Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Perry Brass

Originally from Savannah, GA, Perry Brass (b. 1947) is a poet, novelist, publisher, playwright, and activist who has published sixteen books, winning numerous awards in the categories of poetry, drama and fiction. He grew up as an impoverished gay Jew, which proved challenging in the suffocating homophobia of the South. At age 15, during the summer before his senior year in high school, he attempted suicide after overhearing other boys talking about his being gay. Rising from those depths, he worked up the nerve to have sex with another man at age 16, and by age 17 he was out of the South, hitchhiking all the way from Savannah to San Francisco in 1964, where he lived a “wild, crazy gay life, like Mark Twain with drag queens.” Two years later he moved to New York City, settling in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. Photo by Jack Slomowitz.

Brass has been involved in the gay rights movement since he was in his early twenties. In 1969 he co-edited Come Out!, the world's first gay liberation newspaper, originally based in NYC’s East Village. Some of Perry’s first poems appeared in Come Out!, along with early efforts by Rita Mae Brown, Dennis Altman, Allen Young, and Tony Diaman. Brass was attending New York University in Greenwich Village, and with two friends in 1972 he started the Gay Men's Health Project Clinic, the first clinic for gay men on the East Coast, still operating as New York’s Callen-Lourde Community Health Center.

Perry Brass in 1971

In 1984, his play Night Chills, one of the first to deal with the AIDS crisis, won a Jane Chambers International Gay Playwriting Award. As a poet, his collaborations with composers include the much-performed All the Way Through Evening, a cycle of 5 nocturnes in reaction to the AIDS epidemic, set by the late Chris DeBlasio, who himself succumbed to AIDS. All the Way Through Evening became the title for a recent documentary by Australian filmmaker Rohan Spong about young composers who've died of AIDS. Other poetry by Brass set to music includes The Angel Voices of Men set by Ricky Ian Gordon, Three Brass Songs by noted composer-pianist Fred Hersch,  The Restless Yearning Towards My Self by opera composer Paula Kimper, and 12 Musical Figures, by Gerald Busby. The latter was used in the score for Robert Altman s film 3 Women (1977) and Paul Taylor's ballet Runes (1975).

Walt Whitman in 1989 from All the Way through Evening
Words by Perry Brass, music by Chris DeBlasio; Performed by Gilles Denizot (tenor) and  Mimi Stern-Wolfe (piano).

With his partner Hugh Young, Brass started Belhue Press in 1991. Perry Brass's work often deals with that intersection of sexuality, spirituality and personal politics that came directly and openly out of his involvement with the radical gay politics of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Among many other activities, he is currently a coordinator of the Rainbow Book Fair, the first and largest U.S. LGBT book fair. As well, he is a regular contributor to the Queer New York blog. Hugh and Perry make their home in the Bronx in a co-op apartment along the shores of the Hudson.

Perry Brass has published a trilogy of gay science fiction, Mirage and its sequels Circles and Albert (The Book of Man). Angel Lust is an erotic novel of time travel. Books of poems include Sex-charge and The Lover of My Soul. Many of his other works defy being categorized, combining disparate elements of spirituality, eroticism, social commentary; these works include non-fiction and historical novels. A hugely popular book was 2010's The Manly Art of Seduction: How to Meet, Talk to, and Become Intimate with Anyone. His work has been included in 25 anthologies, including the groundbreaking Male Muse edited by Ian Young and The Columbia Anthology of Gay Literature, edited by Byrne Fone.

I can highly recommend King of Angels (2012, available in e-reader formats), an emotional coming-of-age story about personal acceptance set in the early 1960s. It explores the sexual underground of boys at Holy Nativity Military Academy, a Catholic school in which the protagonist is the sole Jewish student. It’s one of the few novels I’ve read in which I went from the last page right back to the beginning. Don’t be put off by the cover of the print edition, as I was initially. From a recent review: “I laughed and I cried, but most of all I thought, and I remembered how it was growing up in one of the most turbulent periods of American history when communities tried to come together. Accepting ourselves is part of it all, and Perry Brass helps us with that in his brilliant new book.” – Amos Lassen

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating and so right up my alley. Thank you once again for introducing me to someone I didn't know about. Was a bit disappointed that the e-book wasnt on Nook, but discovered that I could download a Kindle app and just bought it to read on my laptop. :>)