Category Archives: Friends

The Advocate Gets Something Right…sort of.

Advocate Heroes Survey

For The Advocate’s 40th anniversary issue they’re honoring 40 Gay heroes…and they’re asking for help. God knows they need it.

The list features 100 notable Gay people from the last four decades — politicians, artists, activists, and more. As usual, The Advocate confuses "famous" with "influential" or "hero."

They’re asking readers to help rank the people listed by voting for the people you feel have made the most significant impact. You can select up to 40 names.

We’re excited, thrilled, gratified and otherwise proud to see that our friends Malcolm Boyd and Mark Thompson have been included (along with the late Bob Hattoy and Harry Hay and several others.)

But then they also include Elton John…who’s quite wonderful, to be sure; but a hero? Someone who took how many years to finally come out (and was probably the last person to figure it out!) I don’t think so. His money enables him to make some kind of impact with HIV/AIDS, but in my book that’s the least you can do when you have that much money.I mean, thanks for the tunes, Elton, you’re a rock star. Not a hero.

And Rosie…again…luv ya Rosie, but hero? Heroes do the difficult thing when it’s hard to do it. You had to be practically dragged out of your closet. And you’ve certainly proved your mettle since coming out. But again…heroic? I don’t think so.

John Waters? Hell…I’d like to have dinner with John. But hero? I’m afraid being famous just isn’t enough. Feels too much like "crumbs from the table" to me.

They promise that they will determine rankings based on your votes plus editors’ input, and the top 40 heroes will be featured on the cover of the anniversary issue. Here’s what they say:

"What do we mean when we say "greatest Gay hero" of the past 40 years? First, the person must be entirely out. Second, it’s not enough to be supremely talented or superbly competent — that person must have done something significant to improve our LGBT lives."

But then they proceed to mix up people who are simply famous with people who have actually done something, offered something, created something for LGBT people. For my money, "heroic" is standing up and being counted when you’ve got something to lose (Take Off the Masks). A hero writes a book that bears his soul (Gay Body, Gay Soul; Gay Spirit: Myth & Meaning). It’s like their covers….here’s a question: How many actual Gay people have they had on their covers in the last two years?

Here’s who I voted for: Tammy Baldwin, John Boswell, Malcolm Boyd, Martin Duberman, Bob Hattoy, Harry Hay, Frank Kameny (who, let’s not forget, The Advocate recently declared dead…of AIDS. He’s not), Jim Kepner, Tony Kushner, Del Martin & Phyllis Lyon, Armistead Maupin, Paul Monette, Joan Nestle, Bayard Rustin, Vito Russo, Mark Thompson and Urvashi Vaid. There are a few others I voted for, too.

They left out Eric Rofes. I added him.

Who would you vote for? VOTE!

A Poet of Our Own…

Delaware_poetry_review_2 I’m doing this because Dan, who is, I believe, immoderately modest, won’t.

Dan, who so ably and beautifully conspires with me to realize this idea he and I share called White Crane, is also a poet of the D.C. variety, and has two poems recently published in the Delaware Poetry Review.

One of them is a particular favorite of mine…Emily Dickinson At the Poetry Slam because I love Emily Dickenson…and because I love Dan.

And please, visit his website to see more…

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.

Rise Up & Shout! ~~~ AGAIN!

Rise_up_2 Last November, the Gay Men’s Medicine Circle of Los Angeles, under the guidance of a committee headed by Don Kilhefner, Malcolm Boyd and Mark Thompson produced a talent showcase entitled Rise Up & Shout!: Voices of the Next Gay Generation. The evening showcased a new generation of Gay and Lesbian artists, but more importantly it created an opportunity for an older Gay generation to interact in a supportive manner with a younger Gay generation, which, in addition to actually being able to learn from their elders, were probably introduced to the idea of “community elders.” A win-win situation for one and all.

The evening, at the Barnsdall Gallery Theater in Hollywood, was presented as a benefit for White Crane Institute and was filmed by Brian Gleason. The documentary film he made premieres this week. We had an opportunity to speak with Gleason about his involvement in Rise Up & Shout!:

WC: Can you describe the Rise Up & Shout! project and tell us what attracted you to it?

Brian Gleason: Rise Up and Shout! is a two part project for me. The first part was my involvement with the intergenerational committee that created the idea, planned and successfully executed the event, Rise Up and Shout!, which was an evening performance by and for Gay youth that took place on September 9, 2006. Not long after my involvement with the committee, I came up with the idea of a documentary film project centered around the event, and began directing that effort, which continues, and has its most recent culmination in the film world premiere at Outfest, on Saturday July 21, 2007.Rise_up

My interest in directing the documentary goes back to my move from San Francisco to Los Angeles in early 2004. I moved down to Los Angeles to work more closely with people like Don Kilhefner and Mark Thompson and Malcolm Boyd; three people who, to me, have really earned the title of elders in the Gay community. I started having phone conversations with Don and Mark a few years back, when I was still living in San Francisco, because I became so interested in their writings, where they spoke about the deeper roots of Gay history and culture and what it really meant to be Gay: that it was not just a sexual orientation but something much more, something that went back thousands of years in culture and art and history, surfacing in epics such as Gilgamesh, the writings of Plato, the work of Walt Whitman and others throughout the years.

Well, eventually I made the move to Los Angeles, and I have been working very closely with all three of these great men, and have formed very deep friendships with all of them. The idea initially came to me to interview them for some sort of book or video project, but then when we all started working on Rise Up And Shout!, it struck me that the most interesting aspect of this whole project was the intergenerational dialog that was occurring – that’s the theme, or the emotional "punch" that really hit me: finally I was experiencing Gay community: elders, adults and youth working together to help each other find their voice, to discover something valuable and lasting about themselves as Gay men. That became the focus and theme of the documentary, and I hope I’ve been able to adequately portray that in the film.

WC: Beautiful. It’s certainly a motivation White Crane understands. We’ve done a couple of issues addressing similar ideas, and worked closely with all the people you mention, too. I guess, in the interest of full disclosure for the readers, we ought to let readers know that White Crane Institute was a beneficiary of the event and I attended it. It was wonderful.

I suppose we all have ideas of what "intergenerational" dialog means. How difficult was it for you to assemble the cast you had? And what was the biggest surprise for you personally?

Rise_up_3 Brian: Assembling the cast literally took a year. We held something like three or four auditions, and most of the kids were quite talented, but it really became a matter of representing diversity of voice ‒ in other words, we didn’t want 15 opera singers, or 15 poets, etc. ‒ we needed a real mix to represent all the various voices in the Gay community.  And we got it ‒ by the time we finished we had everything from glam opera to lesbian hip hop to classical poetry, film and everything in between – but this took everyone on the committee digging into all their email lists and their friends email lists and phoning and canvassing with audition posters. It was a hell of an effort, to put it mildly, but a fun and engaging one, and also one that harnessed every generation represented on the committee: some of the elders were able to find and audition the more classical acts: vocalists, etc., while some of the youth on the committee were able to find rappers, hip hop dancers and the like. 

And there were a lot of surprises, most all of them working out really well. Jim Pentecost, a Broadway veteran, directed the show, and he knew all along that this was going to be a right-up-to-the-minute effort, and was able to keep us more or less calm throughout this whole process. I mean right up to a few weeks before the show, I think we had only sold like 8 tickets, and we wanted to fill a 300 seat house for the kids! But we did it. The biggest surprise for me personally was spending the afternoon interviewing Justin Miles, a 21 year old HIV positive poet, former drug addict and prostitute, who now lives with his Mormon parents in Simi Valley, has kicked the drug habit, and is pursuing a college degree. Justin opened right up to me, and was totally honest without being grandiose, and showed a wisdom way beyond his years. He talked straight up about the struggle with drugs, sex and love, coming out, trying to turn his life around and start anew ‒ all by the age of 21! He didn’t give me some sermon about the horrors of his past and how others should avoid this or that or do this or that, he simply talked openly about his situation, owned up to the choices he had made, talked honestly about his fears at the same time as his hopes for his future. It was really endearing and provocative, and if I’ve been able to capture just a little of that in the film then I’m happy.

WC: That’s a great story and pretty unusual for someone to be able to overcome the whole "poor me victimhood." What are some of the other stories that are in the film?

Brian: Well, another story, or I guess it’s more of a theme around which a few stories are wrapped, was the meetings, conversations and time spent together between some of the youth and elders. It’s funny, making a documentary, sometimes you capture moments that just happen and sometimes you "prime the pump" a little and see what happens.

Kilhefner Well, sometimes the youth performers and the "elder" committee Poster members from Rise Up just happened to run into each other, strike up a conversation, work together at rehearsals, etc. and sometimes I arbitrarily paired up the two groups. I did this with a couple of the performers but one in particular really struck me: I paired Steven Liang, an 18-year-old Chinese American Gay man who performed poetry readings with Mark Thompson, the producer of the Rise Up event and the former editor of the Advocate magazine. I had Mark give Steven a tour of his photojournalist career — Mark’s photos of people like Paul Monette and Robert Mapplethorpe and Ram Dass, Fellow Travelers, were hanging in a gallery in Silverlake, so I brought in Steven Liang and had Mark give him his own tour, when the gallery was closed. It was pretty incredible to watch Steven as he learned about these people — many of them he was not even aware of – and really got his first lesson in Gay culture and history. I realized how unavailable so much of our culture and history is to younger Gay people, and it became a real motivation for continuing to plow through all the difficulties and make the film.   

WC: Yes… we’re very familiar with Mark’s photos…White Crane is touring the exhibit around the country right now. It’s here in NY as we speak and it goes to Philadelphia and Washington D.C. next.Essex_hemphill

Brian: By the way, I use the terms youth and elders because I think, first of all, it evokes a good description of the intergenerational theme, but also because it’s the old tribal term, from back in the time when community was much more vital and youth and elders were always together, learning from each other and contributing back to the community. This is something that I think is really lost today, particularly for Gay people, since we come in this kind of Diaspora from towns all over the country into these cities where we don’t know each other, are separated in many ways from our families and original cultures, and have to quickly learn to adapt, get along and build a life, often very much alone.

WC: Who were your elders?

Brian: Well, as much as it sounds like a cliché, I’d have to say my Dad was my first elder. Of course it wasn’t always that way, growing up Gay and liberal in an Irish Catholic Republican family, but I’ll never forget one day when I was very young and tried to run away from home — Dad got very angry at first, but then I noticed him starting to cry, which he of course tried to cover up, and he ended up by saying "you’ll always have a place in my home, no matter what" and it turned out to be true over the years, and helped my coming out more than you can imagine. It’s ironic, as conservative as he was he taught me what acceptance really means.

WC: That’s actually very sweet, and I’m glad it was the first response you had. And who were your first Gay elders?

Brian: My first gay elders were Don Kilhefner, Mark Thompson and Malcolm Boyd. They were one of the big reasons I moved down to Los Angeles from San Francisco several years ago. When I was living up in SF, I called Don out of the blue one day, because I was having very strange dreams and I read an essay of his on dreams, so I Googled his name and found his number and to my surprise he picked up the phone and we talked for almost an hour. It was the first conversation I ever had where I really began to feel part of the larger Gay community — the cultural community that has fought for our rights over the years — and paved the way for an understanding that we are much much more than just a sexual orientation.

WC: Such as…?

Brian: We are, as Harry Hay put it, a separate people whose time has come, a people with a unique outlook on life and a significant contribution to make to world culture. Mark and Malcolm really welcomed me down here in Los Angeles, and without their support as friends and elders, this film would never have been made. The event, Rise Up and Shout, was essentially a year-long nose-to-the-grindstone effort that came out of a simple lunch between Mark and Don where it was decided to put on an event for gay youth. That’s grassroots community work, and people like Mark, Malcolm and Don have done it for decades now, and taught me that it’s our generation’s turn to take over and continue this vital work, to help gay people come together, build community and understanding, get over the homophobia and let the world know that we’ve come with a real gift to give the world — look at how many gay people are artists, healers, visionaries!

WC: In the Gay community, the problem seems to be one of opportunity with respect to that "Generation Conversation"…other than Rise Up & Shout! which was obviously a wonderful opportunity for everyone involved, I know Don Kilhefner has been making a lot of these situations happen. Have you worked with him on other projects?

Brian: Don and I have worked on several projects together, most notably the workshops for the group that he co-founded a few years back, the Gay Men’s Medicine Circle, a grass roots community organization here in Los Angeles that works with many gay men on issues such as HIV, crystal meth, and other psychological or spiritual aspects of their lives.  The Circle has co-sponsored several major events, including Rise Up and Shout last year, and, a couple years back, the Standing On The Bones of our Ancestors conference, a weekend long seminar on the need for greater intergenerational dialog in the gay community.  Don has been a professional mentor for me in my psychotherapy career, and has, more than anyone, taught me the importance of community, and what that word really means: that we gay men need to start assuming responsibility for each other.

WC: You’ve talked about Justin and Liang. Is there another favorite story in the movie you can talk about?

Brian: Sure ‒ it seemed like a little story at the time, and it kind of operated like a motif running just below the surface of the film, but when I started watching the footage I really noticed how Malcolm Boyd, 84-year-old priest and author and a member of the Rise Up committee, connected in a profound way with the performers and the other members of the committee. This event was really important for him, and it reminded me of something my Dad used to talk about: as he got older he really missed the opportunity to connect with the younger generations (outside his own children). I think everyone wants to give back in some way or another, but it reaches a kind of critical mass when you get older, and you really start to understand, and feel in a deep way, the connection between the generations and your role in that connection ‒ when that’s missing, as it really is in the modern world, I think it really affects the oldest generation (and also, in a profound way, the youngest generation) the most.

WC: Knowing Malcolm, that’s not hard to believe. His connection with this magazine has been a profound experience for us, too. Mark [Thompson], too. They’re both very passionate about the community of Gay men and their well-being.

So…the film premieres next week in Los Angeles [Rise Up And Shout!, will have its world premiere this summer at Outfest! Saturday, July 21, 2:30 at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre 4800 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90027 near Vermont] Is there anything that you wished you could have gotten that you missed? And, any final thoughts?

Brian: Well, I always feel like I missed something, I just think that’s part of the process. I love that Martha Graham quote, "No artist is satisfied. Ever." And I really feel it with this, my biggest artistic endeavor to date. It’s a strange, somewhat painful, somewhat wonderful feeling that keeps you going after that elusive "thing" in art, love, anything worthwhile. 

As far as having missed anything specific, I’d say a couple things: I would have loved to have spent more time with the GLASS kids, but it was just impossible due to all the restrictions in the county youth foster system; and I would have loved to have followed all the kids more, found out what they are up to now, how they are doing after Rise Up and Shout, what impact it had on their lives – but I’m thinking maybe that will be the subject of my next documentary (he says, paying off credit card bills and trying to catch up on sleep)!

Final thoughts: let’s see, well, it’s been a real journey, and it is very true what people say who undertake projects like this: it almost kills you, and at the same time, it’s incredibly rewarding and makes you who you really are, and to me, that’s the whole point.

The Rise Up and Shout! event and film were put together by many hands in addition to Brian Gleason, including: Broadway director and producer Jim Pentecost, who directed the event Rise Up and Shout!, Don Kilhefner, Mark Thompson, Malcolm Boyd, Frank Rodriguez, Joey Shanley, Ethan Schvartzman, Virsil Mitchell, Elijah Cohen, Karen Minns, Kevin Yoshida, and all the members of the Gay Men’s Medicine Circle

Candle Light

I was just in Tennessee for a week, visiting with an old friend who is having some health challenges at the moment and seeing other friends I haven’t seen in more than ten years now. More on that later…

P1010418_2 One of those friends is John Wall. He is taking the most excellent care of my other friend. Without John Wall I don’t know what he would be doing. I went to visit John at his homestead by a stream. He shares this place with his fere, Lee, and they grow vegetables (Lee is a horticulturist at a local garden) and John Wall makes candles. Beautiful candles. His business, Dry Creek Candles, is his main form of support…and since he is giving such support to my old friend, I thought it would be nice if readers here gave John Wall and Dry Creek Candles a look. We all burn candles from time to time, and John’s are beautiful, hand-made, hand-dipped bee’s wax. And John is pretty cute, too.John_wall_2 You know…for a guy.

P1010424 The work involved seems almost meditative. He works with beautiful colors, as you can see above, and he also made all of his equipment from scratch. Notice those wheels holding all the candles…they’re bicycle wheels.

Turn and dip. Turn and dip. I asked him how many dips it takesto make a candle (and no…that’s not a set-up for a joke!) and he told me 35 or more. All his products are made with the least amount of additives to give you clean burning, long lasting, quality candles. Beautiful candles by a beautiful man. Candles06

P1010355 Most of the time I was there, we sat on the porch and caught up on a lot of conversation. My friend and I met 35 years ago in San Francisco and we haven’t run out of things to talk about in all that time. He’s built a wonderful little hermitage/cottage/Hobbit home for himself there. He’s not well enough to stay in it now. But we went to see it and while we were there, he gave me the most wonderful gift of these old flyers from the Fillmore West. Some of them are pretty amazing….Jethro Tull, Chicago (my home town!)…It’s A Beautiful Day…Ten Years After…the Grateful Dead…John Mayall. And more. All in the inimitable psychedelic style of the day.

Here are some of them…

The amazing thing is he still had them at all. They don’t call it "ephemera" for nothing: It’s just paper…in a trunk…in the woods! This ephemera was mailed out to promote concerts at Fillmore Auditorium, but also to promote Bill Graham’s tours. Fillmore_flyer_1_2 Most people probably tossed them or lost them at some point.Fillmore_flyer_3_2  The calendars on the backs of these read like a Who’s Who of the Golden Age of Rock n’ Roll….Van Morrison…Joe Cocker…Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young,…John Sebastian…Richie Havens…Frank Zappa…Rod Stewart…and those are just the ones on the back of one of the flyers. Fillmore_flyer_2_2

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.

Fellow Traveler’s Extended

Fellow Travelers Exhibit Run Extended

Because of the move, this week, at the new, green Chicago Center on Halsted, the White Crane sponsored photography exhibit, Fellow Travelers: Liberation Portraits by Mark Thompson has been extended at the New York Lesbian, Gay Bisexual & Transgender Community center on 13th Street. If you haven’t seen this wonderful show of 15 black and white portraits of beautiful Gay men, by all means drop by the Center and take it in. The exhibit will be at the Center, 208 W. 13th Street for another two weeks.

Fellow Travelers Closing Reception

And a fine time was had by all! 

A roomful of readers, lovers and passers-by joined White Crane Institute at the New York City Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transgender Community Center last night in celebrating the vision and wisdom of Mark Thompson’s Fellow Travelers: Liberation Portraits exhibit.

Mark came in from Los Angeles (we missed you Malcolm…feel better soon!) and was joined at the Center by fellow authors Gary Schmigdall (Walt Whitman: A Gay Life) Arnie Kantrowitz (Under the Rainbow), Joel Singer, whose late partner,  James Broughton, Broughton
was among the many beautiful portraits. It is a very moving display of some of the most influential thinkers and artists in our movement.

The exhibit, which is touring LGBT Community Centers around the country over the next year under the auspices of White Crane Institute, is a stunning collection of 15 black and white portraits of some of the giants of the Gay wisdom, spirituality and culture movement. Planning is under way to bring the exhibit to Chicago and the brand new Center on Halsted … the Cleveland LGBT Community Center…and then Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Salt Lake City and Modesto, California. Watch for listings in your area.

In fact, this was to have been the closing reception for the show, but response has been so positive, that it is being held over for another two weeks at the Center on 13th Street.

Ft_invite_front Sometime in May, video of the show, and interviews with Bo Young and Mark Thompson about the Fellow Travelers photography show will be available on-line at Out at the Center, the NY LGBT Community Center cable television show, which is shown at various times on both Time-Warner Cable in Manhattan and Cablevision in Brooklyn.


What do W.H.Auden, Aaron Copeland, Langston Hughes, Vladimir Nabokov, Wendy Wasserstein, Derek Wallcott and Eudora Welty (ok…and Henry Kissinger, but we’re going for "upbeat" and "celebratory" here) have in common with author and White Crane friend Fenton Johnson?John_guggenheim_2

They’re all Guggenheim Fellows. (portrait to the right: John Simon Guggenheim)

This morning it was announced that Fenton Johnson is a 2007 recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship for his work on a new work of nonfiction entitled Desire in Solitude.

Johnson is currently an Associate Professor in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Arizona, and readers of White Crane will remember a wonderful conversation with Fenton in Issue #62. Fenton Johnson is the author of five other books including two time Lammy awards for Geography of the Heart: A Memoir (1996) and Keeping Faith: A Skeptic’s Journey (2004). He has received numerous other literary awards and has also been a Wallace Stegner Fellow and a James Michener Fellow.

White Crane offers the warmest congratulations to Fenton Johnson. It is a richly deserved honor for a wonderful writer and a very nice man.

The Irish Sports Pages – Hattoy

Next to the crossword puzzle, it’s the reason I buy the New York Times every morning.

Call it morbid if you like…but I read the obituaries, or as my mother called them "the Irish Sports Pages" every morning. I have no idea from where that reference derives, aside from the trenchant wit the Irish bring to everything and a sort of philosophical resignation to the tragedies of life. Was it Ben Franklin who said he checked them every morning, and if he wasn’t in them, he carried on as usual?

A long time ago, in a California galaxy far, far away, I worked for the Los Angeles City Council as an assistant to Councilwoman Peggy Stevenson. I replaced Steve Schulte who had moved on to become the Executive Director of the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Community Services Center. It was 1979 if memory serves. I was 29 years old. Not long after starting the job, I met a large and voluble figure in the hallways who worked for Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky. He was 29 too. And we became fast friends. His name was Bob Hattoy and this morning I opened the Irish Sports Pages to find my friend’s name there on page C13. The headline on his obit: Bob Hattoy, 56, Clinton Aide And Powerful Voice on Gay Issues.

Hattoy_obit_1_1  While I don’t dispute that, it isn’t how I remember Bob. Bob and I would commute to work together most mornings, driving from West Hollywood (in those ancient days only a neighborhood in Los Angeles, not a separate city) to downtown Los Angeles, braving the Hollywood Freeway. There was the time we arrived at the downtown parking lot where council employees parked, a short walk from the offices in the iconic Los Angeles City Hall building, and it was just too beautiful a day…we decided that we just couldn’t cope with angry constituents and boring committee meetings this morning. We called my boyfriend at the time, the one with the ’76 red Corvette…let’s call him RC…and had RC meet us downtown and took off, the three of us, loaded into the Vette, and drove up the coast to Santa Barbara for the day. Bob was the kind of person who could talk you all the way to Santa Barbara and make you laugh the whole way. He had a facility for saying the outrageous thing that made you slack jaw…but also made you think.

Later, RC and I moved out to Rancho Mirage and were doing the reverse commute back and forth to L.A. Hattoy would come out and spend most weekends with us. The Times says "he found his calling" and went to work for the Sierra Club at age 28, but that can’t be right. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say it’s flat out wrong. Here’s how I know: The No On Six Campaign…the despicable Briggs Initiative to ban gay people and their friends from teaching…was in 1978, and it was immediately after that that I started working for Peggy Stevenson and that’s when I met Hattoy. We were still working for the L.A. City Council at 28 and ditching work and driving red Corvettes to Santa Barbara. The NY Times has that wrong.

Anyway, what I remember most about Bob was laughing. He was one of the funniest people, one of the sweetest people, I ever knew.Hatt2

Then life happened…and I moved to the East coast and I didn’t see Hattoy again for a long long time.

Bob was the kind of friend who would suddenly show up on the news…and not in a bad way…and you weren’t really surprised. So when Bob showed up speaking at the Democratic Convention that nominated Bill Clinton it just seemed, well, normal. Bob had always been a force to reckon with…funny…witty, even…clever…maddening more often than not. But this was a moment that Bob Hattoy had been born to…a national audience for someone who knew precisely where to hit with righteous language. This wasn’t "funny Bob" …this was "a big bite of the reality sandwich" Bob, as he used to put it. Here’s what he said: "We are part of the American family," he said, speaking to Bush senior. "And Mr. President, your family has AIDS, and we’re dying, and you are doing nothing about it." It wasn’t "funny Bob." It wasn’t even "outrageous Bob." I can’t even imagine what he’d have to say about Shrub. Or the Iraq. Or VA Hospitals. The thing is, I more expected Bob Hattoy to show up on The Daily Show than in the NY Times obituaries. I actually gasped when I opened the paper and saw his name there.

He came to my home one more time after that, before disappearing into the ether of Washington D.C. politics and the Clinton administration and then back to California. I had a cocktail party in honor of my old friend and then I never saw him again. I tried several times over the past few years…since my own diagnosis…to find him. I Googled him to no avail. Oh there were stories, but nothing I could track…and I’ve tracked down and found old friends.

I read the obituaries every morning because in many ways they are some of the best mini-biographies out there, but this morning I saw how much they could miss. Some of the best parts of my friend’s life, his activism, his Vietnam War protesting, his work on the Los Angeles City Council, his work for the Sierra Club…even his stint as…was he one of the Seven Dwarves?…that would be ironic considering how big a man he was…I can’t remember now…there was always something just completely insane thinking of Hattoy as a Disneyland animated character…I think he said he was fired for insulting Snow White. How truly incisively smart Bob Hattoy was, how outrageously funny this man could be…all of this…reduced to a paragraph.

And of course, every Gay man has a scrapbook of obituary clippings…too many obituary clippings…Howard, Kip, David, Alan, Mark, Greg…

I’ll add one more this morning. It never gets any easier.