Christopher Bram has a simple reason for writing Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America (Twelve, $27.99): “I wrote the book,” he says, “because it hadn’t been written yet.” Bram looks at writers who went beyond being just names on the bestsellers list and became cultural leaders who shaped the American dialogue on gay identity. None of the writers are just random scribblers, according to Bram. “Readers will be surprised and pleased by how much really good gay writing was happening from an early date,” he says. “And it’s not always just the usual suspects.” What will this book tell you? Here’s a primer.
Became Famous For: The sexy jacket photo for Other Voices, Other Rooms; then the 1966 classic, In Cold Blood
Now Famous For: His own taste for fame, mercilessly portrayed in 2005’s Capote and 2006’s Infamous
Common Knowledge: A celebrity-obsessed social force with a squeaky voice and penchant for Sol Moscot Lemtosh glasses
What You'll Learn from Eminent Outlaws: Capote and Gore Vidal would become bitter enemies, but the pair first met at Anaïs Nin’s studio in 1947 and bonded over a trip to Manhattan’s Everard Baths.
Became Famous For: The 1953 novel Go Tell It on the Mountain
Now Famous For: His impressive oeuvre; appearing on a postage stamp in 2005
Common Knowledge: A Harlem native who fled the U.S. for Europe and once studied to become a preacher
What You'll Learn from Eminent Outlaws: After publishing Mountain, Baldwin wrote Giovanni’s Room, which his agent told him to burn and his publisher rejected. Baldwin fired his agent and found a new publisher in England. The book eventually became a bestseller.
Became Famous For: Herding the Beats; his epic poem, Howl
Now Famous For: Inspiring the 2010 film Howl, starring James Franco
Common Knowledge: A bearded mystic in oversized glasses who famously told The Paris Review about his habit of masturbating while reading
What You'll Learn from Eminent Outlaws: Ginsberg tried to live a “normal” life with a 9-to-5 job and a girlfriend until he met Peter Orlovsky in 1954. After a therapist told him to follow his heart, Ginsberg moved in with Orlovsky and they lived as a couple until Ginsberg died in 1997.
Became Famous For: The Berlin Stories, which was adapted into Cabaret; celebrity friends, like W. H. Auden
Now Famous For: Tom Ford’s 2009 screen adaptation of his A Single Man
Common Knowledge: A globetrotting sugar daddy whose relationship with artist Don Bachardy was eventually explored in the 2007 documentary Chris & Don: A Love Story
What You'll Learn from Eminent Outlaws: While living in L.A., Isherwood was given mescaline by Aldous Huxley but didn’t take it until a visit to London. While tripping, he saw Westminster Abbey and found it an “absurd little antique shop, full of ridiculous statues.”
Became Famous For: Biting plays, including Zoo Story; his 1962 Broadway debut, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf
Now Famous For: Working well into his 80s with an Off-Broadway premiere planned (then postponed) in late 2011
Common Knowledge: An authority-hating WASP booted from prep school, and later Trinity College, who went on to win three Pulitzer Prizes
What You'll Learn from Eminent Outlaws: Albee and his lover, William Flanagan, were regulars in the Greenwich Village bar scene of the 1950s. Their sour expressions and deadpan comments earned them the nickname “The Sisters Grimm.”