By his own account, Walt Cessna should probably be dead.
He’s lived several lives: he was a teenage publishing wunderkind, an underage club kid, a zinester, and a designer, s tylist and darling of the fashion world. He styled Nine Inch Nails’ Downward Spiral Tour; he dated Mario Testino when he was 18 years old. He was a hustler in San Francisco, a photographer in New York. He’s battled addiction and has been living with HIV for year—facts about which he maintains a gleefully dark sense of humor. He’s been in multiple comas.
And yet here he is, sitting in Tompkins Square Park, about to publish his first collection of short stories, Fukt 2 Start With, a book that’s been in the works for the last 10 years. In it, Cessna, 43, chronicles the lives of street kids, hustlers, underage party girls, the beautiful and the damned of New York’s East Village circa 1989. He lifts up that glittery Party Monster rock and exposes the dirty, creepy things living beneath.
On a bench not far from his old stomping grounds, Cessna chatted with Queerty writer John Russell about club kids, turning tricks and rewriting history.
I was familiar with your photography, but I had no idea you were a writer as well.
That’s what I started out doing. I was writing before I was taking pictures. I started writing professionally when I was 17. I was writing for the original Details, for Annie Flanders and Stephen Saban. I had a column. I started working for The East Village Eye and I was working for another free publication, New York Talk. Then I became an editor at The Village Voice when I turned 18. I was working for Interview. I mean, I had a really major publishing career at an extremely young age. Working with major editors. I was writing for Vanity Fairbefore I was 25.
Is that around the time that you were writing the stories in Fukt 2 Start With?
Kind of, kind of not. A lot of those stories were inspired by my move to San Francisco, and what was going on at the tail end of the club-kida period, which was the Michael Alig era. And I worked with Michael. I worked as a fashion director at almost every club in the city between, like, 1987 and 1995, when I finally left. So a lot of the stories are basically about Disco 2000.
There’s a story in the book called “My Dinner with Michael” that’s very loosely based on Michael Alig and what he did, but it’s my weird fantasy version of it. And that’s the only story that actually almost got pulled from the book. He’s getting out of jail and his lawyers are trying to sell his book. But I fought for it and the story’s still in [my] book.
Click through for the rest of the interview with Walt Cessna. And check out our exclusive slideshow of Cessna’s sexually charged male photography.