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Interview: Edmund White on gay fiction

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  1. What a delightful read.

    Thank you Tony Ash (

    And it’s great to know that Edmund White is still at the height of his career.

  2. An interesting read, indeed. I’ve always been prejudiced against so called “gay literature” and now I think I’m starting to get what “gay literature” might actually be. It looks like it could be a genre, after all. A very specific genre that stems from a wider concept of literary fiction and is probably rather rare, but a genre nonetheless.

    However, I still don’t think that gay fiction as it is understood by most (i.e. books with gay characters) is a good idea where the quest for equality and gay rights is concerned. I don’t think that consciously distancing ourselves (“Look, we have a separate literature genre! And separate music genre, too!”) from the rest of the world will do us much good. I’ve always thought that the idea was to accentuate the similarities, to make the world see that gay people are no different than straight people. And what gay literature/music/cinema do is point out the differencies. It’s made by gays for gays, not by writers for readers. And that is the problem

    1. Agreed I think integration is better that segregation in the arts and wider society.

    2. So what do you suggest? That a gay writer write about something he might not know about or feel comfortably with, in case it puts someone’s nose out of joint? There are plenty of books for everyone to read. I like to read stories about gay people. :-)

      1. I don’t think that is what LG is suggesting… If it is I don’t agree with him at all.

        I like to read fiction with gay characters too but I wouldn’t like to see such literature classed as gay and put in a special gay section because sexuality shouldn’t be reduced to a genre. For example a crime novel with a gay protagonist shouldn’t be in the same genre as a sci fi book with a gay protagonist. The sexuality of the characters should be irrelevant.

      2. That’s not what I meant at all. Although if writers wrote only about things they know we’d have tons of very dull stories no one would want to read. :) And by any means writers should be free to tell the stories they want to tell.

        What I meant is that a book shouldn’t be labeled as “gay fiction” on the grounds it has gay characters. If, say, a Sci-Fi story has a gay protagonist, then it should be found in a Sci-Fi section of a bookstore and not in Gay Fiction or whatever they wish to label it. Books with gay characters should be integrated into the mainstream literature where more people would pick them up. The point of that Sci-Fi novel with a gay protagonist should not be him being *gay*, but him being a *hero* who discovers new planets and saves the day and all that stuff. Like Joss said, sexuality should be irrelevant just like it’s irrelevant whether the protagonist is left-handed or a redhead. The message should be that gay people are no different from everybody else.

    3. @ LG –

      Perhaps you could give us an example or two of a gay writer who accentuates the similarities between gay people and straight people.

      1. Michel Foucault and Michael Warner

  3. White is a great prose stylist, as is Hollinghurst (I read the Holleran and the Isherwood too long ago to remember and I’ve never really read Genet), but they seem to have a relentlessly negative view of human nature and even of gay men per se.
    Interesting article, though.

    1. Although I’ve never read Hollinghurst, I agree that Edmund White’s prose is as easy to read as drinking a tall glass of cool water on a hot summer day.

      As for Genet, I’ve read “Our Lady of the Flowers” in French (“Notre-Dame des Fleurs”) years ago. Quite bizarre.

      I am still amazed that for a guy who had a limited formal education – he left school at 12 – he has become the unrivaled master of literary French of the 20th century, although his negative self-image as a homosexual-outlaw is considered outdated today.

      Also, I’ve recently acquired from Cult Epics ( a copy on DVD of the only film Genet ever made, “Un chant d’amour”
      (Song of Love), 1950.

      The film is followed by a 46-minute interview of a 72-year-old Genet (1910-1986) where he explains to Bertrand Poirot-Delpech that his secret for writing such perfect French was that he simply followed the grammatical rules of the snobbish upper class Frenchmen whom he always detested. Fascinating man.

  4. Pink News, thank you so very much for this. Edmund White is my favourite author, and coming home from work to this feature has been an absolute treat.

    More like this, please.

    Oh. And Caracole is a stunning piece of work.

  5. I love Edmund White’s books. I’ve read most of his fiction (I haven’t read his latest book yet though.)

    I’m quite surprised by his inclusion of ‘The Folding Star’ though as I found that the most disappointing of Alan Hollinghurst’s books.

  6. Suddenly Last Bummer 7 Feb 2012, 12:19pm

    One word should describe ‘Our Lady of the Flowers’, that word is ‘genius’ and it should extend to Jean Genet also.

  7. Surely Giovanni’s Room predates A Single Man by several years, now that was a much more ground breaking novel?

    And surely Maurice Hall was at Cambridge?

    Fantastic article.

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