Category Archives: Books

Arthur C. Clarke: The Visionary I Knew

By Toby Johnson

ArthurcclarkeMarch 18, 2008, at the age of 90, renowned writer and futurologist Arthur C. Clarke passed away. His death made national news in America—of course. His name, arguably, has been one of the most Arthurcclarkequoterecognizable in the world, if only as creator (with Stanley Kubrick) of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. He was a leader in consciousness evolution, an expert on space science, and author of over a hundred books.

What won’t be mentioned in most of the news stories, though, is that he was Gay. Of course, that’s using the term inaccurately. He wasn’t a Gay man like the post-Stonewall generation in the U.S., but he was certainly one of us.

Speaking personally, let me report that Clarke had a tremendous influence on me as a young man. I read all his books, emulated his writing style, and even to some extent adopted his post-religious “spiritual” vision of human consciousness. So in the late 1990s, when I learned my friend Kerry O’Quinn, a Gay Austinite and also a science fiction writer, told me he’d met Clarke and carried on a correspondence with him, I jumped at the opportunity to be introduced by mail. I corresponded with Clarke for several years. I wrote about his post-religious spirituality in a couple of my books and cleared my acknowledgement of his sexual identity with him. So I have no qualms Arthurcclarkestarbabyabout my including him in the pantheon of homosexual seers.

An ex-patriate Englishman, Clarke lived most of his adult life as what English society might call a “confirmed bachelor” in an intentional, extended family in the Theravada Buddhist land of Sri Lanka (in fable, the mystical island of Serendip where good fortune and lucky coincidence reign). Though married for a time as a young man, Clarke offered a marvelous example of the contributing, participating life, lived free of the conventions of marriage and childrearing.

He demurred about coming out publicly as Gay, he wrote, because he felt this fact would be used to discredit his ideas. He was 61 at the time of Stonewall, already past the sexual prime in which it’s meaningful to identify oneself as Gay. And, indeed, in 1997, a British tabloid, The Sunday Mirror, ran a story accusing him of having moved to Sri Lanka in order to buy sex from underaged boys, something he found offensive and the accusation distressing. He thought the accusation was really aimed at Prince Charles who was scheduled to knight him—as Sir Arthur—that same year. (At the same time as Sir Elton John, by the way.)

Arthurcclarkechildhoodsend_2He had a cute quip about not being Gay: "At my age now,” he said, “I’m just a little bit cheerful." He wrote that he was quite fascinated with the role homosexuals have played down through time as revolutionary thinkers. (In our correspondence, he expressed great interest in C.A. Tripp’s book about Abraham Lincoln as Gay.) He kept a private collection of writing which is not to be published until 50 years after his death. I’d wager the world is going to receive the open acknowledgement of his homosexuality and of his theory about gay consciousness as revolutionary come 2058.

Science fiction is one of the ways in which the mythmaking function of human  consciousness appears today. 2001, with its final psychedelic imagery and apotheosis of astronaut David Bowman into the Star Child, described human consciousness transcending individuality and merging into some sort of greater consciousness, all explained in scientific sounding terms.

In his renowned novel, Childhood’s End, as scientific prophet, Clarke described a planetary progression to a collective mind (in the novel called “the Overmind”) that is foreshadowed by “psychic powers”: telepathy, telekinesis, clairvoyance, and memory of collective, cosmic events. In that sense, one might say he hypothesized such paranormal powers, long elements of religion and mysticism, to be forerunners and hints at humankind’s future evolution.

Even in the 1950s, when Childhood’s End appeared, he called himself an “agnostic Buddhist,” so he probably didn’t believe in a personal afterlife. Still we might imagine that in his dying, Sir Arthur experienced rising into the Overmind.

In his modern/futuristic way, he has surely been a visionary and “Enlightened Being,” a scientifically-minded prophet who had foreseen, and helped bring about, the modern transformation of consciousness. He was surely an incarnation of the archetype of the homosexual seer.

Writer and multiple Lambda Literary Award-winner Toby Johnson was the second publisher of White Crane Journal.  He lives in San Antonio, Texas and reviews books for White Crane magazine.

ALL: A James Broughton Reading…

Broughton_all_cover For readers in the Bay Area, KPFA radio host, Jack Foley, and his wife, Adelle, will be giving a reading of  ALL: A James Broughton Reader, a White Crane Book, along with poet Katherine Hastings, at A Different Light in San Francisco, this Wednesday, March 5 at 7:30pm.

Hastings recently wrote of the book: ALL: A James Broughton Reader is an important book and offers us a unique experience, for it is, as Foley claims, “the very first book to allow the various aspects of Broughton’s complex personality to ‘sing’ to one another.” James Broughton was so vastly talented and led such an extraordinarily interesting life that one comes away from this gorgeous and excellently structured book wondering how we did without it. If you are familiar with James Broughton’s work, you already know you must have this book. If you have not experienced Broughton’s poetry, film or journals, treat yourself—you’re in for  “Big Joy.”

A Lesbian Pioneer

Jane_rule_2 Author Jane Rule has died at the age of 76.

Jane Rule’s books, including "Desert of the Heart," and the film version ("Desert Hearts") were, in 1986, pretty much some of of the first truly Lesbian affirming literature and film. It may be hard to believe now, but twenty years was an Ice Age ago in terms of media, culture, and Gay people. If you grew up seeing stuff like The Children’s Hour (the message being that if you are a female and realize you are in love with another woman you need to hang yourself), Desert Hearts was way more than a breath of fresh air, it was revolutionary.

And how’s this for an exit? From The Globe and Mail: "Ms. Rule retreated to her bed in the middle of November with a bottle of Queen Anne whisky and a bar of good chocolate on her bedside table, hundreds of love letters from friends and admirers and a circle of friends and family who cared for her physical needs."

The Globe and Mail has a lovely tribute and obit.

WC74 – Review of Wisdom for the Soul

Rvu_chang Book Review

Wisdom for the Soul:
Five Millennia of Prescriptions
for Spiritual Healing

Compiled & edited by Larry Chang
Gnosophia Publishers, 824 pages, Hardcover, $49.95

Reviewed by Toby Johnson

The final quotation cited in this enormous tome of brief quotes of wisdom is from a man named Philip G. Hamerton 1834-1894, who wrote: “Have you ever observed that we pay much more attention to a wise passage when it is quoted than when we read it in the original author?”

Indeed, this book is founded on that fact. And a very impressive edifice is constructed upon it. Wisdom for the Soul is a sort of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations squared! But unlike Bartlett’s it is all focused on wise sayings, not just famous ones, and organized by themes rather than by author (a 47 page biographical index of the 2500 some authors is appended).

Larry Chang, the creator of this impressive collection is described as a student of Religious Science and the Dharma, with a grounding in metaphysics, spirituality, pastoral counseling and public speaking. He is also described as an exile from Jamaica who was granted asylum in the U.S. based on sexual orientation. So he’s a Gay man.

Chang demonstrates one of those functions of Gay men as keepers of the past and keepers of wisdom that White Crane has come to champion.

This, of course, isn’t a “Gay book” as such, though there’s wisdom from Gay writers scattered throughout. A cursory examination of the author index shows such names as James Broughton, Arthur C. Clarke, Quentin Crisp, Harvey Fierstein, John Fortunato, Michel Foucault, Allen Ginsberg, Peter Gomes, Paul Goodman, Langston Hughes, William James, Audre Lorde, Bill T. Jones, Somerset Maugham, Stephen Sondheim, Annie Sprinkle, Lily Tomlin, Gore Vidal, Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, Marguerite Yourcenar, etc.
What an exercise in history, literature and culture it is just looking at the names.

And I’m happy to say my name is among them. I was pleased to see that Larry Chang outed himself in his back cover flap biography, explaining his asylum in the U.S. for sexual orientation. And I am proud to report that I myself get outed in the book every time I’m quoted (in twelve places) because my book titles contain the word “Gay.”

As that quote from Philip Hamerton points out wisdom is often most easily absorbed and remembered in short aphorisms. Larry Chang gives us a plethora of aphorisms. And, now he is working on a book of wisdom sayings for the soul of Black Folk and another for the soul of Queer Folk. I’m keeping my copy of Wisdom for the Soul next to my meditation cushion. It makes a great source of affirmations and inspirations.

The wisdom runs from funny to profound, just as it should. This is marvelous collection.

This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane.   We are a reader-supported journaland need you to subscribe to keep this conversation going.  So to read more from this wonderful issue SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!

Selections from the book are also available on individual cards
for use as an oracle or for posting on the fridge. Check out

Call for Anthology Submissions

White_crane_books_logo_rectangle White Crane Books is reading submissions for an anthology to be edited by Bo Young and Steve Berman entitled:


IDOL THOUGHTS [a working title] will be a collection of   personal essays and short fiction (as patterned after the Lambda Literary Award-finalist CHARMED LIVES published in 2006 by White Crane Books) that offer Gay authors the chance to express their admiration for historical and literary Gay figures that have inspired them, motivated them, served as role models and muses. Whether it be Michelangelo or Andy Warhol, Lord Byron or James Broughton, John Grimes or Harvey Milk, there are many figures that reaffirm our cultural and artistic sensibilities.

Essays submitted should be between 500-1,500 words in length. Fiction submitted should be between 1,000-3,500 words in length. Reprinted works are okay with editorial consent.Vitruvian_3

Submissions can be sent to or

White Crane Books is an imprint of Lethe Press and is funded by White Crane Institute, a 501(c)(3) foundation, that promotes the study of the role of Gay men in the evolution of society, psychology, sociology, and practice of spirituality, ritual, and religion. Since WCI is a non-profit, the editors are asking authors donate their short work to the anthology rather than offering payment for one-time anthology rights. All contributors will received two [2] copies of the book and will have a copy donated in their name to a local Gay organization of their choice.

All submissions must be received by February 1st. The book is scheduled to release in 2008.

Bo Young is a publisher, journalist, editor, poet, and publicist. In addition to publishing White Crane Journal and White Crane Books, his writings appear regularly in White Crane, and have been seen in Fine Cooking, RFD, POZ Magazine. He is the author of First Touch (White Crane Press, 1998). He lives in Brooklyn.

Steve Berman edited the Lammie Finalist anthology Charmed Lives, as well as So Fey: Queer Fairy Fiction, and Magic in the Mirrorstone. His debut novel, Vintage, released to enthusiastic critical review, proved that readers enjoy good old fashioned boy-meets-ghost stories. A member of the Science Fiction Writers of America, he lives in southern New Jersey and has has sold over 80 articles and short stories of queer and weird fiction.

Congratulations to Toby Johnson and Steve Berman


We get letters because we have….Charmed Lives.

Greetings on behalf of the American Library Association’s
Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Roundtable’s Stonewall Book Awards. As a member of the Stonewall Book Award Committee Jury, I am seeking review copies of books being considered for the 2008 award.

We are very pleased to inform you that CHARMED LIVES: GAY SPIRIT IN STORYTELLING, edited by Toby Johnson and Steve Berman, has been recommended for nomination for the 2008 Stonewall Book Award.

Formerly called the GLBTRT Book Award, the Stonewall Award is the oldest book award given for outstanding achievement in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Literature nationally. It is an official award of the American Library Association and is given each year at the Association’s annual conference. Additional information about the award can be found on our website.

Each year two awards are given in Literature and Nonfiction for outstanding works about GLBT issues or by GLBT authors. Each award comes with a $1,000.00 honorarium. Winners will be notified in January, 2008. The committee would greatly appreciate if the entire committee of 10 jurors could receive review copies within 10 working days. Juror contact information is below. Thank you for your assistance in this matter. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely, Beth L. Stonewall2sm_2

White Crane Books is proud to have Charmed Lives: Gay Spirit in Storytelling in the White Crane Wisdom Series, and warmly congratulates Toby Johnson and Steve Berman — and all the participating authors — for the continued success and recognition for this fine book.

My Big Gay Day at ALA

As you all know may know I’m a librarian. This last weekend I attended the annual conference of the American Library Association here in Washington, D.C. If you didn’t know the ALA has one of the oldest professional associations for GLBT people, the GLBT Round Table and nearly every year since 1971 the GLBTRT has presented awards to the best queer books of the year. Sunday morning I attended the 2007 GLBT Round Table Stonewall Book Awards Brunch and these were the winners.

Holleran_grief The winner of the Barbara Gittings award for best GLBT fiction was Andrew Holleran for his book Grief. Grief is a compelling short novel revolving around a man who upon the death of his mother travels to D.C. and becomes engrossed in the letters of Mary Todd Lincoln. Deeply moving, Grief was the unanimous choice for the fiction book of the year. Unfortunately Andrew was away in Europe on a book tour and couldn’t recieve his award, but he shared his thanks in a letter that was read before the crowd.

Other finalists for best literature were:

The Manny Files / Christian Burch
The Night Watch / Sarah Waters
Rose of No Man’s Land / Michelle Tea
A Scarecrow’s Bible / Martin Hyatt

Bechdel_funhomeThe winner of the Israel Fishman award for best GLBT non-fiction was Alison Bechdel for her graphic novel memoir "Fun Home." Fun Home tells the story of Alison and her family. Through the process of coming out to her father and sharing her experiences her father begins coming to terms with own sexuality. Alison Bechdel spoke this morning at the brunch and she shared her own story of coming out through literature, and the ping-pong process of reading about sex and actually having it and how sometimes the twain did not meet. It was really quite funny and I look forward to reading her book. Oh, and by the way, it’s also nominated for the National Book Critics Circle award for best non-fiction book of the year and it’s already won loads of awards. The full list is available at:

The other finalists for best non-fiction were:

Covering: The Hidden Assault on our Civil Rights / Kenji Yoshino
Gay Power: An American Revolution / David Eisenbach
Male-Male Intimacy in Early America: Beyond Romantic Friendships / William Benemann
Mama’s Boy, Preacher’s Son: A Memoir / Kevin Jennings

Maupin_michaeltolliver After the brunch I attended a few other lectures on library stuff, and spoke to a few people about books, bought a few books from the trade show floor reps and then headed up to the Public Library Association keynote speech by Armistead Maupin. Originally Elizabeth Edwards, wife of presidential candidate John Edwards, was slated to speak to the ALA, but unfortunately she couldn’t make it. As Maupin noted to the attendees there was an irony in that Elizabeth Edwards was in San Francisco speaking at gay pride, when one of the most noted gay authors was in Washington DC speaking to a bunch of librarians. We laughed. Oh, his speech was fantastic. It was about the common questions he gets asked, about his inspiration, his life, and his new book Michael Tolliver Lives.  I won’t go into all the details, but suffice it to say that some of the story in MTL is based exactly on his life, specifically the opening sequence where Michael at 55 finds the love of his life on the internet, and that’s not giving anything away as it happens in the first chapter. This directly mirrors Maupin’s own experience falling in love with his partner, Christoper Turner founder of

I ended the day by walking another gay colleague back to Lambda Rising to go to the Alison Bechdel book signing and having a couple bits of kissy time. It was lovely.

And I got LOADS of books.

And I’ll be blogging them. Just you watch. 😉

My Forebears, Whitman, Brown & Cox

As a poet and writer living and working in DC I like to pay attention to writers like me who may have experienced many of the same things I have.  What I mean is I’m conscious that my work (hopefully) has something to say about the place I live in that is in conversation with others who’ve written here as well.  That’s not to say that all my poetry is place-specific, but a lot of it is.  I become more and more conscious of the poets who have called Washington home.

Bk_leaves Yesterday I picked up my partner from work and we went to have drinks at a little bar in Logan Square (we were enticed by some very crazy martinis they’re famous for at this place).  While we sat there on comfy couches by the front of the bar I pulled out my trusty copy of Walt Whitman and started reading into Pete’s ears.  Just loud enough for him to read…

I am indifferent to my own songs—I am to
          go with him I love, and he is to go
          with me,
It is to be enough for each of us that we are
          together—We never separate again.

And we had our delicious fruity drinks and enjoyed being connected to a poet we both love and admire.

I dance with the dancers and drink with the drinkers.

We would’ve danced if the drinks hadn’t been so powerful.  Now, I’m sure there were a lot of folks wondering what we were doing there in this bar reading from a book.  But Whitman deserves to be read aloud in all places and especially in the Washington he loved so much (the city he probably would’ve been buried in had he not suffered a stroke and had to move closer to family in Camden).  So, I take Whitman with me in a lot of places and I become more familiar with the Whitman-specific things in DC (thanks to Kim Roberts, Martin Murry and many writers).

I also think of Sterling Brown because he lived in Brookland and I live in Brookland.  I sometimes wonder how he experienced these same sidewalks and blocks in our corner of DC.  I think that it’s good to remember you weren’t the first to experience life where you live.  Whenever I think it might be odd to be writing about my life or the place I live I recall those who came before me.  Those who wrote and to whom I’m endebted for populating my historical mind with precedents of verse and imagery.

EdcoxWhich brings me to Ed Cox.  Yesterday I was given a delightful gift by Kim Roberts of an old cover of the Washington Review featuring a great photograph of Cox (by Jesse Winch) on the cover.  Cox was part of the Mass Transit poetry scene of the 1970s. 

I never knew Ed Cox and didn’t move to DC until 10 years after his death.  I first heard about Cox when I picked up a copy of his Collected Poems put out by Paycock Press.  I was stunned by his poems.

Bk_cox_collectedworksAlong with Beth Joselow, Michael Lally, & Terence Winch, Cox was a key figure in that circle that created Some Of Us Press.  As a partner in bringing a small poetry press to life there’s some connection there too.  A group of poets wanting to bring the work of their fellows to life.  His connection to a circle of friends, literary and artistic reminds me of the work I do with Bo on White Crane.

So, discovering a poet like Ed Cox, who made a life here and was so involved and committed to the city and its people and to living an out life as a Gay man in the 1970s is helpful to me.  A poet who was kind and thoughtful and a good listener.  These are all good things to aspire to.

If you don’t know who Ed Cox is or aren’t familiar with his work, we are again endebted to the amazing work of Kim Roberts, whose Beltway Poetry site serves as repository of the brain of DC Poetic history.  There are a lot of amazing pieces there including a remembrance by Richard McCann, and an old interview of Ed Cox by E. Ethelbert Miller which was originally in the old Washington Review (where the above Cox photo by Jesse Winch comes from).  In his gorgeous piece, McCann remembers his old friend as having "a gift for listening deeply, with a patient and even profound attentiveness."  This gift, McCann observes, can be found throughout Cox’s poetry.

I am you,
as you are me in the misery of these avenues
and streets.  Cuddle the bricks, whisper
beneath the great map of stars.

It seems fitting to remember the work of Ed Cox on this Gay Pride Month.

Great Night at the Lammies

Lammylogo Thursday night, May 31st, a nice contingent of White Crane folks descended on the Lambda Literary Awards held at the Fashion Institute in New York City.  These events are always a lot of fun as they afford an opportunity to see a lot of writers and artists whose work has meant so much.  Dan drove up from with partner Pete and went with Bo and his partner Bill Foote.

CharmedlivesWhen we got to F.I.T. we were delighted to meet up with Toby Johnson and Kip Dollar, in from San Antonio. Toby was a finalist in the Anthology category for the White Crane Books project he and Steve Berman edited, Charmed Lives. Berman appeared a few minutes later and we had a great time talking with each other, catching up (such is the nature of internet publishing 68jeff_mannand editing, that one relishes the opportunity to just look at each other in the face and be in one’s presence!) The winner, alas, was not our book, but Love, Bourbon Street, edited by Greg Herren and his partner, Paul J. Willis. Next year…All: A James Broughton Reader!

Other friends at the reception included Jeff Mann, author of the amazing collection of poetry, On The Tongue (reviewed in the Summer ’07 of White Crane) and the scorching A History of Barbed Wire, winner in the category of Gay Erotica. 

We had a great interview with Jeff last year when his last book Loving Mountains, Loving Men came out. You can read an excerpt of that interview online.

Perry Brass, author of Angel Lust, and Substance of God and regular contributor to White Crane was there as well and it’s always good to see Perry.

Tom Spanbauer, who was nominated for his latest novel Now Is The Hour was there from Portland with mural painter, theatre technician/designer, tattoo artist, and permaculture specialist, Sage Ricci.  It was wonderful to meet them in person after the interview (online excerpt) Bo had with Tom in White Crane a few years ago.

Timmons_gayla Frequent contributor and friend Stuart Timmons was a double winner last night with the Lambda Literary Awards for GLBT Non Fiction and GLBT Arts going to the book he co-wrote with Lillian Faderman Gay L.A.  Since Stuart wasn’t able to attend the ceremonies Bo and I had the good fortune of stepping out of the hall and calling him to give him the good news after each win. The book is really a wonder and it’s a well-deserved double win.

It was also great to see Gregg Shapiro, a wonderful writer and poet we’ve featured in White Crane at the ceremony. Gregg has a book of poetry coming out next year and we had a chance to catch up with him as he’s on a whirlwind tour of the East Coast doing some music reporting and generally being a charm in every circle he enters.

It was great to see many legends at the event too, like Martin Duberman, author of the brilliant biography of Lincoln Kirstein, The Worlds of Lincoln Kirstein, was honored with the Pioneer Award at the gala event, and the brilliant Alison Bechdel, of Dykes To Watch Out For and author of Lesbian Memoir/Biography Lammy winner, Fun Home, to name just a few. Bechdel got to present a Lincoln_kirstein Pioneer Award to Marijane Meaker, author lesbian pulp novels in the fifties, to groundbreaking young adult books like Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack! to her amazing memoir Highsmith, A Romance of the 1950’s, which is about her relationship with Patricia Highsmith. She just turned 80.

Afterdeath_2 The winner in the Spirituality category was Michael McColly’s The After Death Room (Soft Skull Press) which is reviewed in the Summer 2007 issue of White Crane. We will have an interview with the author in an upcoming issue.

The After-Death Room is McColly’s chronicle of the events that took him from the day in a Chicago clinic when he heard the news that so affected his life, to the many steps he took to reconcile himself to the diagnosis, to becoming a world traveled AIDS activist and journalist.

Jim Elledge’s A History of My Tattoo won in the Gay Poetry category.