EDMUND WHITE, American author, born; an American novelist, short-story writer and critic. He is a member of the faculty of Princeton University’s Program in Creative Writing. White’s best-known work is A Boy’s Own Story, the first volume of an autobiographical-fiction series that continued with The Beautiful Room Is Empty and The Farewell Symphony, describing stages in the life of a Gay man from boyhood to middle age. Several characters in these latter two novels are recognizably based on well-known individuals from White’s New York-centered literary and artistic milieu.
An earlier novel Nocturnes for the King of Naples (1978) and a later novel The Married Man (2000) are also gay-themed and draw heavily on White’s own life. In 2006 he published a nonfiction autobiography entitled My Lives. It is unusual in that it is organized by theme, rather than chronologically. White’s autobiographical works are frank and unapologetic about his promiscuity and his HIV-positive status. In Paris, in 1984, he was closely involved in the foundation of the French HIV/AIDS NGO AIDES.
Though he is openly Gay himself, not all of his works center on Gay themes. His debut Forgetting Elena (1973) is set on an imaginary island. The novel can be read as commenting on Gay culture, but only in a highly coded and indirect manner. Caracole (1985) centers on heterosexual characters, relationships, and desires. Fanny: A Fiction (2003) is a historical novel about Frances Trollope and Frances Wright. White’s play Terre Haute (2006) portrays discussions that take place when a prisoner based on Timothy McVeigh is visited by a writer based on Gore Vidal. (In real life McVeigh and Vidal corresponded but did not meet.) He was co-author, with Charles Silverstein, of The Joy of Gay Sex (1977).
White has been influential as a literary and cultural critic, particularly on Gay issues and has become something of an eminence grise in Gay lit culture. He has received many awards and distinctions; among these, he is a Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, an Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et de Lettres, and a Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2016 Governor Andrew Cuomo named White as State Author along with Yusef Komunyakaa as state poet.