One might say gay author Edmund White’s 80th birthday celebration began last year. In the spring, ITNA Press published Crashing Cathedrals: Edmund White by the Book, a scintillating compendium of essays, which together create a comprehensive biography of the iconic writer’s adventurous literary life.
And in November, the National Book Foundation honored Edmund White with the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. “Most writers don’t set out to break barriers or trail blaze, but rather to share their unique perspectives and stories on the page,” said executive director Lisa Lucas. She added that by looking at the body of work, one sees his career as “revolutionary and vital, making legible for scores of readers the people, moments and history that would come to define not only queer lives, but also the broader trajectory of American culture.”
My plans for celebrating Stonewall 50 Pride began a year ago. I’d be in New York City where it all started, where I lived for ten years before escaping to Amsterdam. With the city hosting World Pride as well, I knew it would be epic. Grace Jones would be there. And Lady Gaga. Even Madonna. I booked Megabus tickets from Albany early–only a dollar each way! I ordered new Keith Haring designer sport shoes. I texted friends I wanted to meet up with. I was ready!
Then I got an email from my publisher. Bold Strokes Books was invited by a group called Queer Connect to participate in the first-ever Pride Parade and Festival in the small town of Bennington, Vermont. Interested authors should contact the events coordinator. But there was a catch—a big catch! It was being held on the same dates as the big weekend in New York City. Nope. No way. Not a chance.
Birdsong greets the dawn in my friend’s back garden. No matter that clouds mask the rising sun. I’ve a party to get to, so I don’t have much time. It’s Tennessee William’s birthday and I’m celebrating in his “spiritual home” – New Orleans, that is – at the literary festival named in his honor. I don’t want to be late.
I attended the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival back in 2001, covering the event as a journalist for Radio Netherlands. It was my first visit to the city known as the Big Easy and I immediately fell under its spell, much like the young writer who arrived in 1938. Tennessee wrote his Mama: “I’m crazy about the city. I walk continually, there is so much to see.”
Unlike Brad Pitt in Se7en, I was expecting the box. (Same size, a bit heavier.) Because it arrived earlier than anticipated, it still took me by surprise. Unlike Morgan Freeman, I didn’t slice it open with a switchblade. I used hedge shears. (Because I knew where they were and was too impatient to search for scissors. Or perhaps I wanted to outdo David Fincher in creepiness.) And inside the box? (Spoiler Alert!) Not pretty Gwyneth Paltrow’s head, but beautiful copies of Calvin’s Head. I didn’t cry like Brad Pitt, but my allergies did act up a little.
Amsterdam Gay Pride is in full swing and once again I am elsewhere. I haven’t minded missing the celebration the last couple of years. But this year I wish I were there. My former employer is sponsoring one of the eighty boats in the Canal Parade in honor of some very special guests – eight young LGBT activists from parts of the world where being gay can be a matter of life or death.
Radio Netherlands Worldwide (RNW) has always been openly supportive of the international LGBT community. In the late 80s, producer Pete Myers began covering stories about gay social issues on his weekly show Rembrandt Express, long before other mainstream media. When I took over producing an arts and culture program in the early 90s, he encouraged me to talk with as many LGBT artists, musicians, writers, and filmmakers as possible. Three programs I produced between 1998 and 2004 that were honored with NLGJA Excellence in Journalism Awards are part of his legacy.