Queercult talks via IM with author Linas Alsenas, author of Gay America: Struggle for Equality. Alsenas also writes and illustrates picture books.
queercult: Hey Linas!
queercult: You ready for a short 15 minutes with me?
Linas: Sure! I’m a bit fried, but I’m sure it’ll be fine…
queercult: So what are you working on these days, bookwise?
Sent at 11:25 PM on Thursday
Linas: Well, I’m literally taking a break from working on an illustration for the next picture book, THE PRINCESS OF 8TH STREET, due out in…gosh, spring 2012.
Sent at 11:27 PM on Thursday
queercult: Fun! I take it that’s a new book for gay men…
Linas: uh, did I say street? I meant PRINCESS OF 8TH AVENUE.
queercult: Ha! Can we talk about Gay America? I was wondering how you ended up writing a gay history book for teens.
Sent at 11:31 PM on Thursday
queercult: Hmmm. The Internets seem to be moving at a glacial pace this evening.
Linas: Well, I was in the right place at the right time, working on the right project with the right people, really. I was working for Howard Reeves at Harry N. Abrams, Inc., the illustrated book publisher in New York (now just “Abrams”), and he was acquiring gay-interest books for adults along with running the children’s books division.
And no, it’s me – I keep retyping everything, reconsidering and reediting. I can’t help it!
queercult: Aw, lighten up. This will just be around forever in the wayback machine, or whatever it’s called.
Anyway, you were saying…
Linas: Anyway, he had the idea for the book, since he thought there was a need for a gay history book that teens – and casual adults – could read, not just academics. I was charged with finding a writer and editing the book, but ended up quitting my job and moving to Sweden instead. So Howard asked me to write it from Stockholm.
queercult: Cool. Was it hard doing it from Stockholm? How long did it take?
Linas: Well, I was really intimidated by the project, and was hesitant about it, but in the end felt that I couldn’t say no. I started by reading books about gay history, just to build up confidence, and two years later I actually began writing.
queercult: TWO YEARS? Yikes!
Linas: I’m insecure, what can I say?
queercult: Naw, you’re just a perfectionist. Which is good when it comes to writing gay history. How long once you started writing then…?
Linas: Oh, um… let’s see. About…two years, maybe? We also had to track down photos and such, and there were many drafts, so it’s hard to really define when it began and ended.
There were times when it felt like the history class term paper from hell. But I survived, and learned a lot.
queercult: What was the most surprising thing you uncovered?
Linas: For me, it was a big shock to read about how prominent gay life was during the Harlem Renaissance. And the whole period, really, with elaborate drag balls. I guess it never occurred to me that there could have been periods before recent modern history when gay visibilty was actually higher than later periods. In some ways, gay visibility is cyclical – at least according to the dominant historical narrative among people writing about it – not the linear, “progressive” development we often assume. At least, I assumed.
Sent at 11:43 PM on Thursday
queercult: And of course it’s perceived in different ways by different cultures as well – Ancient China and Greece, medieval Japan…
Linas: Oh, right. Well, I guess I should preface everything with a list of disclaimers about notions of identity and my use of terms, but I figure you don’t want to stare at “Linas is typing” for ten minutes.
And I’m not insecure about my typing – I’m fast.
queercult: Yeah, whatever. Winky, winky. So, did you end up having any favorite historical figures by the end of the whole ordeal? People you wished you could have met?
Linas is typing
Linas: Emma Goldman. Walt Whitman, if only to get some answers to lingering questions. Oh, Oscar Wilde, though I had to bend my strict geographical guidelines to get him in. People I still wish to meet: Ellen De Generes. Larry Kramer (but only if he promises to like me).
Matthew Shepard. To warn him, of course.
queercult: Larry Kramer scares me, to be honest. But yeah, I guess it would be interesting to meet him.
queercult: Another question – did you run across books that you would recommend?
Linas: Oh, yes: first and foremost GAY NEW YORK by George Chauncey, it totally blows the mind.
queercult: Yes, I love that book. I second it.
Linas: I also recommend ODD GIRLS AND TWILIGHT LOVERS, some really compelling stories there.
Ooo, ooo, ooo!
Um, what’s it called…
queercult: And I’ve gone way over my promised 15 minutes, I am such a bad boy. So one last question… is THE PRINCESS OF 8th STREET really for gay men?
Linas: Noooo… it’s not. It’s for the same age group as PEANUT, maybe 3-5? I think it’s crap right now, but when it’s done I’ll think it’s genius. That’s just how I roll.
queercult: So, you had one last book you were going to mention?
Linas: Oh, yeah, hold on – it’s not in the apartment, so I’m trying to dig up my own book…
queercult: I have a copy right here…
Linas: Bingo. OUT FOR GOOD. It’s probably only interesting to complete nerds like me, but it’s fascinating to see the politics of gay activism at a really minute level, like literally from meeting to meeting in some cases.
But I’ll admit that I found it difficult the first time, since it’s hard to know what’s important as you
re reading about it. Hence the need for books like mine.
queercult: Sounds… intense! Anyway, I’m gonna let you toddle off to bed. Thanks for taking the time to talk about GAY AMERICA: STRUGGLE FOR EQUALITY. You’re a champ and I hope every high school in America buys a copy!
Linas: From your fingers to God’s ears.