Philip Clark has a thing for books. The 30-year-old high school librarian even says books played a huge part in his coming-out story.
“It really does tie directly into my sexuality,” the Arlington, Va., resident says. “When you’re coming out as a teen and there’s not a lot of information around, you quickly become a really good researcher. I wanted to find out more about what being gay was all about and what other gay people were about so I found a bunch of novels with gay characters and tried to read as much as I could about who I was.”
Seeds were planted that are still bearing fruit. A collection of gay literature on the SMYAL bookshelves instilled Clark with an appreciation for contemporary gay authors. Over the years, though, he’s been saddened to find many of them have died of AIDS and their writings have gone out of print and are hard to find.
During a Lambda Literary Foundation awards reception in New York in 2005, Clark met David Groff who’d been friends with legendary gay author Paul Monette who died of AIDS in the mid-’90s and was managing his estate. The two bonded over their mutual love of poetry and spent years putting together “Persistent Voices: Poetry by Writers Lost to AIDS,” an anthology that finally made its way to print this year.
“I see it as a way of giving back and showing appreciation to these writers whose work meant a lot to me and was very sustaining to me when I was a teen,” Clark says.
A reading from the collection will be held on Nov. 30 for World AIDS Day at the True Reformer Building in Washington. The book can be found on Amazon and other online outlets.
His love of LGBT history also led him to the Rainbow History Project, the board of which he now chairs. That group’s 10th anniversary event is Tuesday in the Sumner School’s Great Hall at 1201 17th St. at 6:30 p.m.
Clark grew up in Arlington and went to college in Williamsburg. He loves anything book related — reading, writing, collecting, selling, promoting and “getting the best of them into other people’s hands.” He has an aversion to reading on screen and admits he’s “very” old-fashioned despite being just 30.
Clark loves long walks in the woods or in the city, reading and spending time with his friends. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
I started letting people know when I was 14. Parents are always the biggest hurdle—even when, as mine did, they react in a reasonable way.
Who’s your gay hero?
There are so many, past and present, but I’ve admired the late gay drag singer Sylvester since I was a teenager. His courage and songs were a positive force. More broadly, all the men and women whose energy and forthrightness and guts have built our culture and brought us what equality we have.
What is Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?
Soho Tea and Coffee has always been a hospitable place for me. I realize that’s not the usual image people have of a nightspot, but, hey, they’re open late.
Describe your dream gay wedding.
I’m conflicted about the whole gay marriage idea and the current obsession with gay weddings does nothing for me.
What non-gay issue are you most passionate about?
Literacy in all its forms. If I see someone’s place and they don’t have books, I really wonder what’s wrong with them.
What historical outcome would you change?
Any one of a number of genocides.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
I got to see Alison Moyet sing live, solo, at the 9:30 club. It may not mean much to anyone else, but she tore the roof off and ruined me for all future concerts.
On what do you insist?
That Amazon is evil. Do not buy from Amazon. Thank you.
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
I posted Joan Armatrading’s video for “Drop the Pilot.” I’m a big ‘80s music fan, and that’s one joyous, sexy song.
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
“The Patron Saint of Lost Causes.”
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
Run in the opposite direction from the scientists.
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
To quote Linus from Peanuts: “The theological implications of that are way beyond me.”
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
OK, getting on my soapbox: each of us individually should be a leader, so let’s get our own house and thinking in order. What’s the movement’s purpose? It’s not (or shouldn’t be) about making sure that well-off, blandly mainstream gays and lesbians can rub elbows with politicians and celebrities who deign to pat their heads and tell them that LGBT people are tolerated. It should be about ensuring that our elders are respected and loved, that our youth are taught their history and taken care of, that effeminate gay men and butch dykes and drag queens are able to walk the streets without fear of being bashed and go to work without fear of being fired and that the love and the sex we share is shown to be so powerful that even the most scared and confused would rather risk blowing open the doors of their closets than miss out on it all. But it’s easier to get dressed up and go to a party or to stick an equality bumper sticker on your car than to do the grand imaginative work this would require, so I don’t expect it to happen.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
It’s clichéd, but anyone I love.
What gay stereotype annoys you most?
I’m more annoyed by how gay people sometimes treat each other than by what others think about us.
What’s your favorite gay movie?
“The Crying Game.” There’s so much more going on there than the existence of Jaye Davidson’s appendage.
What’s the most overrated social custom?
Alcohol consumption as a way to have fun. People tell me that I’d actually have to drink in order to understand how great it is, but I’m not interested.
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
I’m content, but it would be nice if the Wizards could win a championship during my lifetime. It would reward 25 years and counting of rooting for them futilely.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
Not to take everything in life so seriously.
I love the history, the architecture, the museums — but the preoccupation with politics, the glut of lawyers, the humid weather? Keep ‘em! I’m thinking about relocating to New England.