American writer and publisher Felice Picano has been pioneering gay writing since the 1970s. As his latest novel is

published, he speaks to .Toni Davidson.

For gay culture. and gay writing especially. this is a time of revisionism. where diversification can mean the loss ofa fledgling identity and assimilation can lead to a neglect of history.

Felice Picano cenainly thinks so. His new book Like People In History dubbed by writer Edmund White as a ‘gay Gone With The Wind‘ describes through its three principal characters an evolving gay culture. In an ambitious. panoramic sweep. it aims to inject what could have been dry chronology with a sense of people‘s lives, loves and losses.

‘ln I969. those people who came out after Stonewall to form the generation of the l970s and 80s the first gay generation didn‘t know what had gone before.‘ says Picano.

The author lays claim to the word ‘pioneer‘ a lot, not just for himself, but for other members of the appropriately

named Violet Quill Club. This was an informal group of writers and artists who not only pursued a common aesthetic ideal; but also took gay writing out there. into small and big town America where literally none had gone before. Picano and other group members including Edmund White and Andrew Holleran. established what in many ways is now taken for granted. a gay literary genre speaking to a specifically gay audience.

‘Myself and other members of the group toured in the l970s with our very “out” writing and there was no precedent for this.‘ says Picano. ‘And yet I was astonished sometimes at the size ofthe audiences who came along to hear us read.‘


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Felice Picano: ‘We have only scratched the surface of gay identity.’

The group eventually disbanded with writers such as White in particular going on to intemaiional success, while Picano set up his own publishing company. filling what he saw as a gaping void in opportunities for gay writers.

‘There were very few gay works coming out from the mainstream publishers and l recognised that this was nowhere near good enough. that there was an abundance of gay writing out there that would never be read.‘ he says.

And yet Picano. now 52. is dismayed at what he sees as the lack of identity in the work of new gay writers such as David Leavitt and Michael

Cunningham. ‘They both seem so

unwilling to explore the questions of gay identity. content to deal with the biological family.‘ says Picano. ‘For me. this has been done to death. whereas we have only scratched the surface of gay identity. We have to take time to find ourselves. Like People In History is about a variety of gay relationships. where interaction can evolve and change so that we are left

‘There were very few gay works coming out from the mainstream publishers and I recognised that this was nowhere near good enough.’

with much bigger questions. questions that we haven‘t yet answered. What kind of love are we capable of‘?‘

Picano‘s novel ranges from pre- liberation to the early 1990s. but Picano is quick to emphasise it is not an Aids novel. He is wary of superimposing a negative hiatus on to what can be seen as a celebratory novel

‘80 many of the novels that have come out since Aids seem to concentrate on the end of people‘s. lives.‘ he says. ‘Ltke People in History is about giving back meaning to these lives. giving a context for all the anger and death. In a novel. if you are going to miss or moum a character. you‘ve got to know their whole life. not just the end. And that the mark these people made in history was not with their death but their life.‘ Like People In History is published in paperback original by Abacus at £6. 99.

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