Amos Lassen, What is Gay Lit?

When the first edition of my first novel was released, Amos Lassen was its first reviewer. My Boston editor-in-chief gave a copy to Amos, where the review is published among his views on other books and movies.

According to his site, he came out when teaching at a rich boy’s private school and when he did, he left the closet far behind. As he says, “I cannot look at intolerance and stand by quietly. This does not mean that I’m not discrete. I do not believe in throwing ideas or issues in the face of people but, on the other hand, I will not allow intolerance to be part of my life.”

He is well respected in the bloggosphere of gay lit reviewers, and you can read what he has to say on pretty much any gay themed media at Reviews by Amos Lassen. There are some 11,000 reviews there and the site is followed by 7432 people.

He lives in Brookline Massachusetts with Sophie, his Jack Russell Terrorist (his words, not mine).

Amos Lassen

Kevin: As you were growing up, where did you find queer literature?

Amos: If I found it, it was by accident. Remember it was a different time in this country and being out was not possible, especially in the South where I was raised and in a traditionally strict Jewish family. I do not remember reading anything gay until I was a good deal older, probably in my mid-twenties. I am sure that my gayness was well inside of me but I was not ready to go and buy a book or even take one from the library that would point to my sexuality even to people I did not know.

Kevin: We’ve seen a lot of authors write gay romance, but we’ve also seen a lot of authors been mistaken for gay romance writers when there’s no evidence that their books are romance. Why do you think this is? 

Amos: What I think has happened here is that we so much wanted to have our own books about our lives that we often projected into a work of writing something  that was not really there. I also think that when we heard rumors that someone was gay, we embraced his writing and tried to make him our own property and I think this happened with straight writers as well as gay ones.

Kevin: What trends have you seen emerge in GLBTI writing?

Amos: There have been so many trends it is hard to remember them all but I do think a trend toward honesty came about with our liberation. For one thing many writers wrote their own stories into their characters but did not openly admit to that until many years later. Edmund White certainly has had his influence felt world wide but it took him a while to write in the first person. I understand his newest book, “Our Young Man” is autobiographical but it is written in fiction. I think that many gay writers follow the trends that they set for themselves – we have a slew of coming-out stories several times a year, mysteries have become a trend as has the paranormal. I love that poetry has made a big comeback in the last five years. There is, I do not think, a single topic in non-gay literature that our writers have not embraced. It is also interesting that the New York Times has embraced our fiction and several authors have had extensive reviews and follow-ups this year. Garth Greenwell is a perfect example of what publicity can do for a book and a person. For the first three weeks that his book was out, you could find a copy to buy in the Boston area.

Kevin: What trends have you seen emerge in the romance genre? Is the genre being reinvented?

Amos: I am not sure that the genre is being reinvented but I am sure that we are being reinvented and if we just stop to think about where we were five years ago literarily speaking and where we are today, there is a tremendous difference.

Kevin: What excites you about modern GLBTI literature?

Amos: I am not sure excite is the right word here. I love the thrill of finding a new writer who can say the same old things as well as new ones in his special way. I love that sex is not the single defining factor of who we are and I really love to read about how we live all over the world. It does indeed excite me that our literature has begun to cross over and that straight authors, (i.e. John Irving and Andre Aciman) are writing gay themes in their work.

Kevin: What topics, character types and situations are discussed now that weren’t around ten years ago. 

Amos: We are certainly more open about so much in LGBT literature—we see many young adult gay themed novels being published—10 to 15 years ago those writers might have been labeled as pedophiles. The trans issue is very evident in our literature today but the biggest difference is that we no longer die in our novels and while suicide was once how many books ended, we do not see that anymore. Gay men and women now live happily (or unhappily) ever after. We still read of parents who throw their kids out because they are gay but not nearly as much as we once did. I still do not understand how this greater acceptance came about and I am sure I am not alone in that but it interested that we have now become important enough to be listened to and even have concessions made for us. I do not think that literature has yet caught up to all of the changes but then we did not think any of this would happen as quickly as it did.

Kevin: And what topics have dropped from gay lit these days?

Amos: Coming out will always be an important topic in our literature. Just think about how it comes up in conversation especially when meeting someone new. It helps us understand ourselves better. Like I said earlier, the sad endings we once had are gone and they have replaced by the better understanding of who we are. I do not think we will ever lose the gay experience in literature—it is who we are. I do think we are seeing and will see a happier literature than ever before and I think now authors will be themselves in writing. Hiding and the closet are things of the past.

Kevin: Who are the writers that you love to read?

Amos: Without a question there are three headliners – Edmund White, Andrew Holleran and Patrica Nell Warren. White has singly brought our literature into the mainstream and he once told me that he always looked forward to my reviews of his work. I am so proud to know him. Andrew Holleran is a prince. I had the pleasure of getting to know him when we brought him to the Arkansas Literary Festival some years ago and he was the only gay writer there and yet he had the audience in the palm of his hand. We all owe Patricia Nell Warren a great deal, “The Front Runner” was our book and still is. We have a strong literary heritage and we should be very proud of it. I think it is important for us to go back in time and read those who really paved the way for us. I think it is also important that we never forget AIDS. I just want you to think about what that means and how I has changed us.

And don’t forget to add your voice to this topic. Please leave comments below.

Next week our last guest, Jerry L. Wheeler joins us. He is an editor responsible for helping many writers, including myself, and has several anthologies to his name. So set a reminder to visit this blog. CLICK HERE to read.


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