Legend: Larry Kramer

11.17.2011

By Jerry Portwood

The legendary playwright and author hasn't given up the fight

People warn you: “Watch out, here comes Larry Kramer.” He’s ornery, irascible, impossible, loud. Overall, the man is indefatigable. He’s been declared dead more than once, both literally (in a 2001 Associated Press headline) and metaphorically (for his professional suicide in writing about the gay experience and endlessly crusading for gay equality). But few prepare you for the charmer with a dog named Charlie, who’s touched by how much of what he’s fought for has come to pass.

Nominated for an Academy Award in 1969 for his screenplay of Women in Love, Kramer truly announced his voice with his confrontational 1978 novel, Faggots. He co-founded the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in 1982. Then, when that didn’t seem sufficient, he went on to create ACT UP in 1987. But it was his play, The Normal Heart, first produced in April 1985 at the Public Theater, for which most will remember him. A successful Broadway revival this past season, directed by George C. Wolfe and Joel Grey, gave people a reason to reconsider the man of letters, allowing the work to transform from agitprop into sensitive historical drama (a film by Glee creator Ryan Murphy is scheduled for 2014).

And then there is his epic novel, The American People, that, at 76, Kramer is still hard at work on. Running to thousands of pages, it details a decidedly queer history of the United States. Just don’t mistake it for the gay Abraham Lincoln book. “It’s not just Lincoln—it’s the whole gay American history,” he corrects. And he should know—he’s played such a big part in it.

Photographed in New York City by Gavin Bond, September 10, 2011