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FALL ARTS 2019: BOOKS — ‘Revisiting Gilead’

‘Handmaid’s’ sequel, Van Ness and Rippon memoirs, posthumous Windsor bio, epic Sontag study and more among fall releases

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Fall Arts Books, gay news, Washington Blade
(Book covers courtesy of the publishers)

Inspirational “tell-alls” from athletes, activists and celebrities comprise many of the highly anticipated LGBT books slated for release in the coming months.

Kicking things off Sept. 3 was the release of former NFL player Ryan O’Callaghan’s memoir “My Life on the Line: How the NFL Damn Near Killed Me and Ended Up Saving My Life.” O’Callaghan’s work reveals the physical and emotional pain driving his addictions and suicidal thoughts while struggling as a closeted lineman for the New England Patriots and later the Kansas City Chiefs. His journey to self-acceptance is challenging as it detours through the hyper masculine world of professional football.

“We are Lost and Found” by Helene Dunbar is a coming-of-age story of a group of gay friends struggling to find their identities against the backdrop of the early 1980’s AIDS crisis. This YA novel provides an interesting way for youth of all backgrounds to explore a dark history that is rarely discussed. It was released Sept. 3.

Finding poetry in Drunktown, N.M., where men “only touch when they fuck in a backseat” is exactly what Jake Skeets had done with “Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers.” This debut collection finds beauty in brutal sex against an unforgiving landscape, yet also reveals unexpected love. Blending Navajo history with mining culture, Skeets’ work was selected as a winner of the 2018 National Poetry series. It was released Sept. 10.

Also released earlier this week was “The Testaments: the Sequel to the Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood. Since the hit Hulu series captured fire, Atwood opted to finally write a follow-up to her acclaimed 1985 novel upon which the series is based. It picks up Offred’s story 15 years after the first book and weaves in strands of story from the show that weren’t in the original book.

“Sontag: Her Life and Work” by Benjamin Moser explores the writing, public radicalism and private thoughts of queer activist Susan Sontag, who wrote on feminism, homosexuality, drugs and fascism long before these issues went mainstream. She was there for the Cuban Revolution, the Vietnam War and the fall of the Berlin Wall. She covered it all while enduring intense relationships with glamorous lovers. This hefty work — it’s more than 700 pages — explores her public successes and private failures with an eye toward history that makes it a must read. Out Sept. 17.

Releasing the same day is “Space Between: Explorations of Love, Sex and Fluidity” by gender-fluid actor and model Nico Tortorella, who has had roles in “Scream 4,” “The Following” and “Younger.” It investigates love, sex, gender, addiction, family, fame and fluidity through their personal story and through the lens of their nonbinary identity. This memoir tells of their dark journey through pain and addiction toward sobriety and an unconventional marriage outside the gender binary. This title is available for pre-order on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

“Queer Eye’s” Jonathan Van Ness’s memoir “Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love” is out Sept. 24.

Poet (and regular Blade contributor) Kathi Wolfe’s new book “Love and Kumquats: New and Selected Poems” will be published by BrickHouse Books in October. She will read selections at Busboys & Poets (14th and V) on Oct. 20. 

“The Boy Who Listened to Paintings: A Memoir” by Benjamin Saltman Poetry Award winner Dean Kostos explores a point in his life when he was bullied to the brink of suicide and spent two years in the mental hospital where his mother had stayed. This work addresses mental illness in adolescents and celebrates the transformative power of art. Available Oct. 1.

Edie Windsor sued the U.S. government for the right to marry Thea Spyer, her partner of 40 years, and she won. “A Wild and Precious Life” is her posthumous memoir (she died in 2017) describing gay life in 1950s and ’60s New York and her longtime activism which opened the door to marriage equality. Available Oct. 8.

Selected by O Magazine, Marie Claire and others as one of the most anticipated books of fall 2019, “How We Fight For Our Lives” by Saeed Jones is a memoir about a young, black gay man coming of age in the South as he fights to carve out a place for himself in his family as well as his country. Fans of the film “Moonlight” will appreciate the honesty and vulnerability displayed in this work. Set for release Oct. 8.

Olympic medalist Adam Rippon’s memoir “Beautiful on the Outside” releases Oct. 15 and blends humor with history as he shares his journey through the world of competitive figure skating. 

Deborah Levy’s “The Man Who Saw Everything” is novel that blurs the sexual and political binaries of masculine and feminine while telling the story of a narcissistic young historian who travels to Communist East Berlin in 1988 to publish a story favorable to the regime. It’s slated for Oct. 15.

“A Year Without A Name” by Cyrus Grace Dunham is a memoir detailing their painful evolution from lovable little girl, to gay woman to nonbinary queerness. Dunham lays bare their personal experience to help readers feel the anguish of binary limitations but also the profound freedom of acceptance without resolution. Dunham’s book also releases Oct. 15 and is available for pre-order

Find Me,” the sequel to queer love story “Call Me By Your Name” by Andre Aciman, is slated for an Oct. 29 release and will let the world know what became of Elio, Oliver and Elio’s father, now divorced. The original novel inspired the 2017 film adaptation by Luca Guadagnino, which became a monster hit.

Trans novelist (and former D.C. resident) Alex Myers returns with his sophomore novel “Continental Divide,” about a trans protagonist heading West to Wyoming in search of a new life, in November. 

Carmen Maria Machado, winner of the Lambda Lesbian Fiction Literary Award for her debut short story collection, “Her Body and Other Parties,” has a new memoir coming out Nov. 5 called “In the Dream House.” This work is an account of an abusive relationship with a charismatic but volatile woman. Throughout the memoir Machado struggles to make sense of what happened to her and how it shaped the person she would become. “Dream House” is available now on Amazon for pre-order.

“Becoming Eve: My Journey from Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi to Transgender Woman” is Abby Stein’s memoir about being raised in a Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn. But instead of becoming a leader of the next generation of Hasidic Jews, she leaves her home, her family, her way of life to become the person she was meant to be. Stein’s memoir releases Nov. 12.

The alternative historical drama “Legislating Love: the Everett Klippert Story” by Natalie Meisner blends fiction with queer history as it tells the story of Maxine, a Canadian social policy researcher, who discovers the story of Everett Klippert, the last Canadian man jailed for homosexuality. Fascinated, she interviews the people who knew him while navigating her own relationship with Tonya. Set for release Nov. 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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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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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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