American author, poet and activist, PERRY BRASS was born today Brass grew up in Savannah, Georgia grew up in the 1950s and 60s in equal parts Southern, Jewish, economically impoverished, and very much gay. To escape the South’s violent homophobia, he hitchhiked at age 17 from Savannah to San Francisco — an adventure, he recalls, that was “like Mark Twain with drag queens.” He has published fourteen books and been a finalist six times in three categories (poetry; gay science fiction and fantasy; spirituality and religion) for national Lambda Literary Awards.
One of the main themes in his writing has been the integration of sexuality and the religious or spiritual impulse, as exemplified in his novels Albert: or, The Book of Man, Angel Lust, and Substance of God. His writings have attempted to answer questions such as: Why are so many gay men religious and political conservatives? Why is the need for God so important to us? What is our own place in nature and the world?
Among the early anthologies that included Brass’s work were The Male Muse, the first anthology of openly gay poetry ever published, edited by Ian Young; The Gay Liberation Book from Rolling Stone Press, including work by John Lennon; The Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse; and Gay Roots from Gay Sunshine Press. His work can be found in over 20 anthologies of poetry, short stories, essays, memoirs, and other writings. A poetry cycle called “Five Gay Jewish Prayers” was used as part of the high holiday service at New York’s Beth Simchat Torah congregation. The text of this poem was accepted (in 1985) as one of the first gay Jewish documents in the YIVO Archives of Jewish history. This poem was set to choral music by Chris De Blasio, as “Five Prayers,” which has been sung by several gay choruses.
In 1984, his play Night Chills, an early play dealing with the AIDS crisis, won a Jane Chambers International Gay Playwriting Award. Brass’s collaborations with composers include the words for “All the Way Through Evening,” a five-song cycle set by DeBlasio, which was featured on the AIDS Quilt Songbook CD from Harmonia Mundi, France, and Heartbeats from Minnesota Public Radio; “The Angel Voices of Men” set by Ricky Ian Gordon and commissioned by the Dick Cable Musical Trust for the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus, which has featured it on its CD Gay Century Songbook; “Three Brass Songs” with Grammy-nominated composer Fred Hersch; and “Waltzes for Men” also commissioned by the DCMT for the NYC Gay Men’s Chorus and set by Craig Carnahan.
Brass’s non-fiction book, How to Survive Your Own Gay Life (Belhue Press, 1999) deals with the psychic and physical survival of gay men, with their spiritual and psychological growth, and with achieving happiness and maturity. It was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award in religion and spirituality, and has been the basis for many LGBT discussion and support groups, classes, and workshops.