Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“Persistence of Vision: The Life Journey of a Gay Man” by Ronald G. Perrier— Looking Back and Moving Forward

persistence of vision

Perrier, Ronald G. “Persistence of Vision: The Life Journey of a Gay Man”, Archie Publications 2008.

Looking Back and Moving Forward

Amos Lassen

I am constantly amazed at the number of good books that we never hear about for a myriad of reasons and this is exactly why I keep my eyes and ears open when I hear people talking about books that they have read. While I did not hear anything about this book, I did see an ad for it in a LGBT literary magazine and it made me interested to find out more about it. I am so glad I did because it fills part of the gay in our literature and reminds us that our community is everywhere (just as it should be). This is Ronald Perrier’s recollections of his life. He was raised on a farm in rural Minnesota and went on to become a college professor and it is filled with great stories as it tells us about an area of this country that I know very little about.

The differences that we might feel we share with those living in rural America turn out not to be so different after all. Perrier’s back-story is very similar to what so many of us went through and he guides through his struggles with being a Catholic boy who was born 1941 dealing with his sexuality. Most of us had to face thinking that there was no one else like us as well as shame and the feeling that we were being set apart from others. Perrier knew he wanted to be a teacher and he stuck to his goal throughout his life. He remembers being in the first grade and falling in love with teaching on the early date in his life. His first mentor and role model was his teacher at his one-room schoolhouse and who taught him from the first through the eighth grades. At the same time he was dealing with his sexual identity and his Catholic upbringing and he even had a nervous breakdown and undergoing treatment for depression at a relatively young age but this did not hinder him in seeking his goal. He eventually managed to teach over 50,000 students in his forty-year career. Reading this, I saw myself several times—the trials and tribulations were basically the same but the locations were different.

Later he met Charles Nolte, professor emeritus of theater at UMN who also became a mentor for him as well as a good friend. In fact, many of us share the memories, experiences, and images that came to define him. We see very clearly here that it is the people with whom we come into contact with that determine a lot about who we are. Perrier writes in lovely prose about people and events and to miss reading this story is sad. I was once told that in order to live a good life we have to take it one day at a time and each of those has something to teach us and that is what we see so clearly here.

27th Annual Lambda Literary Award Finalists

27th Annual Lambda Literary Award Finalists

Note: The number of finalists in a category is determined by the number of submissions in that category.

Those with an asterisk have been reviewed here at reviewsbyamoslassen.com

BISEXUAL FICTION

Best Bi Short Stories: Bisexual Fiction, Sheela Lambert, editor, Gressive Press, an imprint of Circlet Press
*Extraordinary Adventures of Mullah Nasruddin, Ron J. Suresha, Lethe Press
Finder of Lost Objects, Susie Hara, Ithuriel’s Spear
Give It to Me, Ana Castillo, The Feminist Press
*She of the Mountains, Vivek Shraya, Arsenal Pulp Press

BISEXUAL NONFICTION

*Fire Shut Up In My Bones, Charles M. Blow, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
*Not My Father’s Son, Alan Cumming, HarperCollins Publishers/Dey Street Books
*Recognize: The Voices of Bisexual Men, Robyn Ochs & H. Sharif Williams, editors,Bisexual Resource Center

GAY EROTICA

Bears of Winter, Jerry Wheeler, Bear Bones Books
Incubus Tales, Hushicho, Circlet Press
The King, Tiffany Reisz, MIRA Books
Leather Spirit Stallion, Raven Kaldera, Circlet Press
*The Thief Taker, William Holden, Bold Strokes Books
GAY GENERAL FICTION

*All I Love and Know, Judith Frank, HarperCollins/William Morrow
*Barracuda, Christos Tsiolkas, Hogarth
Bitter Eden: A Novel, Tatamkhulu Afrika, Macmillan/Picador USA
*The City of Palaces, Michael Nava, University of Wisconsin Press
I Loved You More, Tom Spanbauer, Hawthorne Books
*Little Reef and Other Stories, Michael Carroll, Terrace Books, an imprint of the University of Wisconsin Press
Next to Nothing: Stories, Keith Banner, Lethe Press
Souljah, John R Gordon, Angelica Entertainments Ltd/Team Angelica Publishing
GAY MEMOIR/BIOGRAPHY

*Body Counts: A Memoir of Politics, Sex, AIDS, and Survival, Sean Strub, Scribner
Charles Walters: The Director Who Made Hollywood Dance, Brent Phillips, University Press of Kentucky
Closets, Combat and Coming Out: Coming Of Age As A Gay Man In The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Army, Rob Smith, Blue Beacon Books by Regal Crest
*Inside a Pearl: My Years in Paris, Edmund White, Bloomsbury
Letter to Jimmy, Alain Mabanckou, translated by Sara Meli Ansari, Counterpoint/Soft Skull Press
*The Prince of Los Cocuyos, Richard Blanco, HarperCollins/Ecco
*Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh, John Lahr, W. W. Norton & Company
*Wagstaff: Before and After Mapplethorpe, Philip Gefter, W. W. Norton & Company/Liveright
GAY MYSTERY

*Blackmail, My Love: A Murder Mystery, Katie Gilmartin, Cleis Press
*Boystown 6: From the Ashes, Marshall Thornton, MLR
*Calvin’s Head, David Swatling, Bold Strokes Books
*DeadFall, David Lennon, BlueSpike Publishing
Fair Game, Josh Lanyon, Carina Press
*A Gathering Storm, Jameson Currier, Chelsea Station Editions
Moon Over Tangier, Janice Law, Open Road Media
*The Next, Rafe Haze, Wilde City Press
GAY POETRY

[insert] boy, Danez Smith, YesYes Books
Clean, David J. Daniels, Four Way Books
Don’t Go Back To Sleep, Timothy Liu, Saturnalia Books
ECODEVIANCE: (Soma)tics for the Future Wilderness, CAConrad, Wave Books
The New Testament, Jericho Brown, Copper Canyon Press
Prelude to Bruise, Saeed Jones, Coffee House Press
*This Life Now, Michael Broder, A Midsummer Night’s Press
This Way to the Sugar, Hieu Minh Nguyen, Write Bloody Publishing
GAY ROMANCE

The Companion, Lloyd A. Meeker, Dreamspinner Press
Everything’s Coming Up Roses: Four Tales of M/M Romance, Barry Lowe, Lydian Press
*Foolish Hearts: New Gay Fiction, Timothy Lambert and R.D. Cochrane, Cleis Press
Like They Always Been Free, Georgina Li, Queer Young Cowboys
*Message of Love, Jim Provenzano, Myrmidude Press/CreateSpace
*The Passion of Sergius & Bacchus, A Novel of Truth, David Reddish, DoorQ Publishing
Pulling Leather, L.C. Chase, Riptide Publishing
*Salvation: A Novel of the Civil War, Jeff Mann, Bear Bones Books
LESBIAN EROTICA

All You Can Eat. A Buffet of Lesbian Erotica and Romance, Andi Marquette and R.G. Emanuelle, Ylva Publishing
Forbidden Fruit: stories of unwise lesbian desire, Cheyenne Blue, Ladylit Publishing
Lesbian Sex Bible, Diana Cage, Quiver Books
LESBIAN GENERAL FICTION

Adult Onset, Ann-Marie Macdonald, Tin House Books
Last Words of Montmartre, Qiu Miaojin, Translated by Ari Larissa Heinrich, New York Review Books
*Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932, Francine Prose, Harper Collins/Harper
Miracle Girls, MB Caschetta, Engine Books
*New York 1, Tel Aviv 0, Shelly Oria, FSG Originals / Farrar, Straus and Giroux
The Palace Blues, Brandy T. Wilson, Spinsters Ink
The Paying Guests, Sarah Waters, Riverhead Books, Penguin Random House
Yabo, Alexis De Veaux, RedBone Press
LESBIAN MEMOIR/BIOGRAPHY

Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around: Forty Years of Movement Building with Barbara Smith, Alethia Jones and Virginia Eubanks, with Barbara Smith, SUNY Press
Cease – a memoir of love, loss and desire, Lynette Loeppky, Oolichan Books
*Eating Fire: My Life as a Lesbian Avenger, Kelly Cogswell, The University of Minnesota Press
*The End of Eve, Ariel Gore, Hawthorne Books
*Under This Beautiful Dome: A Senator, A Journalist, and the Politics of Gay Love in America, Terry Mutchler, Seal Press
LESBIAN MYSTERY

The Acquittal, Anne Laughlin, Bold Strokes Books
*Done to Death, Charles Atkins, Severn House Publishers
The Old Deep and Dark-A Jane Lawless Mystery, Ellen Hart, Minotaur Books
Slash and Burn, Valerie Bronwen, Bold Strokes Books
UnCatholic Conduct, Stevie Mikayne, Bold Strokes Books
LESBIAN POETRY

Haiti Glass, Lenelle Moïse, City Lights/Sister Spit
Janey’s Arcadia, Rachel Zolf, Coach House Books
Last Psalm at Sea Level, Meg Day, Barrow Street Press
Like a Begger, Ellen Bass, Copper Canyon Press
MxT, Sina Queyras, Coach House Books
Mysterious Acts by My People, Valerie Wetlaufer, Sibling Rivalry Press
Only Ride, Megan Volpert, Sibling Rivalry Press
Termination Dust, Susanna Mishler, Red Hen Press/Boreal
LESBIAN ROMANCE

Christmas Crush, Kate McLachlan, Regal Crest
The Farmer’s Daughter, Robbi McCoy, Bella Books
The Heat of Angels, Lisa Girolami, Bold Strokes Books
Jolt, Kris Bryant, Bold Strokes Books
Nightingale, Andrea Bramhall, Bold Strokes Books
Seneca Falls, Jesse J. Thoma, Bold Strokes Books
Tangled Roots, Marianne K. Martin, Bywater Books
That Certain Something, Clare Ashton, Breezy Tree Press
LGBT ANTHOLOGY

Black Gay Genius: Answering Joseph Beam’s Call, Charles Stephens and Steven G. Fullwood, Vintage Entity Press
*A Family by Any Other Name: Exploring Queer Relationships, Bruce Gillespie, TouchWood Editions
Outer Voices Inner Lives, Mark McNease and Stephen Dolainski, editors, MadeMark Publishing
The Queer South: LGBTQ Writers on the American South, Douglas Ray, editor, Sibling Rivalry Press
*Understanding and Teaching US Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History, Leila J. Rupp & Susan K. Freeman, University of Wisconsin Press
LGBT CHILDREN’S/Young adult

*Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, Susan Kuklin, Candlewick Press
*Double Exposure, Bridget Birdsall, Sky Pony Press, an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing
Five, Six, Seven, Nate!, Tim Federle, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Forgive Me If I’ve Told You This Before, Karelia Stetz-Waters, Ooligan Press
Lies We Tell Ourselves, Robin Talley, Harlequin Teen
Pukawiss the Outcast, Jay Jordan Hawke, Dreamspinner Press/Harmony Ink Press
This is Not a Love Story, Suki Fleet, Dreamspinner Press/Harmony Ink Press
When Everything Feels like the Movies, Raziel Reid, Arsenal Pulp Press
LGBT DEBUT

*Death in Venice, California, Vinton Rafe McCabe, The Permanent Press
Kill Marguerite and Other Stories, Megan Milks, Emergency Press
A Map of Everything, Elizabeth Earley, Jaded Ibis Press
The Music Teacher, Bob Sennett, Lethe Press
Nochita, Dia Felix, City Lights/Sister Spit
*Part the Hawser, Limn the Sea, Dan Lopez, Chelsea Station Editions
Unaccompanied Minors, Alden Jones, New American Press
The Walk-In Closet, Abdi Nazemian, Curtis Brown Unlimited
LGBT DRAMA

The Beast of Times, Adelina Anthony, Kórima Press
Bootycandy, Robert O’Hara, Samuel French
A Kid Like Jake, Daniel Pearle, Dramatists Play Service
The Whale, Samuel D. Hunter, Samuel French
Wolves, Steve Yockey, Samuel French
LGBT GRAPHIC NOVELS

100 Crushes, Elisha Lim, Koyama Press
Band Vs. Band Comix Volume 1, Kathleen Jacques, Paper Heart Comix
Pregnant Butch: Nine Long Months Spent in Drag, A.K. Summers, Soft Skull, an imprint of Counterpoint
Second Avenue Caper, Joyce Brabner; Art by Mark Zingarelli, Hill and Wang, a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Snackies, Nick Sumida, Youth in Decline
LGBT NONFICTION

An American Queer: The Amazon Trail, Lee Lynch, Bold Strokes Books
*Hold Tight Gently: Michael Callen, Essex Hemphill, and the Battlefield of AIDS, Martin Duberman, The New Press
The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality, Julie Sondra Decker, Skyhorse Publishing/Carrel Books
Nevirapine and the Quest to End Pediatric AIDS, Rebecca J. Anderson, McFarland
Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor, Hilton Als, Ann Temkin, Claudia Carson, Robert Gober, Paulina Pobocha, Christian Scheidemann, The Museum of Modern Art
Sexplosion: From Andy Warhol to A Clockwork Orange, How a Generation of Pop Rebels Broke All the Taboos, Robert Hofler, It Books/HarperCollins
The Transgender Archives: Foundations for the Future, Aaron H Devor, University of Victoria Libraries
*The Up Stairs Lounge Arson: Thirty-Two Deaths in a New Orleans Gay Bar, June 24, 1973, Clayton Delery-Edwards, McFarland
LGBT SF/F/HORROR

Afterparty, Daryl Gregory, Tor Books
Bitter Waters, Chaz Brenchley, Lethe Press
Butcher’s Road, Lee Thomas, Lethe Press
Child of a Hidden Sea, A. M. Dellamonica, Tor Books
Full Fathom Five, Max Gladstone, Tor Books
FutureDyke, Lea Daley, Bella Books
Skin Deep Magic, Craig Laurance Gidney, Rebel Satori Press
LGBT STUDIES

*After Love: Queer Intimacy and Erotic Economies in Post-Soviet Cuba, Noelle M. Stout, Duke University Press
*Charity & Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America, Rachel Hope Cleves, Oxford University Press
*Delectable Negro: Human Consumption and Homoeroticism within US Slave Culture, Vincent Woodard, Ed. Justin A. Joyce and Dwight McBride, New York University Press
Queen for a Day: Transformistas, Beauty Queens, and the Performance of Femininity in Venezuela, Marcia Ochoa, Duke University Press
*The Queerness of Native American Literature, Lisa Tatonetti, The University of Minnesota Press
Sexual Futures, Queer Gestures, and Other Latina Longings, Juana Maria Rodriguez, New York University Press
The Sexuality of History: Modernity and the Sapphic, Susan S. Lanser, University of Chicago Press
*Under Bright Lights: Gay Manila and the Global Scene, Bobby Benedicto, University of Minnesota Press
TRANSGENDER FICTION

Everything Must Go, La JohnJoseph, ITNA PRESS
*For Today I Am a Boy, Kim Fu, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Moving Forward Sideways like a Crab, Shani Mootoo, Doubleday Canada
Revolutionary: A Novel, Alex Myers, Simon and Schuster
A Safe Girl To Love, Casey Plett, Topside Press
Transgender Non-Fiction

Man Alive: A True Story of Violence, Forgiveness and Becoming a Man, Thomas Page McBee, City Lights/Sister Spit
Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love and So Much More, Janet Mock, Atria Books
*Trans Bodies, Trans Selves: A Resource for the Transgender Community, Laura Erickson-Schroth, Oxford University Press

“Gay Men and The New Way Forward” by Raymond Rigoglioso— Our Gifts

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Rigoglioso, Raymond L. “Gay Men and The New Way Forward”, Mond Press, 2015.

Our Gifts

Amos Lassen

With all of the new freedoms that the LGBT community has won lately, there has been something on my mind. Now that we can go and live almost anywhere, I wonder if we are losing what once made us so unique. Do not misunderstand me—liberation is wonderful and we certainly deserve it but I am afraid that we will lose some of our wonderful traditions. As writer Raymond Rigoglioso tells us:

“Gay men are just like everyone else” and “Gay men are inherently different”, we are aware of the truth in both statements. While we strove for equality, many spoke about the commonalities that we share with the straight world but as this book tells us, we also possess great gifts (and I, for one, am not ready to cede those). Speaking for myself, I think that we have played an important role in society even while being the underdog.

Rigoglioso looks at these gifts as roles that we play in today’s world and he breaks them down into fourteen in number that are distinct. We read something of our history here and see how we have managed to come out of a history that had for so long used us as victims and then we became the teachers who showed others what the word humanity really means. Because now we can see how we have contributed to the larger population, we are acutely more aware of what equality means and use that to begin a new period in history.

We have been so busy worry about others that we have seldom taken time to look inside of ourselves and herein lies the beauty of Rigoglioso’s work. He invites us to introspect and to self-assess— in this way we can discover how each of us can help heal the ills that exist today and at the same time reinvent the idea of manhood while contributing to the spirit of humanity. This may sound lofty but it is just a matter of our tapping into ourselves.

It is so important to remember that just as we are like others, we are also different from them. It is only when he can comprehend what we have indeed given to society that we can draw up a case for a new equality and thus not only does society begin a new era but so do we as gay men.

I usually do not say this after a first reading of a book but I must tell you that I love this book. Not only does it tell us a lot but it does so clearly and concisely and then it challenges us to discover ourselves in a way that is enlightening and for me, rewarding. Rigoglioso wrote this as an invitation to self-discovery and I found that to be exciting. I learned things about myself that others do not know perhaps but will soon because I validation I received can now be passed on to others.

I am totally fascinated by how much history the book contains but unlike some historical texts it is not overwhelming. We get practical history here but more than that, we get a guide to check ourselves and once we do, we are ready to move on to the community, society and the world. We get a sense of confidence here— a confidence we should already feel we own. After all, we are now allowed to marry each other in many places and just five years ago, most of us would have never thought we would never see that day. If we can do that, there is little, if anything. that we cannot do. One reviewer wrote that the book shows us how to be a gay man today and I want to go a step further and say that it is not just about how to be a gay man, it shows us how to be A MAN today.

 Rigoglioso has tapped into “the social, psychological, ethical, and mythical roots” that we need to understand and appreciate. He wants us to go on a journey in which we leave shame far behind and move into a world of self-love as we look at what we have given, both socially and morally, to the world in which we live. He sees a world where we can love each other and the rest of the world as well and that love will be returned to us. The time has come of us to stop pondering the major questions of who we are, where we came from and what we are for and to begin answering them in the best ways we know how. That means not only accepting ourselves but allowing others to do the same. Now that the proverbial closet is wide open, it is time to set out from it and let the world see the real answers to those questions. By accepting and embracing our identities the world becomes a better place. If it sounds simple that is because it is. The problem has been that we have not always thought so.

The New Spartacus Gay Travel Index 2015

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The new Spartacus Gay Travel Index 2015 lists the gay friendliest travel destinations world wide.

Berlin: The Spartacus International Gay Guide has just published its Gay Travel Index for 2015. The largest travel guide for the gay community which has been around for more than 40 years now has been reporting on the legal situation of gays and lesbians in 135 countries worldwide for many years now. The editorial staff is in regular contact with the German Foreign Office, the foreign embassies in Germany , as well as LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) -activists from around the world.

Tops and flops remain constant
As in the previous years Iran , the United Arab Emirates , Somalia and Russia are at the bottom of the Spartacus Gay Travel Index 2015. The countries at top of the index remain unchanged: Sweden has the first place, together with the United Kingdom , followed by Belgium , the Netherlands and France , who all share the second place.

The winners of the year 2014 include Finland (+7 rankings) and Reunion (+27 rankings).
Reasons for these changes are the new laws or constitutions, the legalisation of gay marriage or new anti-discrimination directives passed in the last year.

Under observation: Mongolia – Partner Country at ITB 2015
In 2014 Mongolia introduced anti-discrimination legislation in an aim to protect the LGBTI population against exclusion and hostility. Although homosexuality has been legal since 1961, it is reported that 80% of the LGBTI population in Mongolia has experienced violent attacks due to their sexual orientation. Mongolia ranks in the index in the upper mid-range at position 55 (as of February 2015).

USA: Another year of decisions
The highlight of the year 2014 from the LGBT perspective came from the United States of America . Many of the states are still stuck in the middle of the political struggle to enforce same-sex marriage. Many courts have already past legislation for the equality and thereby allowing the same-sex marriage law in the states of California, Massachusetts, New York, Nevada, Arizona, Florida, and Texas. The Supreme Court is expected to pass a general decision this summer, so the situation remains exciting.

Germany lags behind
In Germany , on the other hand, there is still standstill, when it comes to the equality of gays and lesbians. After the great success of the political Party CDU in the last federal election and the positioning of Chancellor Angela Merkel to the opening up of the marriage and the common adoption laws is not expected that much will happen in the near future in this respect. Although the abolishment of existing discrimination of registered partnerships was promised in the coalition agreement, there has been no corresponding initiative taken so far.

The detailed Gay Travel index can be found at: www.spartacusworld.com/gaytravelindex.pdf

The Spartacus International Gay Guide
This worldwide guide has been published for over 40 years by the company Bruno Gmünder. Whether addresses of hotels in Palm Springs , bars in Hong Kong or clubs in Buenos Aires – no other travel guide provides such extensive and current information on the places where gay men feel welcome and can truly be themselves.

“American Guy: Masculinity in American Law and Literature” edited by Saul Levmore and Martha Nussbaum— “What a Piece of Work is Man?”

american guy

Saul Levmore and Martha Nussbaum (editors). “American Guy: Masculinity in American Law and Literature”, Oxford University Press, 2014.

“What a Piece of Work is Man”

Amos Lassen

Exactly what is an American guy? Is there a set list of items that comprise what and who he is or does it constantly change? “American Guy” examines American norms of masculinity and their role in the law by bringing a range of methodological and disciplinary perspectives to the intersection of American gender, legal, and literary issues. We begin this collection of essays with a group of papers that investigate the character of what we think of as American guys. Are they the “heroic nonconformists and rugged individualists that populate much of American fiction?” Diverse essays examine the manly men of Hemingway, Dreiser, and others, in their relation to the law and also highlight the underlying tensions that complicate this version of masculinity.

A second set of essays looks at “Outsiders” — men on the periphery of the American Guys who proclaim a different way of being male. These include counter-traditions of masculinity ranging from gay male culture to Philip Roth’s portrait of the Jewish lawyer.

The purpose of the book is to reinvigorate the law-and-literature movement through original, cross-disciplinary insights. We hear from a variety of voices from both within and outside the academy, including several contributions from prominent judges. These contributions are particularly significant, not only as features unique to the field, but also for the light they throw on the federal bench. This volume shows “a side of the judiciary that is imaginatively engaged, aware of cultural trends, and reflective about the wider world and the role of the of law in it.”

The essayists here are mainly jurists or law professors and these men are readers who may not represent what we believe or how we think but they do bring a fresh and new interpretation as they are seen in literature.

 

 

“That’s So Gay!” by Jonathan Charlesworth— Challenging Homophobic Bullying

that's so gay

Charlesworth, Jonathan. “That’s So Gay!”, Jessica Kingsley Pub, 2015.

Challenging Homophobic Bullying

Amos Lassen

We can all agree that bullying has become a major problem in this country. Perhaps the most hurtful of all bullying is homophobic and we need to take a close look at it and how we can prevent it. “That’s So Gay!” is a guide and a handbook that tells us how to deal with homophobic bullying, how to support those who bully and those who are bullied, and how to create inclusive environments. This is a great resource for schools, teachers and others working with young people.

One of the things open homophobic bullying is that it sometimes hard to recognize and it can be difficult to find out how to deal with it. Yet, it is essential that schools be made safer place for our youth, Schools are not only places to educate our youth but they are also microcosms of society and good experience for the future. Therefore it is essential that we make our schools safe and that we create an inclusive bully-free culture.

In this book we are shown what homophobic bullying looks like, who experiences it, and it explores the reasons young people bully others. It also reveals why young people are often reluctant to report homophobic bullying, the increasing role that the internet plays and the profound effects bullying can have well into adulthood. Here is a whole-school approach and we are given practical guidance on prevention, working with those who bully, and handling disclosures, as well as advice on anti-bullying policies.

The author, Jonathan Charlesworth is by an expert in the field and he has written this is a vital guide for schools, teachers and anyone with a duty of care towards young people.

“My Avant-Garde Education: A Memoir” by Bernard Cooper—Coming of Age in the Era of Conceptual Art

my avante garde education

Cooper, Bernard. “My Avant-Garde Education: A Memoir”, W.W. Norton, 2015.

Coming of Age in the Era of Conceptual Art

Amos Lassen

 Bernard Cooper grew up in the suburbs and was a confused young man. His sexuality was extremely confusing to him and was his consumer-oriented world and the death of his older brother. He found himself in love with Pop art and went to the California Institute of the Arts that was at that time the center of conceptual art. In this, his new memoir we meet the most famous, and infamous artists of the time that floated through the Institute (Allan Kaprow and John Baldessari) and we read the story of the student who phoned the Identi-Kit division of the Los Angeles Police Department and has them make a composite drawing of the “Mona Lisa”.

Cooper shares his story with us and he also shares a record of the wonders and follies of a certain era in art history, always aware that awakening to art is, for a young person, inseparable from awakening to the ever-shifting nature of the self.” He writes with great wit and humor yet there are sections of his story that are very dark. As one critic has written—this is more than a coming-of-age story, it is a coming-of-consciousness tale. It is also a art-history adventure.

This is a magical read and Cooper writes so beautifully that it is impossible to describe his prose. He ponder two important questions—- “what is art?” but Cooper is really asking, “what is life?” He does not give us the answers directly (because there are no direct answers) but we do get an idea of how to look at how to look at these questions. He writes with honesty and great style— the creativity of art that he writes about matches wonderfully his creativity in writing. He is able to capture the nature of creativity as well as his own intellectual and personal self. He also writes of the world around him. There is something gorgeous in the way he is able to give meaning to art and in the process he gives meaning to Bernard Cooper.

“Untangling the Knot: Queer Voices on Marriage, Relationships & Identity” edited by Carter Sickels— Looking at the Issues

untanglingtheknot

Sickels, Carter (editor). “Untangling the Knot: Queer Voices on Marriage, Relationships & Identity”, Ooligan Press, 2015.

Looking at the Issues

Amos Lassen

In this nonfiction anthology we get a look at how marriage equality is being dealt with in this country by examining the issues that the LBGT community faces. All of us have been very happy to see the strides we have made in this but I am not sure that all us have looked at all of the issues. In terms of our own communities are we really sure that we know what marriage equality means.

Aside from being a legal contract, marriage is also part of a long tradition and while tradition is usually a good thing, it can mean different things to different people. I have always been concerned that once all of the rights that are due to us have been attained, what will happen our own LGBT traditions?

By looking at marriage equality from various points of view, we are able to better define the term and how it affects the way we live. I have the strong feeling that the purpose of this book is to bring things out in the open in order “to create conversation amongst the diverse members of the LGBTQ community and their straight allies to prompt a larger, grander, and more realistic vision of what marriage equality really means for those living in the United States.”

Here we have the thoughts and ideas by those of us who have been underrepresented for too long and also those whose unique experiences can change the direction of the way we are presently going.

Gay marriage is an issue that has, in a sense, come to define the gay rights movement and while we have rejoiced in the winning, we have not really looked at it in its entirety. Here we have “honest and insightful” commentary about that topic from the people whose opinions on this subject really matter. The opinions reflect our diversity and some of you may be surprised at what you read here. The perspectives also include thoughts on life, culture, domestic partnership, and what it being queer means today.

“The Melon Capital of the World” by Blake Allmendinger— Back in Time

the melon capital

Allmendinger, Blake. “The Melon Capital of the World”, University of Nebraska Press, 2015.

Back in Time

Amos Lassen

It had been some forty years since Blake Allmendinger had been “home”. Home was a farming community; Rocky Ford, Colorado and it had once been known as the Melon Capital of the World. By going home, Allmendinger was forced to face himself and his own history. We see that his own life is a reflection of his hometown, both are in a state of decline.

Allmendinger’s family was ruled over by a dominating mother who was unstable emotionally and mentally. She suffered depression at an early and living in Rocky Ford no doubt contributed to that. She was abusive to the members of her family and her behavior made the entire family tense and unfortunately for the author, those tensions were not resolved until her death at the end of his visit. It was then with the suicide of a family member that a secret diary was discovered.

To write his story, author Allmendinger interviewed people who had known his mother and his family. The ultimate outcome is a look at a family that was trying to survive in the rural American West at a time when it was disappearing. The story brings together personal narrative, memoir and journalistic skills. I am sure that this helped Allmendinger deal with his past and his present and that we was able to discover a sense of hope. I have always found that reading the personal story of someone else made me look at my own life and better come to terms with it.

 

 

“I Left It On The Mountain: A Memoir” by Kevin Sessums— Rebuilding a Life

i left it on the mountain

Sessums, Kevin. “I Left It On The Mountain: A Memoir”, St. Martin’s Press, 2015.

Rebuilding a Life

Amos Lassen

I have been waiting to read this ever since I heard that author Kevin Sessums was working on it. I was deeply impressed and moved by “Mississippi Sissy”, his previous book but for some reason, it felt unfinished and I understand that this is where the story continues. While it does not directly follow “Sissy”, it does pick up when the author is 53 and wakes up realizing that he had no idea how he was going to deal with the interview with Hugh Jackman that was scheduled for that day. In the past he had conducted many interviews with celebrities but now he also had to deal with his life that felt like it was no longer in his control and was quickly getting away from him.

He takes us back to when he was a struggling actor in New York, when he worked for Andy Warhol at “Interview” magazine and for Tina Brown at “Vanity Fair”, when he had a lot of anonymous sex and his positive HIV diagnosis and his spiraling downward into addiction.

This is the story of redemption and how it came to Sessums atop Mt. Kilimanjaro or while walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostelo and on the cold beaches of Provincetown. You will read about celebrities such as Daniel Radcliffe, Madonna, Courtney Love and Diane Sawyer and there are also those anonymous companions “corporeal and otherwise” that he had met over the course of his life. Everyone loves the story of a comeback, of “fall and rebirth” and this is one that is a fascinating read. Quite basically, it is Sessums’ story of his fall and his rise (or rebirth, should you prefer). While this is a dark read at times, it is a rewarding experience all around. I often wonder why sometimes it takes us to be knocked silly and lose everything in order to pull ourselves up. Life is not easy and we must learn to take the good with the bad and then differentiate between the two. Sometimes we can’t be bothered to do so and sometimes we are a bit too late and e are overwhelmed when things do not go our way. Reading how Kevin Sessums managed to overcome obstacles, not just once but several times, let us see that there is always hope to lead a good life. It is not always easy to say “I’m sorry” especially when you must say it to yourself and if there is something to be learned here it is that we do have to apologize to ourselves.

Sessums’s storyline goes back to his childhood often when something of the present reminds him of the past. Childhood in Mississippi was during the time that integration was taking place and we are reminded that racial equality is a blemish on our past. It was also a time when Sessums was discovering himself and I can tell you from experiences in my own life that being a “sissy” in the South can be terrible. When he was just 13 years old, he was molested by a minister in his sixties who did so often. When he got to New York in 1978, he came into contact with recreational drugs and glamour of fame but he also learned that there is a price for everything. One of the high prices he had to pay was learning that he was HIV positive when he was fifty years old.

The beauty of biography is entering the life of another person and hear what he has to say. It is not up to reader to agree or to disagree with the writer—the life we read about has already been led. I have learned that in order to move forward it is necessary to release the past and put it far behind us. This is a difficult chore but it is even more difficult to heal because it is arduous and takes time and the ability to forgive. Some of us never get that chance. Sessums is lucky that he has been able to do so. He was able to acknowledge his memories and in doing so he was winning the battle. But his Methamphetamine addiction cost him a career that many of us would anything to have. From that he went to poverty and homelessness. He shares his story with brutal honesty and sometimes with controlled wit. Reading this can help those who battle with drugs and then have to deal with sobriety. It takes a very brave person to bare himself to people he does not know and I am so glad that he has. I have never met Kevin Sessums but he is a Facebook friend of mine so I have been following parts of his story for quite a while. However, reading it in sections or parts does have the same effect as reading the entire book. Forget the name-dropping and the sex and look at the man—we should be proud to have him around— I know that I am.