the National Book Foundation at its Nov. 18 awards ceremony; past winners include Saul Bellow, Toni Morrison, Adrienne Rich and Norman Mailer… EVEN THOUGH her most recent novel, “The Little Stranger,” isn’t lesbian, the U.K.’s leading gay rights group, Stonewall, named Sarah Waters (“Tipping the Velvet,” “Fingersmith,” “The Night Watch”) as Writer of the Year; also nominated were “Milk” screenplay writer Dustin Lance Black; Geraldine Bedell, whose novel “The Gulf Between Us” was banned at a Dubai book festival because it featured a gay character; British TV personality Paul O’Grady, author of the autobiography “At My Mother’s Knee…and Other Low Joints”; and British playwright and critic Nicholas de Jongh.