Brooks Peters, former editor in chief of Quest magazine and a prolific magazine writer himself, regularly publishes some of the most interesting articles on the web in his blog, An Open Book. Over the years, Brooks has profiled the lives and works of a number of neglected writers, especially some of the pioneers of gay literature from the decades before Stonewall. I’m always impressed by the wealth of information Brooks manages to dig up and the wonderful illustrations that accompany his pieces.
With his permission, I’ve listed the lesser-known writers he’s featured on his site and provided an extract or two for each. Keep up the fine work, Brooks!
- • George Baxt
- In lofty discussions of pioneering gay writers in fancy literary journals, the name George Baxt rarely comes up. But Baxt, a former agent turned writer, was far more influential than he is given credit for. His work ranges from theater and film (he wrote the screenplay for the cult fright flick Circus of Horrors) to a series of popular mystery novels, including the ground-breaking pre-Stonewall classic: A Queer Kind of Death.
- Published in 1966, it featured a campy gay detective, and a black one to boot: Pharoah Love. (The spelling mistake in his first name was deliberate). Pharoah Love was an audacious “cool cat” who loved jazz, his swanky Jaguar and sexy white boys. Campy, outrageous, arch and far-fetched, the novel created a sensation. This was before gay liberation and very few “legitimate” books were published with openly homosexual heroes.
- • Jerrold Beim
- Sometimes when I feel like a nostalgic trip down memory lane, I’ll pull out one of my favorite children’s books: Trouble After School, written by Jerrold Beim in 1957. A true classic, it’s the tale of an intelligent but slightly shy junior high school student named Lee, who feeling neglected by his parents, falls in with the wrong crowd, in particular a good-looking young fella named Terry, in a dark leather jacket, born on the wrong side of the tracks.
- His book The Swimming Hole, with a cover illustration that showed a young white boy diving into a pool of water with his best friend, a black boy, caused a scandal at the time it was released. It was boycotted by the Ku Klux Klan. So was Two is a Team, which dealt head-on with issues of integration. Flood Waters dealt with the problems of building communities next to overflowing rivers; something that was not being discussed much in those days. Jerrold Beim was one of the first to confront these gnarly topics and he did it with a unique mixture of honesty and common sense.
- • Hubert Creekmore
- Creekmore’s first novel appeared in 1940, Personal Sun, followed by The Stone Ants; The Long Reprieve; The Chain in the Heart; Daffodils Are Dangerous, The Fingers of the Night (later reissued as a pulp, Cotton Country, above), and of course, The Welcome, which is perhaps only known at all today because of its early homosexual theme. In 1966, Creekmore died in a car accident while on his way to the airport to fly to Spain. The freakish nature of his demise was immortalized in a famous poem by William Jay Smith in 1967.
The Welcome is subtitled “A Novel of Modern Marriage.” That’s certainly a wry way of putting it since the story quite obviously revolves around two men struggling to come to grips with a passionate affair they had as young friends. It just might be the first full-blown account of what is now referred to as “bromance”. One of the boys, Don, left to explore his “creative” side in New York; the other, Jim, married the local beauty who is a clothes horse and an airhead. Perhaps Creekmore was hinting that it was the boys’ relationship which was “modern” “” a kind of male marriage. If so, he was 60 years ahead of his time!
- • Robert Hichens
- Completely forgotten today, but once one of the most popular and prolific authors of his time, Robert Hichens deserves to be rediscovered and celebrated. His novel, The Green Carnation, a witty send-up of Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas, is a true camp classic. Published anonymously in 1894, it earned Wilde’s respect, if not exactly his approval….
- Dealing with the decadent aesthetic movement in London society, it was a thinly disguised roman Ã clef based on Oscar Wilde and his relationship with Bosie, the much younger Lord Alfred Douglas. The book was subtle and sly, but pulled few punches.
- • Theodora Keogh
- One of my favorite authors has died. A brilliant writer who penned nine fascinating novels, some of them highly regarded by such well-known literary figures as Patricia Highsmith, Peter Quennell, and John Betjeman. And yet, three weeks after her death, The New York Times has yet to publish her obituary. The fact that she also happened to be the granddaughter of President Theodore Roosevelt makes this all the more perplexing. Her name was Theodora Keogh.
- … Hugo Vickers, who penned the brilliant biography of Cecil Beaton, among many other achievements, has written a full-length obituary about her in the Telegraph. (see link here). How ironic that it is the British press which goes to the trouble of writing about this granddaughter of one of the most popular and beloved American Presidents while the New York Times, the newspaper of record in the United States, completely ignores her passing. One has to ask why has-been movie stars and long-forgotten opera singers get immediate coverage in the Times when they die, but a writer of nine ground-breaking novels does not? Theodora Roosevelt Keogh O’Toole Rauchfuss deserves much better.
- • Jay Little, pseudonym of Clarence L. Miller
- In the annals of vintage gay fiction, one author stands out as truly an enigma: Jay Little. Most people today have never heard of him. You won’t find his books in stylishly designed reprints at Barnes & Noble or Borders. You can’t download him on Kindle. Or read him on Google Book Search. Not yet, at least. In fact, the two books he wrote are almost completely forgotten, except by collectors who cherish classic camp. Most current “queer studies” scholars don’t pay much attention to Jay Little today, which is not surprising, since his books are amateurishly written and verge on what one critic labeled “soft-core pornography.” His singular oeuvre is often dismissed as irrelevant, a footnote in homosexual literary history.
- And yet, Jay Little was one of the most influential gay writers of the 20th century. His two novels, Maybe-Tomorrow and Somewhere Between the Two, both self-published in the 50s under a pseudonym by a vanity press, were surprising bestsellers. One figure I found estimates he sold over 200,000 copies “” and this at a time when “deviant”-themed books were widely censored, if not banned.
- • Beverley Nichols
- … [M]ention his name today and most people have no idea who you are talking about. And I am not just talking about people in America. Even in his beloved England, Nichols is now nearly forgotten. A dutiful biography by Bryan Connon went a long way to reviving interest in him, but Beverley Nichols still remains one of those singularly talented authors who has fallen unfairly through the cracks….
For my money, however, I have a special place in my heart for Nichols’ eccentric mystery novels. No Man’s Street. The Moonflower. Death to Slow Music, etc. These curious efforts began, one has to believe, as a bold attempt to cash in on the rage for Agatha Christie style whodunnits. Nichols’ take on it, however, was typically subversive and slightly wacky since his character, Mr. Green, solved crimes not with his insightful intellect or his magnifying glass, or even his snooping skills, but with his incredibly sensitive nose. He had an inordinately gifted olfactory ability, which led to some pretty startling surprises.
- • Carl Van Vechten
- Van Vechten was an American Renaissance Man who epitomized the witty and rambunctious cultural scene of the Roaring Twenties. Sadly, today, he is less celebrated than he deserves, and his clever novels of sophisticates and bohemians, as well as his critical essays, are rarely mentioned. Yet he was a profound influence on his and future generations of artists, writers and photographers.