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SPRING ARTS 2018 BOOKS: Fact, fiction and beyond

Queer themes — especially trans memoirs — abound in spring book crop

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gay books spring 2018, gay news, Washington Blade

Out author Amber Dawn returns with her second novel ‘Sodom Road Exit’ on April. 3. (Photo courtesy Dawn)

In her much-anticipated memoir, “Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss and the Fight for Trans Equality” (Crown Archetype, March 6), Sarah McBride tells the story of how she went from closeted student body president at American University to the first transgender person to speak at a national political convention at the age of 26. One of the most prominent transgender activists of her time, McBride interweaves thoughtful analysis of contemporary political issues, such as bathroom access and trans health care, into her own triumphant journey. The book begins with a foreword by Joe Biden.

“Speak No Evil: A Novel” by Uzodinma Iweala (Harper, March 6) just might be the coming-out story of the year, and a Washingtonian one at that. Iweala’s heart-wrenching sophomore novel follows Niru, a seemingly charmed track star at an elite D.C. private school bound for Harvard. Only his best friend Meredith knows he is gay until his sexuality is discovered by his conservative Nigerian father. The repercussions are swift and violent, catastrophic for his relationship with his family and taxing in his friendship with Meredith. The novel is a visceral but compassionate portrait of what it means to be different within a family, let alone society at large.

In “The Affliction” (Four Way Books, March 6), award-winning poet C. Dale Young makes his fiction debut with a novel told in fantastical short stories, spanning the United States and Caribbean. Among the novel’s many memorable characters are a man who can disappear, a woman who can see the future and a man raised in a cult who believes he is doomed to die. Young is openly gay and of Latino and Asian descent. He is also very much left- and right-brained in that he is a full-time physician when not writing and teaching creative writing at Warren Wilson College.

“The Sparsholt Affair” by Alan Hollinghurst (Knopf, March 13) begins with a covert gay relationship at Oxford University in 1940 and spans three generations, masterfully unfolding the social and sexual revolutions that have taken place through present day. Instantly a bestseller in the U.K., the novel is anchored by David Sparsholt and Evert Dax, whose evening trysts at Oxford feel especially under the radar with the world at war. Hollinghurst, who won the Man Booker Prize in 2004, is an openly gay English author.

“Berlin 1936: Sixteen Days in August” by Oliver Hilmes (Brodley Head, March 27) is a fascinating historical account of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Hilmes, a gay German historian, paints an intoxicating picture of the city of Liza Minelli’s “Cabaret” where queer life flourished under the Weimar Republic — contrasted with the terrifying rise of Adolf Hitler. In addition to analyzing the events of the Olympic Games, namely Jesse Owens’ triumph, Hilmes also introduces us to the lives of ordinary (some queer) Berliners. The book is ultimately an ode to the city, which has since reestablished itself as one of the most dynamic creative queer capitals in the world.

Chelsey Johnson’s debut novel, “Stray City” (Custom House, March 20) is the queer anti-“Gilmore Girls” you didn’t know you needed. This warm, hysterical story follows 23-year-old Andrea Morales, who escaped her Midwestern Catholic childhood to create a life for herself in Portland’s vibrant lesbian community. One especially debauched evening, Andrea hooks up with a man and later finds herself pregnant. The novel jumps to a decade later, as Andrea’s precocious daughter Lucia starts asking questions about the father she’s never met.

“Written on the Body,” edited by Lexie Bean (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, March 21), is a collection of essays written by and for trans and non-binary survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. With contributions from Dean Spade, Nyala Moon, Alex Valdes, Sawyer DeVuyst and Ieshai Bailey, this book offers support, guidance and affirmation for trans survivors, whose stories are too often met with incredulousness and skepticism.

Amber Dawn, a Lambda Literary Award winner, returns with her second novel, “Sodom Road Exit” (Arsenal Pulp Press, April 3). This spellbinding paranormal thriller takes place in the summer of 1990 in Crystal Beach. Queer picaresque heroine, Starla Mia Martin, drops out of college and returns to find her lakeside village a ghost town after its beloved amusement park shuts down. Starla soon discovers an unnerving energy in the air — strange sounds, phantasmagoric sightings — and instead of hopping off the rollercoaster, she confronts every twist and turn head-on.

If you’re a poetry fan, “Nepantla: An Anthology Dedicated to Queer Poets of Color” (Nightboat Books, May 1), edited by Christopher Soto, is a stunning celebration of the diversity of the queer poetry community, as varied in style and form as it is in the experiences held by each contributor. Soto launched Nepantla with the Lambda Literary Foundation as an online journal to share the work of queer and trans poets of color. This is its first time in print, featuring canonical pieces by legends like Audre Lorde and James Baldwin alongside their contemporaries, such as Natalie Diaz, Tommy Pico and Chen Chen.

Celebrated novelist Alexander Chee makes his nonfiction debut with “How to Write an Autobiographical Novel” (Mariner Books, April 17). This revealing collection of essays is Chee’s manifesto on what it means to be a contemporary writer and gay man, Korean American, artist, activist, lover and friend. While tracing the most decisive moments of his own life, Chee also examines some of the nation’s biggest historical turning points, from the AIDS crisis to the election of Donald Trump.

“Little Fish” (Arsenal Pulp Press, May 1) is the debut novel from Lambda Literary Award-winning short story writer Casey Plett. The protagonist, Wendy Reimer, is a 30-year-old trans woman who discovers that her late grandfather, a pious Mennonite farmer, was likely transgender as well. In distracting herself from the problems in her own life and those of her friends — from alcoholism, to sex work to suicide — Wendy finds herself fully consumed by this familial mystery and the need to uncover the truth.

“SELF-ish: a Transgender Awakening” (Red Hen Press, May 4), a memoir by Chloe Schwenke, tells of her life and adventures living in five countries and working on projects in more than 40, mostly in Africa and the Middle East. This former Obama Administration appointee, has committed her life to assisting marginalized groups in some of the world’s most challenging countries.

If you haven’t gotten a chance to see it live, snag the paperback of legendary playwright Tony Kushner’s “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures” (Theatre Communications Group, May 8). The play opens with Gus Marcantonio, a retired longshoreman, who has gathered his family together to discuss his decision to commit suicide. Kushner, who wrote “Angels in America” and has won a Pulitzer and two Tony Awards, uses his signature wit in telling a story of revolution, family and challenging the systemic constructs we consider inherent to our society. It will be interesting to see how it translates to the page; Theater J’s D.C. production a few years ago felt like three hours of overlapping screaming.

Out playwright Tony Kushner has adapted his play ’The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide …’ to the written page. (Photo courtesy Berkeley Rep)

Other releases of note include:

“The Routledge History of Queer America” (Routledge Histories), edited by Don Romesburg, offers one of the most comprehensive overviews of LGBT U.S. history, featuring nearly 30 chapters spanning the colonial era to present day. The book is $210 and releases March 14.

“Post-Borderlandia: Chicana Literature and Gender Variant Critique”(Rutgers University Press) by Jackie T. Cuevas synthesizes Chicana/o studies with queer theory and transgender studies, exploring gender identity and expression using the Chicana feminist canon and contemporary thinkers and artists. The book is $26.96 and releases March 28. 

“Transforming: the Bible & the Lives of Transgender Christians” (Westminster John Knox Press) by Austen Hartke challenges the way readers conceptualize faith and the transgender experience, analyzing Biblical figures and providing representation to modern-day trans Christians. The book is $16 and out April 7.

“Picture Us in the Light” by Kelly Loy Gilbert (Disney-Hyperion) is a poignant gay YA novel about Danny Cheng, a young artist bound for college who finds himself inexplicably panicked that he’ll be moving far from his best friend, Harry Wong. He’s also shaken by a disturbing discovery in his father’s closet. The book is $17.99 and releases April 10.

“Not Here” (Coffee House Press) is the latest from critically acclaimed queer Vietnamese-American poet Hieu Minh Nguyen. Nguyen uses a wide variety of styles to provocatively confront whiteness, evoke both pleasure and pain, and find a sense of home in deep loneliness. The book is $16.95 and out April 10.

“The Bride Was a Boy” by Chii (Seven Seas, May 1) is a delightful autobiographical manga novel about a transgender love story, drawn in the style of diary comics. Chii, who was assigned male at birth, begins with her childhood and continues through her latest adventure: marrying the man of her dreams. The book is $12.59 and available May 1.

“Now the Night Begins” (Semiotext(e)/Native Agents) is gay French filmmaker Alain Guiraudie’s first foray into literature, translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman. Adopting his signature film themes, the novel is driven by disconcerting, overpowering sexual desire, centered on 40-year old protagonist Gilles Heurtebise’s all-encompassing obsession with a 90-year old man in his neighborhood. It costs $24.95 and is out May 11.

“50 Queer Music Icons Who Changed the World” (Hardie Grant, May 15), written by Will Larnach-Jones and illustrated by Michele Rosenthal, is a beautiful tribute to the LGBT musicians who have been pushing boundaries since the 1920s, featuring everyone from Little Richard to Frank Ocean. It’s $14.99 and available May 15.

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Laundry is his love language

New book explores author’s fascination with clean clothes

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‘Laundry Love: Finding Joy in a Common Chore’
By Patric Richardson with Karin B. Miller
c.2021, Flatiron Books $25.99/185 pages

Tomorrow’s outfit is on a chair over there.

That’s where it’s been since you last washed it. What you wore today came from a basket and off a hanger, the shirt needed ironing, there was a tiny stain on the pants but who noticed? and you just bought new socks, so there’s that. Time to do the wash? Yeah, but get a load of this: “Laundry Love” by Patric Richardson (with Karin B. Miller).

In one of his earliest memories, Patric Richardson’s uncle holds him aloft so that Richardson could watch laundry swimming in the washer. He was almost a baby then, but the fascination was set: at age three, Richardson was “over the moon” when he received a toy washing machine as a birthday gift. He remembers that it was Harvest Gold.

Growing up, Richardson absorbed washday secrets from an extended family of women and he learned the appeal of laundry hung on a line outside. While at the University of Kentucky, he met three professors who taught him about textiles, and employers educated him further. Love of fabric eventually became Richardson’s career and laundry is his love-language: “caring for your loved ones’ clothes shows them love.”

The first thing to know, Richardson states, is that “our clothes are bossy.” If something you enjoy wearing says “Dry Clean Only” on the label, lay it on the kitchen counter, grab a pair of scissors, and cut that label off because, “anything can be washed at home.”

Here, you’ll learn how to save time on wash day. Find out why big-brand-name detergents are unsafe, and see what you need to care for your clothes properly. Learn to iron, eliminate horrible stains, wash woolens and other awkward-to-clean items, and see how to rescue yellowed linens and special-event clothing like a pro.

Remember, says Richardson: “You don’t have to do laundry – you get to do laundry.”

These days, though, author Patric Richardson doesn’t “get to” very often. His husband, he says, does their wash while Richardson runs a clothing store and offers “Laundry Camp” at the Mall of America. But since not everyone can be a happy camper, there’s “Laundry Love.”

If you’re thinking that a book about joyfully washing clothes would be a mighty skinny book, you’re right but laundry is only a part of this story here. The rest is biography, and a love-letter to Appalachain and southern women. In giving props to the women who raised him, Richardson shows how his interest in fabric grew, too; the subject of textiles, which may be perceived as mundane by many, is treated in this light as something precious and accessible.

If you come for the biography, you’ll be glad you stayed for the hints as Richardson shows how even the most delicate items can be safely home-cleaned. That fur you love? Done. That stinky-perfumed vintage item you found? Clean. Ahhhhhhh, so pick up the undies in the corner, use grandma’s linens, shop thrift stores with impunity. Go ahead, fear-free. Having “Laundry Love” should take a load off your mind.

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Books

Did Doris Duke get away with murder?

New book explores death of heiress’s gay designer

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Doris Duke, gay news, Washington Blade

‘Homicide at Rough Point’
By Peter Lance
c.2021, Tenacity Media Books
$28.79/438 pages

I don’t know if there is an afterlife. But if there is, I hope I don’t meet up with Doris Duke.

Why wouldn’t I want to hang out with Duke, the art collector and tobacco heiress, known as the richest woman in America, who lived from 1912 to 1993?

Because in the fascinating book “Homicide at Rough Point,” investigative journalist Peter Lance illustrates how Duke, believed to have had affairs with many men and women, including Errol Flynn, was likely the meanest woman in America.

On top of that, Lance convincingly argues, Duke got away with murder.

For starters, she’d hire ex-FBI agents to go after her ex-lovers and former employees to make sure they wouldn’t ruin her rep in the media. One night, Duke got angry at Joseph Armand Castro, one of her ex-husbands. He reportedly made a wisecrack while Duke was playing jazz on a piano. Ticked off, she slashed Castro’s arm with a butcher’s knife.

This was child’s play for Duke. Lance, who won five Emmys for his work as a correspondent for WNET and ABC News, makes a compelling case that Duke not only killed a trusted confidant, but used her money and influence to cover up her crime.

Duke had several estates – including “Falcon Lair” in Beverly Hills, the estate Rudolf Valentino purchased in 1925.

One of Duke’s estates, Rough Point, was in Newport, Rhode Island. The estate was on Bellevue Avenue, known as Millionaire’s Row. On Oct. 6, 1966, Eduardo Tirella, 42, flew to Newport from the West Coast. For a decade, he’d been the artistic curator and designer for Duke’s estates. The billionaire hadn’t purchased any art without consulting Tirella. She’d wanted to keep Tirella, who was gay, by her side.

Tirella no longer wanted to work for Duke. Against the warnings of his partner, the sculptor Edmund Kara, and his friends, he decided to tell Duke in person that he was quitting.

Tirella, a New Jersey native, grew up, one of nine children, in a working class family. He earned a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts fighting in World War II.

After the war, Tirella designed hats for Saks Fifth Avenue and the gossip doyennes Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons.

He moved to the West Coast, where he and Kara lived fairly openly as a gay couple. Tirella designed Elizabeth Taylor’s shack for the movie “The Sandpiper.” Kara designed the bust of Taylor that’s seen in the same movie. The couple partied with friends from Kim Novak to Bobby Short.

As Tirella prepared to leave Duke, his work on the West Coast was amping up. He was the set designer for the Tony Curtis movie “Don’t’ Make Waves.” He’d earned $43,000 (about $351,000 in today’s money) the year of his death, Lance reports.

Duke, who Lance calls “the possessive, often violent heiress” wasn’t at all pleased that Tirella was leaving. People who were around Duke and Tirella then, told Lance that on Oct. 7, 1966, after Tirella said he was leaving, the two had a “wicked fight.”

Minutes later, Duke ran Tirella over with her car outside the gates of Rough Point, Lance reports. “Because Doris Duke had the money and the power,” he writes, “she succeeded in effectively erasing his death from the narrative of her controversial life.”

The Newport police said Tirella’s death was an “unfortunate accident.” Soon after Tirella died, Lance reports, Duke, who hadn’t contributed to Newport before, became philanthropic. She created the Newport Restoration Foundation to revive the city’s tourism.

For Lance, a Newport native, something about the case, “sat unsolved, like a stone in my shoe,” he writes.

When F. Scott Fitzgerald said the rich “are different from you and me,” he was so on point! “Homicide at Rough Point” is a captivating memoir of gumshoe journalism and an entertaining travelogue of Newport, where the rich and eccentric have lived since the American Revolutionary War.

Above all, it is an arresting reminder: If you’re rich and powerful enough, you can cover-up anything – even murder.

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Books

Hemingway: Brilliant writer or avatar of toxic masculinity?

New documentary breaks through the ‘Papa’ mystique

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Ernest Hemingway, gay news, Washington Blade

Ernest Hemingway’s work is widely available in print, e-book and audio formats.

“I went to the garage and cried when your Mom died,” my Dad told me a half century ago, “I didn’t want anyone to see me crying.”

“Men aren’t supposed to cry,” he added

“Why?” I asked.

“Read Hemingway,” he said, “ then you’ll know why.”

Decades later, we still avidly read Hemingway, who lived from 1899 to 1961.

We heatedly debate: Was Hemingway one of America’s greatest writers (a 20th century Mark Twain or Walt Whitman)? Or an avatar of toxic masculinity?

Gertrude Stein taught him about writing. Yet, in his work, he made homophobic references to “fairies.” He wrote with empathy of women dying in childbirth, while penning paragraph after paragraph about bullfights.

But, “Hemingway,” a new three-part documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick streaming on PBS, makes Hemingway, with all his contradictions, come alive. Actors from Jeff Daniels to Patricia Clarkson to Meryl Streep bring Hemingway, his parents and wives (he was married four times) to life.

“Hemingway” reveals that Hemingway, the ultimate man’s man, was into androgyny – what we’d today call gender fluidity.

Hemingway’s story is well known. Born in Oak Park, Ill., he was a reporter with the Kansas City Star, before he enlisted as an ambulance driver in World War I. During the War, Hemingway was wounded and fell in love with a nurse, who rejected him.

He and his first wife Hadley Richardson moved to Paris in the early 1920s. There, Hemingway worked for a while as a reporter, then quit to become a “starving” writer. His hunger pangs enhanced his writing. “Hunger is good discipline,” he wrote in “A Moveable Feast,” his memoir of his time in Paris in the 1920s.

Actually, Hemingway wasn’t poor in Paris. Hadley had a trust fund. In Paris, Gertrude Stein and other writers mentored him. “The Sun Also Rises,” his first novel, published in 1926 was a critical and commercial success.

After that, Hemingway lived in Key West, Fla., and Cuba; and was a war correspondent in the Spanish Civil War and World War II. He received the Nobel Prize in literature in 1954. Everyone from Marlene Dietrich to GIs in World War II called him “Papa.”

At 61, he killed himself in Ketchum, Idaho, where he and his fourth wife Mary Welsh lived.

“Hemingway,” breaks through the “Papa” mystique. Hemingway’s father, suffering from depression, killed himself. (Hemingway would suffer from depression, traumatic brain injuries and alcoholism.) His mother Grace dressed Hemingway and his sister identically when they were young. She gave them toy rifles and dolls to play with.

Later, Hemingway and Welsh liked to switch roles in bed, says Mary V. Dearborn, author of a terrific bio of Hemingway.

Hemingway would be the girl and Welsh would be the boy. They cut their hair to the same length. “In a way, he wanted to be a woman in love with another woman,” Dearborn says.

Not surprisingly for his time, Hemingway was enraged when his son Greg (who was trans and later known as Gloria) was arrested in 1951 for wearing women’s clothing in a women’s restroom. The two later reconciled.

The documentary helped me understand why I love some of Hemingway’s work (“The Sun Also Rises,” “A Farewell to Arms,” “A Moveable Feast”).

For despite his he-man image, Hemingway writes movingly of love and death. Through his deceptively simple, repetitive sentences, he makes you feel life as you read. Hot off the page.

What we remember most from his books isn’t the wars or the bullfights. It’s Catherine dying in child birth in “A Farewell to Arms.”

It’s the woman in the short story “Hills Like Elephants.” Her boyfriend keeps trying to pressure her into having an abortion. “Please, please, please, please, please, please, please, would you just stop talking?” she says to him when he won’t stop mansplaining.

It’s David and Catherine, the couple in the posthumously published “The Garden of Eden,” who, defying convention, switch gender and sexual roles.

Hemingway is a writer for our moment, when we’re struggling with toxic masculinity and viewing gender in new ways. Check out “Hemingway,” on PBS online. Better yet, read one of Hemingway’s books.

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