Connect with us

a&e features

‘The End’ is the beginning: an interview with Wayne Hoffman

Gay author’s new book features a family mystery and coping with Alzheimer’s

Published

on

Author Wayne Hoffman’s new book is ‘The End of Her: Racing Against Alzheimer’s to Solve a Murder.

Writer Wayne Hoffman’s name will be familiar to readers of gay fiction, including those who enjoy an erotic edge to what they’re reading. His novels include “Hard,” “Sweet Like Sugar,” and “An Older Man.” Hoffman’s journalism career has also earned him a following via publications such as The Nation, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Billboard, and The Forward, as Tablet Magazine, where he is presently editor. For his new book, the non-fiction work “The End of Her: Racing Against Alzheimer’s to Solve a Murder” (Heliotrope Books, 2022), he called on his skills as a journalist and storyteller, to unravel a family mystery, all the while coming to terms with his mother Susan’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis and subsequent decline. The result is a kind of PBS’ “Finding Your Roots” crossed with Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot. Hoffman was kind enough to answer a few questions about his book in a recent interview.

BLADE: Wayne, you’re known as both a journalist and a novelist. When thinking about writing your new book, ‘The End of Her: Racing Against Alzheimer’s to Solve a Murder,’ did you always know that you would tell the story in a non-fiction format, or had you considered writing it as a novel?

WAYNE HOFFMAN: I knew it’d be non-fiction because my goal was to find out the facts about what really happened to my great-grandmother—was she really murdered, and if so, by whom? I could have made up a story and turned it into a novel. But that’s what other relatives had basically already done, with the outlandish legends about her that they’d passed down as family lore. I wanted to focus instead on uncovering the truth, as much as possible.

BLADE: After having written three novels, what impact did creating a work of nonfiction have on you as a journalist?

HOFFMAN: I’m used to daily and weekly journalism—reporting quickly, writing quickly, publishing quickly, and moving on quickly. And I’m used to writing novels—having years to write and revise. This was a new combination: I was reporting, but without any solid deadline. I could go back and rethink things, look for new sources, change conclusions, rewrite a thousand times. That’s a luxury journalists rarely get. If I hadn’t had that time—if I’d had to publish what I’d found after the first few weeks or months—I wouldn’t have understood what really happened.

BLADE: How much did your time as an editor at the Forward and Tablet come in handy in your research?

HOFFMAN: Being a newspaper and magazine editor allowed me to imagine what I’d say if a writer turned in what I’d written, and see what pieces were still missing. But working specifically in the Jewish press—the Forward and now Tablet—for the past 20 years also gave me a broader understanding of the larger context around my great-grandmother’s murder: the waves of Yiddish-speaking immigrants coming to North America from Eastern Europe in the early 1900s, how they did and didn’t assimilate, how they tried to build not just families but larger communities, how they found new ways to make a living.

BLADE: I’m glad you mentioned immigration because ‘The End of Her’ is many things including an immigrant story, both American and Canadian, with an emphasis on Jews in Manitoba, a subject that may be new to many readers. What was it like exploring that, both on a personal and professional level?

HOFFMAN: It was fascinating because so much of the story was both unknown to me and unexpected. I knew there were plenty of Jews who immigrated to Manitoba—Winnipeg in particular, which is where my family settled, and where my great-grandmother was murdered. But I couldn’t have imagined what their lives were like. My great-grandfather was basically a cowboy, riding horses and buying cattle on the prairies of Saskatchewan; his brothers were almost certainly bootleggers. Who knew? When I went to the tiny town of Canora, Saskatchewan, to dig into that slice of my family’s history, I had never imagined I’d end up there. But then I thought, I bet my great-grandfather, who grew up in Russia, thought the same thing when he arrived a hundred years ago!

BLADE: Religion and religious traditions also figure prominently. What makes it unique is that they are written about from a gay perspective. In what ways do you think religion has made you the person you are today?

HOFFMAN: I grew up in a traditional Jewish home—I kept kosher, went to synagogue every week, went to Jewish summer camps, attended Hebrew school, took classes at the Jewish Community Center. So, it certainly had a huge influence on who I am today. Coming out as a teenager—as gay and atheist—complicated all of that. Some things fell by the wayside: I don’t keep kosher or go to synagogue anymore. My brother is a rabbi, and he goes to synagogue enough for both of us [laughs]. But I’m still strongly culturally identified, and working in the Jewish press, I spend every day steeped in Jewish culture and the Jewish community—all of it as a very public, very open gay man. Yeesh! Look at my novels—there’s no way to pretend I’m not super-gay [laughs].

BLADE: As you said earlier, ‘The End of Her’ is about family lore and learning as much as possible about it while your mother, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, can both provide details, and benefit from the solving of your great grandmother Sarah’s murder. Do you think with this book you may inspire others to clarify longstanding family myths?

HOFFMAN: I hope so. We have so many tools now to help us understand our personal histories in terms of genetics and DNA. Those are things you can discover from a drop of blood, or a swab. But what about the parts of our history that aren’t stored in our blood or our genes, but in our memories? You can find out a lot from documents—whether they’re official documents like birth certificates or personal documents like letters. But some things you can only find out from relatives and friends who remember things. The more of those people you can contact—before it’s too late—the richer picture you can create of your family’s history, and your own. That might clear up mysteries and scandals, or it might reveal mysteries and scandals you didn’t know existed, which might even be more interesting.

BLADE: In writing about your own, and your immediate family’s, experiences in dealing with your mother’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, you share heartbreaking and devastating details. For example, the frustration with physicians unable to comprehend the intricacies of treating an Alzheimer’s patient as in chapter 29. Was it your intention for the book to be a tool for others going through a version of something similar?

HOFFMAN: Definitely. There are a lot of resources for people trying to understand what someone with Alzheimer’s is going through—or will go through. But there aren’t enough stories for those same people trying to understand how the disease will affect them, too, as family members or friends, or caregivers. We have our own journey, and I hope that people who read what I went through, and how my family dealt with things—the parts we got right and wrong, and the choices we made—will understand a bit more about what they’re really facing.

BLADE: Have you started thinking about or working on your next book project?

HOFFMAN: I have a few projects sketched out, and even begun. At some point, I’ll sit down and spread them out on my desk, and one of them will (I hope) call out to me, “Me, me! I’m next [laughs]!”

Continue Reading
Advertisement
FUND LGBTQ JOURNALISM
SIGN UP FOR E-BLAST

a&e features

Netflix resurrects Dahmer, triggering criticism

Milwaukee gay activist says series re-traumatizes victims’ families

Published

on

Jeffrey Dahmer was killed in prison in 1994.

A 10-episode series on gay serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer released by Netflix on Sept. 21 captures in chilling detail Dahmer’s 13-year murder spree that took place mostly in Milwaukee between 1978 and 1991 in which 17 young mostly gay men, 11 of whom were Black, lost their lives.

The dramatized series, with actor Evan Peters playing the lead role of Dahmer, shows how Dahmer met many of his victims in Milwaukee gay bars, lured them to his apartment by promising to pay them to pose for nude photographs, and drugged and strangled them to death before mutilating and sometimes cannibalizing their bodies.

The series, called “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story,” has set a record for being the most watched first week release of any Netflix streaming series, according to media reports.

But one viewer who said he stopped watching the series after the first two episodes is longtime Milwaukee gay activist Scott Gunkel, who worked as a bartender at one of the gay bars where Dahmer met at least two of the young men he murdered.

Gunkel, 62, told the Blade he and others of his generation who lived through the trauma of the Dahmer murder spree view the Netflix series as yet another movie rehashing a troubling and painful occurrence.

“It really won’t, I don’t think, aid anybody,” he said. “I don’t think the victims’ families and friends will want to watch and hear this. So, this is just re-victimizing the people that went through this personally.”

Added Gunkel, “I knew a couple of the people he killed – patrons of the bar. They weren’t close friends. I just happened to know that they came to my bar, and I served them drinks.”

“There has been a big effort to have people boycott Netflix over this,” Gunkel said. “And I’m like, OK, it is a macabre story. I don’t know if you need to go quite that far with a boycott. Just don’t watch it,” he said.

Netflix has said the series is respectful to the victims and their families and its aim is to tell the story of how and why Dahmer became one of America’s most notorious serial murderers “as authentically as we could,” according to a statement by Peters in a promotional video posted on Twitter.

Gunkel and others familiar with the Dahmer case point out that few if anyone in Milwaukee or elsewhere knew a serial killer was on the loose in their community until the time of Dahmer’s arrest on July 22, 1991, after his 18th potential victim escaped and contacted police.

Police and prosecutors at that time revealed the discovery of body parts and other evidence found in Dahmer’s apartment, including multiple photos that Dahmer had taken of the corpses and body parts of his victims. Dahmer a short time later confessed to having committed 17 murders, the first in Ohio and the others in Wisconsin, with most taking place in Milwaukee where he lived. He provided prosecutors with the full gruesome details of how he carried out those murders.

Media reports show Dahmer pleaded guilty to 15 of the 17 murders on grounds of insanity, which resulted in a two-week trial to determine whether he was legally sane when he committed the murders. In February 1992, the jury found him sane in each of the murders. A judge then sentenced him to 15 consecutive sentences to life in prison.

Two years later, at the age of 34, Dahmer was beaten to death at Wisconsin’s Columbia Correctional Institution by an inmate who told authorities that God told him to kill Dahmer. 

Gunkel said some in the Milwaukee gay community and the African-American community reached out to each other when the list of Dahmer’s victims released by police shortly after his arrest showed most were Black gay men.

Gunkel said he remembers the news reports of several Black women who lived near the apartment building in the mostly Black neighborhood saying they tried to alert police to what they suspected was criminal activity by Dahmer.

One of the reports that triggered widespread criticism of how the police allegedly mishandled the Dahmer case involved a Black woman who called police when she saw someone she described as an Asian boy standing outside the apartment building where Dahmer lived naked and bleeding with just a towel wrapped around him.  

It later became known that the person the woman saw was Konerak Sinthasomphone, a 14-year-old Laotian immigrant, who Dahmer met on the street, lured to his apartment, and drugged. Reports show the youth escaped from the apartment after Dahmer left to go to a store to replenish his own supply of liquor.

When Dahmer returned, he saw police talking to Konerak and the woman outside the apartment building and quickly told one of the officers that the youth was 19 years old and was in a gay relationship with him and the two had a lover’s quarrel.

To the amazement of members of the LGBTQ and African-American communities, who later learned of this development, the police allowed Dahmer to take the youth back to his apartment. One of the officers reportedly made a homophobic remark about his interaction with Dahmer and the youth in a recorded comment to a police dispatcher. Dahmer later killed Konerak, police reports show.

Community activists, including Gunkel, who at the time was president of the Milwaukee gay rights group Lambda Rights Network, said the police disregard for the concern raised by the Black woman, who believed Konerak was in danger, was an example of how racial bias on the part of at least some in the Milwaukee police department may have enabled Dahmer to continue his killing spree.

In the weeks following sometimes sensational media reports and statements by police about Dahmer’s role as a confessed gay mass murderer, LGBTQ activists in Milwaukee reported a sharp rise in anti-gay harassment and threats, including harassment targeting gay bar patrons.

“Although gay people were among Dahmer’s victims, biased statements on the part of the police and some media have linked his murderous behavior to all gay and lesbian people,” the then National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said in a statement.

An August 1991 story in the Washington Blade reports that Gunkel expressed strong concern that a police investigator used the term “homosexual overkill” to describe Dahmer’s action. Gunkel and other activists also pointed to police statements that Dahmer confessed to having engaged in sex with some of his victims and most of the victims were Black. But the police and media reports at the time did not also report that nearly all the victims were also gay.

Rather than being seen as victims, Gunkel said, gays were being portrayed as predators through a “prism” of longtime stereotypes. “We look at this as a hate crime,” said Gunkel in his 1991 comment reported in the Blade. “His patronizing of gay bars shows he was stalking gays. The bars were his feeding grounds.”

Gunkel told the Blade in a phone interview last week, 31 years after Dahmer’s arrest and the revelations of the scope of his murder spree, gay bar patrons at the time the killings were taking place did not equate the disappearance of bar patrons with anything particularly unusual.

He noted that at the time, the AIDS epidemic was still going strong and he and others at the bars sometimes thought a regular customer who suddenly stopped coming to the bar may have gotten sick.

“So, a lot of people stopped going out when they started getting sick,” he said, “And other people would get into relationships and stop going out,” Gunkel told the Blade. “And when they didn’t show up people just kind of blew it off as somebody who’s not around anymore.”

According to Gunkel, the sensational revelations of Dahmer’s killing spree and the fact that he met many of his victims in Milwaukee gay bars prompted many in the LGBTQ community to stop going to bars and gay meeting places. But he said that didn’t last very long.

Gunkel said that like others who lived through what he calls the macabre time that Dahmer’s actions became known, the Netflix series brought back his own memories of interacting with Dahmer at Club 219, the Milwaukee gay bar where he worked as a bartender.

“The few times that I saw him at the bar I refused to serve him because he was drunk,” Gunkel said. “And I thought, you know, I’m not going to serve this person. He’s already pretty smashed.”

Continue Reading

a&e features

Tagg turns 10

D.C. magazine thriving post-pandemic with focus on queer women

Published

on

‘Tagg is a form of resistance,’ says editor Eboné Bell. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

In a 10-year-old YouTube video, owner and editor of Tagg magazine, Eboné Bell, — clad in a white cotton T-shirt, gray vest and matching gray fedora — smiled with all her pearly whites as a correspondent for the magazine interviewed her outside now-closed Cobalt, a gay club in downtown D.C. that hosted the magazine’s official launch in the fall of 2012. 

“I want to make sure that people know that this is a community publication,” Bell said in the video. “It’s about the women in this community and we wanted to make sure that they knew that ‘This is your magazine.’”

As one of just two queer womxn’s magazines in the country, Tagg has established itself as one of the nation’s leading and forthright LGBTQ publications that focuses on lesbian and queer culture, news, and events. The magazine is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month.

Among the many beats Tagg covers, it has recently produced work on wide-ranging political issues such as the introduction of the LGBTQ+ History Education Act in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Supreme Court’s assault on reproductive rights through a reversal of its landmark Roe v. Wade ruling; and also attracted the attention of international queer celebrities, including Emmy-nominated actress Dominique Jackson through fundraisers.

“Tagg is a form of resistance,” Bell said in a Zoom interview with the Washington Blade. “I always say the best form of activism is visibility and we’re out there authentically us.”

Although the magazine was created to focus on lifestyle, pressing political issues that affect LGBTQ individuals pushed it to dive deeper into political coverage in efforts to bring visibility to LGBTQ issues that specifically affect queer femme individuals. 

“We know the majority of our readers are queer women,’ said Bell. “[So] we always ask ourselves, ‘How does this affect our community?’ We are intentional and deliberate about it.”

Rebecca Damante, a contributing writer to the magazine echoed Bell’s sentiments. 

“The movement can sometimes err toward gay white men and it’s good that we get to represent other groups,” said Damante. “I feel really lucky that a magazine like Tagg exists because it’s given me the chance to polish my writing skills and talk about queer representation in media and politics.”

Tagg’s coverage has attracted younger readers who visit the magazine’s website in search of community and belonging. Most readers range between the ages of 25 and 30, Bell said. 

“[The magazine] honestly just took on a life of its own,” said Bell. “It’s like they came to us [and] it makes perfect sense.”

Prior to the magazine becoming subscription-based and completely online, it was a free publication that readers could pick up in coffee shops and distribution boxes around D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. 

Battling the pandemic 

Eboné Bell (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, newsrooms across the world were forced to function virtually. Additionally, economic strife forced many publications to downsize staffs and — in some cases — cancel entire beats as ad revenue decreased, forcing them to find alternative ways to self-sustain financially. Tagg was no exception. 

“We didn’t fly unscathed,” said Bell. “[The pandemic] took a huge emotional toll on me because I thought we were going to close. I thought we were going to fail.”

However, the magazine was able to stand firm after a fundraiser titled “Save Tagg Magazine” yielded about $30,000 in donations from the community. 

The fundraiser involved a storefront on Tagg’s website where donations of LGBTQ merchandise were sold, including a book donated by soccer superstar Megan Rapinoe. 

There was also a virtual “Queerantine Con” — an event that was the brainchild of Dana Piccoli, editor of News Is Out— where prominent LGBTQ celebrities such as Rosie O’Donnell, Lea DeLaria and Kate Burrell, gave appearances to help raise money that eventually sustained the publication. 

“There was a time where I was ready to be like ‘I have to be OK that [Tagg] might not happen anymore,” said Bell. “But because of love and support, I’m here.” 

While the outpouring of love from community members who donated to the magazine helped keep the magazine alive, it was also a stark reminder that smaller publications, led by women of color, have access to fewer resources than mainstream outlets. 

“It’s statistically known that Black women-owned businesses get significantly less support, venture capital investments, things like that,” said Bell. “I saw similar outlets such as Tagg with white people making $100,000 a month.”

Bell added that Tagg had to work “10 times harder” to survive, and although the magazine didn’t cut back on the people who worked for it, it ended free access to the magazine in the DMV especially as the places that housed the magazine were no longer in business. The publication also moved to a subscription-based model that allowed it to ameliorate printing costs. 

Despite the challenges brought about by the pandemic, Tagg remains steadfast in its service to the LGBTQ community. The magazine hired an assistant editor in 2021 and has maintained a team of graphic designers, photographers, writers and an ad sales team who work to ensure fresh content is delivered to readers on a regular basis. 

For Bell, Tagg mirrors an important life experience — the moment she discovered Ladders, a lesbian magazine published throughout the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s. 

“To that young person coming up, I want you to see all the things that happened before them, all the people that came before them, all the stories that were being told” she said.

Eboné Bell (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)
Continue Reading

a&e features

Daisy Edgar-Jones knows why ‘the Crawdads sing’

Actress on process, perfecting a southern accent, and her queer following

Published

on

Daisy Edgar-Jones as Kya Clark. (Photo courtesy Sony/Columbia)

Daisy Edgar-Jones is an actor whose career is blossoming like her namesake. In recent years, she seems to be everywhere. LGBTQ viewers may recognize Edgar-Jones from her role as Delia Rawson in the recently canceled queer HBO series “Gentleman Jack.” She also played memorable parts in a pair of popular Hulu series, “Normal People” and “Under the Banner of Heaven.” Earlier this year, Edgar-Jones was seen as Noa in the black comedy/horror flick “Fresh” alongside Sebastian Stan. 

With her new movie, “Where the Crawdads Sing” (Sony/Columbia), she officially becomes a lead actress. Based on Delia Owens’ popular book club title of the same name, the movie spans a considerable period of time, part murder mystery, part courtroom drama. She was kind enough to answer a few questions for the Blade.

BLADE: Daisy, had you read Delia Owens’s novel “Where the Crawdads Sing” before signing on to play Kya?

DAISY EDGAR-JONES: I read it during my audition process, as I was auditioning for the part. So, the two went hand in hand.

BLADE: What was it about the character of Kya that appealed to you as an actress?

EDGAR-JONES: There was so much about her that appealed to me. I think the fact that she is a very complicated woman. She’s a mixture of things. She’s gentle and she’s curious. She’s strong and she’s resilient. She felt like a real person. I love real character studies and it felt like a character I haven’t had a chance to delve into. It felt different from anyone I’ve played before. Her resilience was one that I really admired. So, I really wanted to spend some time with her.

BLADE: While Kya is in jail, accused of killing the character Chase, she is visited by a cat in her cell. Are you a cat person or do you prefer dogs?

EDGAR-JONES: I like both! I think I like the fact that dogs unconditionally love you. While a cat’s love can feel a bit conditional. I do think both are very cute. Probably, if I had to choose, it would be dogs.

BLADE: I’m a dog person, so I’m glad you said that.

EDGAR-JONES: [Laughs]

BLADE: Kya lives on the marsh and spends a lot of time on and in the water. Are you a swimmer or do you prefer to be on dry land?

EDGAR-JONES: I like swimming, I do. I grew up swimming a lot. If I’m ever on holidays, I like it to be by the sea or by a nice pool.

BLADE: Kya is also a gifted artist, and it is the thing that brings her great joy. Do you draw or paint?

EDGAR-JONES: I always doodle. I’m an avid doodler. I do love to draw and paint. I loved it at school. I wouldn’t say I was anywhere near as skilled as Kya. But I do love drawing if I get the chance to do it.

BLADE: Kya was born and raised in North Carolina. What can you tell me about your process when it comes to doing a southern accent or an American accent in general?

EDGAR-JONES: It’s obviously quite different from mine. I’ve been lucky that I’ve spent a lot of time working on various accents for different parts for a few years now, so I feel like I’m developed an ear for, I guess, the difference in tone and vowel sounds [laughs]. When it came to this, it was really important to get it right, of course. Kya has a very lyrical, gentle voice, which I think that North Carolina kind of sound really helped me to access. I worked with a brilliant accent coach who helped me out and I just listened and listened.

BLADE: While I was watching “Where the Crawdads Sing” I thought about how Kya could easily be a character from the LGBTQ community because she is considered an outsider, is shunned and ridiculed, and experiences physical and emotional harm. Do you also see the parallels?

EDGAR-JONES: I certainly do. I think that aspect of being an outsider is there, and this film does a really good job of showing how important it is to be kind to everyone. I think this film celebrates the goodness you can give to each other if you choose to be kind. Yes, I definitely see the parallels.

BLADE: Do you have an awareness of an LGBTQ following for your acting career?

EDGAR-JONES: I tend to stay off social media and am honestly not really aware of who follows me, but I do really hope the projects I’ve worked on resonate with everyone.

BLADE: Are there any upcoming acting projects that you’d like to mention?

EDGAR-JONES: None that I can talk of quite yet. But there are a few things that are coming up next year, so I’m really excited.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Advertisement

Follow Us @washblade

Advertisement

Popular