By Keith Orr
In 1980 and 1981, seven gay writers met in New York. They were as much a support group as a writing “school.” They were attempting to write serious fiction, but no one was taking them seriously. The prevailing view of publishers was that the only gay male fiction was porn. The group was known as the Violet Quill, and collectively they formed the birth of contemporary post-Stonewall gay literature. The characteristic trait of the group was that their literature accepted gay characters as simply being. No explanations were made nor needed as to how they came to be. Their writing was “of gay, by gay and for gay.” The group was heralded in SoHo Weekly News in November 1980 in an article titled “Fag Lit’s New Royalty,” subtitled “A Moveable Brunch – A Fag Lit Mafia.”
Only three survive: Andrew Holleran, Edmund White and Felice Picano. They remain close. Of the three, Felice Picano is the most prolific and certainly the one who has published in more genres than any of the others. Most recently he has been producing a variety of autobiographies and memoirs.
He is currently on a Midwest tour with Carlos T. Mock. Picano has two new works, “True Stories, Too” and “Nights at Rizzolli.” Puerto Rican born author Carlos T. Mock is joining him with his recent collection of memories and anecdotes titled Historias. They will be reading from them at Common Language Bookstore at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 22.
I spoke with Picano recently about his tour and his new works. He said, “I’ve reached an age – I’ll be 71 next February – when I can actually begin to look back objectively and see patterns in my life.”
His works have included fiction, non-fiction, plays and criticism. His work as a publisher and editor has started the careers of scores of younger gay writers. And now he says, “The gay icon and actress Mae West once said, “Keep a diary when you are young, and when you are old, it will keep you.’ I’m testing out that theory with these recent books of true stories and memoirs.”
“True Stories, Too” chronicles his own past as well as a sense of place in time: New York, San Francisco, L.A. and more. He writes for the first time of his dysfunctional family. He notably explores the still unsolved mystery of the murder of his uncle at the age of 9 in 1923 in rural Rhode Island.
One of Picano’s early jobs was at the legendary Rizzolli bookshop in Manhattan. The store was frequented by artists, writers, musicians and poets. He met many of them. Picano told me, “I’ve always considered myself a rather uninteresting person. But the people I’ve met are anything but, so these are a lot of little biographies of extraordinary men and women I happened to come into contact with.”
Picano lucked into a job at Rizzolli in 1971 through a friend. “Nights at Rizzoli” is the story of his life at the bookshop as a near-starving young writer. He tells of the romance and drama at the store, the cultural milieu which frequented it and of the after-hours nightlife of a burgeoning underground gay New York City.
This is the writer’s second visit to Common Language. His previous visit included the only staged reading of his epistolary novella, “Ingoldsby.” Hearing and meeting this legend in LGBT writing and publishing is a unique opportunity.