Need a good book to cozy up with over the holiday weekend? In the mood for a juicy memoir or great biography? Well, search no further.
Whether you’re seeking a dishy tell-all about the bedroom shenanigans of one of American’s most infamous gay writers, an inside peek at the struggles and accomplishments of one of major league baseball’s first openly gay former players, the behind-the-scenes tale of Hollywood’s first out gay silent film star, or an anthology of thought-provoking interviews and essays by young African American gay men, we’ve got plenty of suggestions for you.
Here are 15 must-read gay memoirs and biographies to keep you entertained over the long weekend and well into the holiday season.
In Bed With Gore Vidal by Tim Teeman
Tim Teeman’s biography of author Gore Vidal isn’t nearly as salacious as the title first suggests. Through extensive, in-depth interviews with some of Vidal’s closest relatives and confidants, including Claire Bloom and Susan Sarandon, as well as examining Vidal’s own personal archive of letters and other writings, Teeman offers readers a never-before-seen glimpse into the personal life and sexual philosophies of one of the 20th century’s most polarizing and outspoken writers/thinkers. The book also examines Vidal’s decades-long relationship with Howard Austen, his friendships with playwright Tennessee Williams and author Christopher Isherwood, his lifelong rivalry with Truman Capote, and his refusal to identify as “gay.”
Is It True What They Say About Black Men?: Tales of Love, Lust and Language Barriers on the Other Side of the World by Jeremy Helligar
Blogger and international lover Jeremy Helligar’s irreverent travelogue follows the New York-based writer on a laugh-out-loud journey, both physical, spiritual, and emotional, to faraway countries in South America, Asia, Africa, and even Australia as he searches for love, enlightenment, and a place to belong where he isn’t defined by the color of his skin or his sexual orientation. Jam-packed with humor, heartbreak, and, of course, a little naughtiness, this short memoir is sure to satisfy those who enjoy reading sordid stories and hearing about awkward encounters involving strangers in strange lands.
Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh by John Lahr
A finalist for the 2014 National Book Award for nonfiction and heralded as the “definitive biography of America’s greatest playwright,” this epic 800-page biography of the great American playwright leaves no stone unturned, detailing Williams’ unique upbringing — which, naturally, included a belittling father and puritanical mother, plus a demented sister who was lobotomized at the age of 33 — as well as the great successes (and failures) of his career, his many torrid gay love affairs and his bruising relationships with Pancho Gonzalez and Frank Merlo.
Hold Tight Gently: Michael Callen, Essex Hemphill, and the Battlefield of AIDS by Martin Duberman
Historian Martin Duberman’s offers a powerful tribute to those lost to AIDS by focusing on the lives of two great unsung heroes from the early years of the epidemic: activist Michael Callen and writer Essen Hemphill. This meticulously researched and deeply moving book explores how race, sexuality, class, identity, and the politics of AIDS affected the world’s understanding (and misunderstanding) of the mysterious illness and how those factors continue to impact our views HIV/AIDS today.
Going the Other Way: An Intimate Memoir of Life In and Out of Major Baseball by Billy Bean with Chris Bull
At the height of his 10-year career, baseball star Billy Bean was forced to make a devastating choice between his love of the game and the love of his life. Just released in paperback, Bean’s memoir (co-written with Queerty’s editorial director Chris Bull), Going The Other Way, chronicles the struggles and accomplishments of MLB’s only openly gay former player–from his difficult childhood, to his ill-fated marriage to a woman, his struggles with accepting his sexuality, losing his partner to AIDS, and finally becoming an outspoken advocate for LGBT athletes.
Wisecracker: The Life and Times of William Haines, Hollywood’s First Openly Gay Star by William J. Mann
Few people may remember him today, but once upon a time William Haines was the #1 box office star in America. He was handsome. He was talented. And he was gay. William Mann’s 1998 biography of the late silent movie star chronicles his life as a leading man in 1930’s Hollywood. It was a life that involved lunch dates with none other than Joan “Cranberry” Crawford and Ramon Navarro, gay pool parties, brothels and dance halls and a 50-year relationship with a handsome male lover by the name of Jimmie Shields.
For Colored Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Still Not Enough edited by Keith Boykin
Inspired by Ntozake Shange’s iconic 1974 play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf, this collection of essays and interviews edited by bestselling author Keith Boykin tackles issues of sexual abuse, suicide, HIV/AIDS, racism, and homophobia within the African American and Latino communities, particularly among young gay men of color.
Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Mariposa by Rigoberto Gonzalez
Winner of the American Book Award, this moving memoir of a young Mexican-American boy’s journey into adulthood captures the experience of being gay, Chicano, and poor in the United States. Gonzalez talks about the difficulties of being what he calls a bookish “sissy-boy” with a high singing voice and a penchant for cross-dressing, which often resulted in him being beaten, as well as his strained relationship with his machismo father, his yearning for an abusive older lover, and finding his true identity in college.
Dreadful: The Short Life and Gay Times of John Horne Burns by David Margolick
Author John Horne Burns’ life may have been brief (he died at 36), but he left his mark in gay literature with his 1947 classic The Gallery, which depicted gay life in the U.S. military. Now out in paperback, Dreadful details Burns’ troubled life, marred by heavy drinking and extreme self-loathing. From Burns’ time as a prep school teacher, to his years serving in WWII, his rise as a celebrated author, and his inevitable and untimely demise.
Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris
Neil Patrick Harris reinvents the autobiography by allowing you — yes, you — to choose which of his adventures (and misadventures) you want embark on next. Whether it’s hanging out on the set of Doogie Howser, M.D. or going backstage at a Broadway play, surviving a bizarre encounter with actor Scott Caan outside a nightclub, or eating caviar on board Elton John’s yacht. The book also includes magic tricks, cocktail recipes, embarrassing pictures, and even a closing song.
Porn Again: A Memoir by Josh Sabarra
TV-producer-turned-memoirist Josh Sabarra has no shame in confessing that he didn’t lose his virginity until he was well into his 30s, or that, when he finally did give up his V-card, he jumped headfirst into a world of online dating, sexual fetishists, and adult film stars-for-hire. He dishes about working in show biz, the relationships with Hollywood insiders, and how he managed to break free from the “prison of self-hate” that kept him a virgin for three excruciatingly long decades.
An Underground Life: Memoirs of a Gay Jew in Nazi Berlin by Gad Beck
Both gay and Jewish, Gad Beck seemed to have every card stacked against him when the Nazis came to power in Germany, yet he managed to find a way to survive by living as an “illegal” in Berlin and becoming a central figure in the Zionist resistance. He helped hide refugees, smuggle food into concentration camps, and even rescue his lover from a deportation camp by wearing a Hitler Youth uniform. An Underground Life is a short, honest, compulsively-readable memoir that offers a unique glimpse at daily life in Nazi Berlin.
Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South by E. Patrick Johnson
This nearly 600-page oral history edited by E. Patrick Johnson features over 60 fascinating life stories from Southern black gay men ages 19 through 93 who talk openly about Southern stereotypes, their identities and communities, their friendships and relationships, and just what it means to be part of a subculture (gay) within a subculture (black) within a subculture (Southern).
Palimpsest: A Memoir by Gore Vidal
Described by some as “vile,” “vindictive” and “venomous,” and by others as “explosively entertaining,” “humorous,” and “insightful,” literary lion Gore Vidal’s 1996 memoir Palimpsest is, truthfully, all of those things combined. Jumping back and forth through time, it discusses the first 40 years of his life, including his relationships with the Kennedys, Marlon Brando, Tennessee Williams, Anais Nin, Eleanor Roosevelt, and his long-time lover Howard Austen. It’s fun, it’s gossipy, it’s well-written, and it’s a must-read for any fan of Eugene Luther Vidal.
The Scarlet Professor: Newton Arvin: A Literary Life Shattered by Scandal by Barry Werth
He was a celebrated academic, having taught for nearly 40 years at Smith College. He was a Guggenheim Foundation Fellow and National Book Award winner. He published award-winning studies on Hawthorne, Whitman, Melville, and Longfellow. And he was a mentor to Truman Capote. Everything was grand for Professor Newton Arvin. Then, in September 1960, his apartment was raided and police found photographs of semi-nude men. Arvin was forced to retire and sentenced for possession of pornography and for lewd (AKA homosexual) behavior. The Scarlet Professor is a tragic tale of betrayal, moral fanaticism, and the gay “witch hunts” of mid-20th-century America.
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some good reading! 🙂
http://www.amazon.com/Center-Square-Paul-Lynde-Story/dp/155583793X is an entertaining (if slightly depressing) gay bio.
Dave in Northridge
Great list. I’d also add, although they aren’t THAT new, The Tastemaker: Carl Van Vechten and the Birth of Modern America by Edward White (2014) and Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade by Justin Spring (2010). The Steward book (you probably know him as Phil Andros, the name he published his gay-related porn under) is especially interesting because it’s also to a great extent a cultural history of gay life in America between 1930 and 1980.
Encouraging reading is always a good thing. We need more articles like this.
Love to see articles about books, and I heartily endorse William J. Mann’s bio of William Haines. Since you mentioned Ramon Novarro, I also highly recommend “Beyond Paradise: The Life of Ramon Novarro” by André Soares: http://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Paradise-Novarro-Hollywood-Legends/dp/1604734574/ref=sr_1_1_twi_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1417141371&sr=1-1&keywords=beyond+paradise%3A+the+life+of+ramon+novarro
I’d like to add two more books to your list that I feel are very important, and entertaining as well. Quentin Crisp’s The Naked Civil Servant (which was good enough to be made into a movie with John Hurt), and David Kopay’s The David Kopay Story, the first NFL player to come out, after retirement.
author /activist Michael Callen stars in the movie “Zero Patience” as the HIV virus. There is a musical number in a pool in which the HIV virus “argues” with other STDs about what is the real cause of aids. Zero Patience is the must-see AIDs movie people are desperately claiming The Normal Heart is.
How could you possibly have left out John Lahr’s biography of author / playwright Joe Orton “Prick Up Your Ears”? It is based on Joe Orton’s diaries.
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