1917-06-20

Writer and memoirist DONALD VINING was born on this date. In the 1950s he served as Drama Editor of What’s Cookin’ magazine and wrote numerous freelance articles and stories for other varied publications and periodicals. After a thirty year career at Teacher’s College, Columbia University, he took early retirement to start his own publishing company, The Pepys Press.

This publishing firm produced five volumes of his acclaimed A Gay Diary as well as a book of diaries from the Second World War, American Diaries of World War II, and other works.

Vining published essays on gay relationships — his own with his partner Richmond Morell Purinton lasted more than 43 years — which appeared in varied American periodicals; in 1986, the Crossing Press published a volume of his collected essays, How Can You Come Out If You’ve Never Been In? He also wrote numerous scripts, plays, poems and stories throughout his lifetime. His first story published in book form was in Cross-Section 1945 with his Show Me The Way To Go Home. Vining’s short story The Old Dog was later published in Story Magazine, soon after immortalized in the book Story: The Fiction of The Forties, and today continues to be used in schools across the USA.

At best, Vining had a minor success as a playwright and short story writer. His importance rests in the five volumes of his published diary, appearing between 1979 and 1993. In his review of the first volume of the diary in Body Politic, John D’Emilio said that “A Gay Diary is, unquestionably, the richest historical document of gay male life in the United States that I have ever encountered…. It chronicles a whole life in which homosexuality is but one part and an ever-changing part at that…. It illuminates a critical period in gay male American history.” D’Emilio discusses the earlier years of the diary at some length in his Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority.

The strength of Vining’s diary lies precisely in his detailed chronicle of the daily life of non-professional Gay men in Manhattan over a period of more than forty years. Paul Robinson emphasizes the cheerful tone of the diary in his Gay Lives: “Again and again it tells a story of perseverance, of triumph over adversity, of making the most of the hand one is dealt in life” [p. 285]. Joseph Cady calls it “a goldmine of information about earlier American Gay male social life, especially during World War II and the immediate post-war years.”