Category Archives: GLBT memoir and/or biography

“Are You in a Hurry, Dear?”: A Memoir of Life, Love, and Fabulous Hair” by Milton A. Buras— From New Orleans to New York

Buras, Milton A. “Are You in a Hurry, Dear?”: A Memoir of Life, Love, and Fabulous Hair”, CreateSpace, 2017.

From New Orleans to New York

Amos Lassen

While coming of age in New Orleans, Milton A. Buras knew he was different. While the other boys in his neighborhood were chasing after girls, he was looking at men. He couldn’t vocalize how he felt because in New Orleans in the 1950s, homophobia was everywhere.

However, when he discovered the French Quarter everything changed. It was there that Buras found a vibrant, supportive community of drag queens, hustlers, friends, and lovers all of who helped him in some way to accept himself. They gave him the courage to follow his dreams. Buras gained the courage to move to New York where he became famous as a hair stylist to the stars. He shares the New York of the AIDS epidemic and how that changed the world and what was to come later. This is a personal story as well as a look at a time that was and a song of hope for what is yet to come.

 

 

“Party of One: A Memoir in 21 Songs” by Dave Holmes— An Outsider Who Wants to Be Inside

Holmes, Dave. “Party of One: A Memoir in 21 Songs”, Three Rivers Reprint, 2017.

An Outsider Who Wants To Be Inside

Amos Lassen

Former MTV VJ Dave Holmes, brings us his very funny memoir of a perpetual outsider searching for self-acceptance set against the music of the ’80s, ’90s, and today as his soundtrack. It seems that

 Dave Holmes has spent his life on the periphery, wanting to get inside. Growing up, he was the artsy son in the sporty family. At school and college, he was the closeted gay kid surrounded by crush-worthy straight guys. And in his twenties, in the middle of a disastrous career in advertising, he accidentally became an MTV VJ overnight when he finished second in a contest.  Holmes even went so far as to constantly change who he was— a music geek but then he finally accepted himself. This is a book especially for those who have found their place in the world and it is both very, very funny and deeply nostalgic; a story about never fitting in, never giving up, and “letting good music guide the way”. We once again see the importance of that line in Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” about memory and music.

All of us have at some times in our lives tried to fit in. Remember how we struggled in high school to be a member of the “A-List” groups only to discover that once we made it there was also an “A-list” plus group. If one has the right amount of human

human humility plus self-doubt, then this is a book for you. By reading about someone else’s hard times, we are helped with dealing with our own.

Holmes has the ability to immediately make friends with the reader and we remain right by his side during the read. Every time we open the book it is like having a reunion. What Holmes says here is smart, funny, self-deprecating and raw.

Reading his struggle to find himself when he was a teen helps others. The stories are filled with cultural references from the 80’s and 90’s and they are touching and thoughtful. He gives a voice to that younger, lonelier person that none of us have ever forgotten.

I didn’t watch MTV in the 90’s or at anytime as it was in its prime while I was living out of the country so that is not a measurement for me here. What is, however, is the relationships we form with each other and Holmes. Regardless of background or personal story, growing up and becoming an adult is difficult and we all experience it. Dave Holmes captures that beautifully and by sharing shared his own problems, he helps pave the way for other outsiders who want to be on the inside (and that is about 99% of us). However, I must say that this is a very specific book written for a specific audience. I do love that being gay is no longer the issue that it once was. Also, Holmes has the ability to slow moments and life down and thereby examine them to expose a but of truth. Holmes doesn’t shy away from discussing his early struggles with his sexuality as a closeted gay teen and he does so self-effacingly.

 

 

“Notes on a Banana: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Manic Depression” by David Leite— A Candid Memoir

Leite, David. “Notes on a Banana: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Manic Depression”, Dey Street, 2017.

A Candid Memoir

Amos Lassen

One of the wonderful advantages of being a review is that it opens me to books I perhaps would never have read. I have, until now, read very few books about food so reading “Notes on a Banana” was a complete revelation to me. David Leite keeps the website Culinaria and has been universally lauded as a chef but that is not what this memoir is about. Rather it is a look at a man who happens to be a chef and who now shares with us his candid story about family, food, mental illness, and sexual identity.

Leite was born into a family of Azorean immigrants and he grew up in the 1960s in a Catholic, blue-collar Portuguese home in Fall River, Massachusetts where food and the family really mattered. As a child he was a dreamer with determination, imagination and a flair for the dramatic. His mother nicknamed him “Banana” and called him as such. Leite dreamt of living in a middle-class house with a swinging kitchen door and fell in love with everything French and this he attributes to his Portuguese and French-Canadian godmother. He struggled with being a manic depressive and it seemed that the only way he found a sense of relief was through food— learning about it, watching Julia Child cook and his own cooking for others. In this book we read of his young years and self-acceptance and how he turned his love of food into a career that has brought him many awards. He writes of the people who helped to shape him and his career and at the ups and downs he encountered. He very bravely writes of the rejection he experienced because he is gay and his attempts and aspirations to becoming straight. He shares his experiences with Aesthetic Realism, a cult in Manhattan that claimed to be able to get others to accept their straight selves. Leite went on to become a writer, cookbook author, and web publisher. He writes of “The One”, Alan and their twenty-four year relationship. What I love here is that Leite never loses site of how he got to where he is and as we read, we see that he returns to his family and this keeps him grounded.

There is so much to enjoy here and I feel that I know David Leite now. Through his writing, he has become my friend. I am sure that this has to do with his braveness to speak out on mental disorder and sexuality. There were times that I laughed aloud as I read and there were times when I held back tears. This is what a memoir should be. The book will not hit stores until April and I suggest you look for it.

 

 

“You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams: My Life in Stories and Pictures” by Alan Cumming— Picture Essays

Cumming, Alan. “You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams: My Life in Stories and Pictures”, Rizzoli, 2016.

Picture Essays

Amos Lassen

In his own words and pictures, Alan Cumming takes us into his life that seems to use every adjective possible. “The New York Times: says that Cummings is a “a bawdy countercultural sprite” and “Time” has said that he is one of the most fun people in show business, Alan Cumming is an award-winning star of stage, television, and film, as well as a best-selling author. His personality is on every page of this book. “You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams” is made up of forty-five picture essays in which Cumming shares his life with us (even the decadent parts). He illustrates what he says with photographs and we learn of a strange bonding session he had with Elizabeth Taylor and all about his family and friends. We learn what Oprah had to say to him (that became the title of this book) and we are totally entertained. This is a rare self-portrait by an actor in an era when most are nervous about sharing too much.

What makes this such an interesting read is that it reads like gossip. It is filled with entertaining anecdotes, as well as personal reflections and we get an insightful commentary on how Cumming feels about America. It is also a poignant story of his journey through his life and Cumming does not hesitate in sharing intimate moments of his life.

 

 

“Rad Families: A Celebration” by Thomas Moniz— The Way Wd Create Family

Moniz, Tomas, editor. “Rad Families: A Celebration”, PM Press, 2016.

The Way We Create Family

Amos Lassen

There have been many books written about the family and I remember when I was an undergraduate that I took a Sociology course on the topic. The family was very different back then and so was the way we thought about family, This collection of essays does not tell us how we should raise children or be prefect parents. Instead the writers included here try to be both honest and vulnerable in sharing their stories and experiences as well as their failures and their regrets. The anthology brings together parents and writers from diverse communities as it explores the process of getting pregnant from trans birth to adoption, deals with issues of racism and police brutality, probes raising feminists and feminist parenting. We look at empty nesting and letting go. Some of the contributors are recognizable authors and activists but most are everyday parents who work, love and trying to build a better world. We are reminded that we are not alone and that community can help us get through difficulties and that we can become better people.

Contributors include Allison Wolfe, Ian MacKaye, Burke Stansbury, Simon Knaphus, Artnoose, Jennifer Lewis, Carla Bergman, Rachel Galindo, Dawn Caprice, Shawn Taylor, D.A. Begay, Airial Clark, Jeremy Adam Smith, Frances Hardinge, Jonathan Shipley, Bronwyn Davies Glover, Amy Abugo Ongiri, Mike Araujo, Craig Elliott, Eleanor Wohlfeiler, Scott Hoshida, Plinio Hernandez, Madison Young, Carvell Wallace, Dani Burlison, Brian Whitman, scott winn, Kermit Playfoot, Chris Crass, and many more. I found no recognizable names here but I did see recognizable and common situations. This is a collection for all families and it reminds us of what intimacy is.

“Transitioning Together: One Couple’s Journey of Gender and Identity Discovery” by Wenn B. Lawson— Surviving Against the Odds

Lawson, Wenn B. “Transitioning Together: One Couple’s Journey of Gender and Identity Discovery” , Jessica Kinglsley Publishers, 2017.

Surviving Against the Odds

Amos Lassen

“Transitioning Together” is the story of a relationship that survived the odds. There is a difference of twelve’s years between Wenn and Beatrice Lawson, born almost twelve years apart in different countries with different cultures. They were both assigned female gender at birth. However, after nineteen years of marriage and four children, Wenn became part of a same-sex relationship with Beatrice. Beatrice did not know that twenty-two years later, Wenn would transition from female to male. This is a memoir that is unique and honest as it relates the story of Wenn’s transition and Beatrice’s journey alongside him.

Co-written by Wenn and Beatrice, who are both on the autism spectrum, this story gives us a rare look into an older couple’s experience of transition, with particular emphasis on how Beatrice really felt about the changes. We read the true and candid story of the conflicts, challenges and growing celebration can occur when a couple transitions together. Not much research about autism includes aspects of gender and sexuality. This book is a many-layered account of discovering sexuality, exploring gender identity and living with autism. It is the story of overcoming obstacles of two people to find each other and to find themselves and a way to move forward together. This is the love story of Wenn and Beatrice that, through the years, became an exploration of gender and identity. This is the story of Beatrice and Wenn overcoming personal battles to come together as a lesbian couple in the mid-80s (a time when such things were unaccepted); then years later they faced coping again when Wenn realizes that he is a trans man. With the trans movement gaining steam so quickly, this is a very relevant story. This is a candid and beautiful look at the evolution of a relationship.

 

“The Secret Life of a Black Aspie: A Memoir” by Anand Prahlad— Quite a Memoir

Prahlad, Anand. “The Secret Life of a Black Aspie: A Memoir”, University of Alaska Press, 2017.

Quite a Memoir

Amos Lassen

Anand Prahlad was born on a former plantation in Virginia in 1954. He shares his story in this powerful and lyric memoir. Living in silence for the first four years of his life when he didn’t speak, he managed to communicate with the world in which he lived in his own way. Ordinary household objects came to life and the spirits of long-dead slave children were his best friends. He lived in a magical interior world in which “sensory experiences blurred, time disappeared, and memory was fluid”. He emerged slowly, learned to talk and eventually became an artist and educator. His journey took place at the beginning of the consolidated civil rights movement and a turbulent time in America. Here we experience the heights of the Civil Rights Movement and the West Coast hippie movement with Prahlad and we get to a college town where he continues to struggle with racism and its border state legacy. Prahlad’s life is rooted in black folklore and cultural ambience. He gives us new perspectives on autism and more and his book is enlightening and inspiring as we learn what it means to live in the margins of human existence.

“Good Night, Beloved Comrade: The Letters of Denton Welch to Eric Oliver” edited by Daniel J. Murtaugh— “Thrilling and Tormenting Gay Love”

Murtaugh, Daniel J. (editor). “Good Night, Beloved Comrade: The Letters of Denton Welch to Eric Oliver”, (Living Out: Gay and Lesbian Autobiographies), University of Wisconsin Press, 2017.

“Thrilling and Tormenting Gay Love”

Amos Lassen

Denton Welch (1915–48) died at the age of thirty-three after a brief but brilliant career as a writer and painter. As a novelist he was praised by the literati and critics in England and he inspired others. What makes him even more interesting is that he suffered from debilitating spinal and pelvic injuries incurred in a bicycle accident at age eighteen. Welch’s life was one lived in pain.

Even though England was beset by German bombs, Welch wrote about the idyllic landscapes and local people he observed in Kent. It was there, in Kent, in 1943, that he met and fell in love with Eric Oliver, a handsome, intelligent, but rather insecure agricultural worker with the wartime Land Army (a “landboy”). Oliver would become a companion, comrade, lover, and caretaker during the last six years of Welch’s life. In this volume, we have all fifty-one letters that Welch wrote to Oliver and they are annotated here for the first time. What we see in the letters is a historical record of life with its hardships, deprivation, and fear of World War II. They are “a timeless testament of one young man’s tender and intimate emotions, his immense courage in adversity, and his continual struggle for love and creative existence”.

This book shows us the value of letters—and this is something I think about a great deal. There was a time when letters were a source of history and I am afraid that with email we will not have access to the past as we once did. Considering when these letters were written and the feelings toward gay people back then, we are so lucky to have them and especially because of the picture that we get of a gay love affair that was in torment for so many reasons but primarily because people just could not accept two men in love with each other. We also get a look at disability and we see that it was not easy being Denton Welch. He died when he was just thirty-four years old and his death deprives us of so much that we might have read.

I love what William Burroughs had to say about Welch— “Whenever a student tells me he has nothing to write about I refer him to Denton Welch. It is time that Denton received the attention he deserves.” What I really find to be so amazing is the beauty of the letters that were written probably as Welch suffered great pain. In fact, his entire life from age eighteen was one of pain.

“The Girls of Usually” by Lori Hotvitz— Becoming a Hippie Chick

Horvitz, Lori. “The Girls of Usually”, Truman State University Press  2015.

Becoming a Hippie Chick

Amos Lassen

Lori Horvitz grew in a family with up ashamed of her Eastern European Jewish roots and ashamed of them. She was confused about her sexuality and became a “hippie chick” who traveled all over the world in search for something that she was unsure of what it really was. In “The Girls of Usually”, she “chronicles each trip, each romance, each experiment in reinventing herself that draws her closer to discovering the secret door through which she can escape from deep-rooted patterns and accept her own cultural, ethnic, and sexual identity”. For those of us who knew we were gay as we grew up, this is a book that will remind you of what you went through and show you that you were really never alone. It is the honesty of the text that really hits home. Some of the tendencies we read about here are held by so many other people that at times you might feel that you are reading your own story. We especially see the role that internalized homophobia plays in our lives. This is a look at a young artist as she paints her self-portrait.

We also see New York in the 1980s with its hedonistic behavior and the shock that was felt when AIDS hit the city. The book is composed of short essays about Jewishness, about sexuality, subscribing to the mainstream and so much more.

Author Lori Horvitz has led an interesting life as she dealt with her lesbianism and her religion. What was missing for me was a look at the inside of her life so that I could better understand what down her to have so much sex with males and females and why she always seemed to feel the need to continue traveling. Obviously something drove her to run from commitment and from her family. If this was how she understood herself, I would have liked to know why. On the other hand, I see the book as a great place from which to discuss sexuality.

I see this as part memoir and part creative writing and while each essay stands on its own when take together they are autobiographical. We read of Horvitz’s family life, her mother, her mother’s death and how her relationship with her mother affected her life. The essays on AIDS are wonderfully written and we sense what it was to be in New York City in the 80s when everyone seemed to know someone with the disease.

 

“1937: A Tale of Hollywood’s Nastiest Scandals” by David Wallace— Hidden and Public Scandal

Wallace, David. “1937: A Tale of Hollywood’s Nastiest Scandals”, CreateSpace, 2016.

Hidden and Public Scandal

Amos Lassen

Just as it is today, in 1937 Hollywood was a town like no other in this country. Even though excitement fame and fortune were easily found there, so is/was scandal of all kinds. Oakley Webster, a gay private detective discovers a strange connection between some of Hollywood’s celebrity Jewish community and Nazi Germany, and to find the truth to his suspicions, he uses help from some of the biggest names in Hollywood back then.

It actually took World War II for the media to see and to reveal what was going on. For a place so well known because of its gossip mill, how is it that big names like Louella Parsons did not speak out about what they knew? There was a connection between studios that were owned by Jews and Nazi Germany and something was going on with William Haines, the first openly gay star in Hollywood, and the role of Louis B. Mayer, cofounder of Metro-Goldwyn Mayer studios? What about other celebrities that seemed also to be involved? How does a big-screen face like Joan Crawford factor in? David Wallace has based his novel on fact and history and we see that Hollywood was not as golden as some wanted others to believe. During this age of glamour, not all was glamorous. Using what he discovered in books of history about Hollywood, Wallace uses fiction to tell the truth.

Webster knows the rich and famous and writes about the smear scandal of Haines. He basically came into the entire business via gossip columnist Louella Parsons and Joan Crawford and heard from other actors who were sympathetic to Haines and his long-term partner. As he worked his way into the gossip, he learned of deliberate manipulation of the motion picture industry by Nazis who insisted on eliminating references to Jews from films and on this way the studios could continue preserving the lucrative German market. Parsons told that one of the first things that is learned in Hollywood is that everyone is a potential enemy. This is the basis for the novel, a dark, detective story inspired by true Hollywood scandals. Webster tries to solve several mysteries but this is more than a detective story, it is a look into the Hollywood of 1937 as we meet real and fictional characters. You will be turning pages as quickly as possible.