Wednesday 29 March 2023

(Not Quite) 80 Gays Around the World: 2) The Violet Quill

Previously: The Roman Emperor 1) Hadrian (76-138) commemorated the death of his lover 2) Antinous (c.111-c.130) by creating a constellation to show him as the new 3) Ganymede, the boy lover of the god Zeus written about by the author 4) Felice Picano b.1944).

“An Asian Minor: The True Story of Ganymede” is 4) Felice Picano’s novel which retells the mythical love story by introducing other Greek gods, such as Ares and Hermes, as Ganymede’s previous lovers. The book, which was first published in 1981 by the publishing house Picano had founded, Seahorse Press.

At the time Picano was a member (probably the least known today, but the most well-known at the time) of a group of gay writers calling themselves The Violet Quill Club. There were seven members, who met in New York City during 1980 and 1981 to share and critique their writings. The club included several writers who became well-known in the niche world of US gay literary history.

Before I go further with the Violet Quill I must say that during my research for this “Gays Around the World” series I kept coming across floral connections. Violet was the first. This wasn’t intentional or deliberate. As you follow this series you’ll understand what I mean. Now, back to the Violet Quill Club.

The group was informal and had no set constitution. In fact, they only met 8 times as the Violet Quill, though all of the members met and socialised often outside the meetings.

Perhaps the most well-known member to the few who read gay literature is 5) Edmund White (b.1940). I suppose his most famous work wasn’t written during the short Violet Quill period. It was called “The Joy of Gay Sex”. Published in 1977 and co-authored by his psychotherapist, “The Joy of Gay Sex” didn’t really tell the gay community what the majority already knew and do, but it did give them the feeling, now that their activities were described in print, that what they were doing wasn’t “dirty”, as society at the time often told them it was. A sequel called “The New Joy of Gay Sex” was published in 1993, co-written by Felice Picano.

The original, which was revised and expanded in 2006, was partially dedicated to Edmund White’s partner at the time it was first published, and a fellow Violet Quill member, 6) Christopher Cox (1949-1990). Cox was not a prolific writer like White and other Violet Quill members. After the group split up, and after he split up from White, Cox went into publishing and ended up as editor of Ballantine Books. Like several other Violet Quill members, Christopher Cox died from AIDS-related causes.

Just 17 months before Cox’s death was that of 7) George Whitmore (1945-1989). Prior to the Violet Quill Whitmore was a contributing editor and hen literary critic on the lgbt+ newspaper The Advocate. Like most of the Quill members Whitmore wrote extensively about life during the early AIDS epidemic. His personal life made news in 1988 when he successfully sued a New York dentist for refusing to treat him because of his HIV+ status. The dentist was forced to close down due to the fine imposed upon him.

The last meeting of the Violet Quill club occurred as a result of Whitmore’s reading of his work “Getting Rid of Robert”. Specifically, it was the reaction of 8) Andrew Holleran (b.1944) that led to a realisation that the Violet Quill club had, perhaps, strayed too far from its original purpose, to offer constructive criticism and not ridicule. A lot of tension had developed among the seven men as one couple after another split up and paired with another member, and the writers began using this as inspiration for their works.

Andrew Holleran is, with Felice Picano and Edmund White, the most prolific members of the club. Like all of the members he wrote about the privileged gay scene, culture and opportunities in a big city, something which most US gay men had no access to in the 1980s.

And now we come to the final two members of the Violet Quill, and they are the couple who will lead us further on our trip with “Gays Around the World”, where we will encounter more floral connections and a war. The couple in question are 9) Robert Ferro (1941-1988) and 10) Michael Grumley (1942-1988).

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