Remembering Richard Labonté (1949-2022) Part Two

Continuing our Pride month kickoff, we celebrate the life and legacy of one of our founding fathers, Richard Labonté, with rememberances and kind words from a few of the many people he affected. He will be missed.

JW

Michele Karlsberg (writer and publicist):

What do you say about the man that took you under his wing.

What do you say about the man that helped your heart along as it fell in love with San Francisco.

What do you say about the man that made his home yours.

What do you say about the man who can fill a tiny little office with as many writers as one could.

What do you say about a man who mentored many without even knowing it.

What do you say about a man who had absolutely no toxicity.

What do you say about a man that visited NYC in the dead of winter and never ever wore a coat.

What do you say about a man whose walk always stayed the same pace and was never hurried.

What do you say about a man that sits at a friends bedside as they lay dying.

What do you say about a man whose pants were always too big and gathered at the waist.

What do you say about a man who licked each one of his fingers after he indulged in something delicious.

What do you say about a man who loved books but loved writers even more.

What does one say when you lose a gentle man with a kind and caring soul.

You say, be kind, be generous.  Open your home.  Share your wisdom.  Share your laughter.  Show what it means to truly love. Be like Richard. I will call your name forever dear Richard.

Katherine V. Forrest (author and editor):

If authors and books are bricks in the foundation in our culture, Richard Labonte was the mortar. It’s no exaggeration to say that there is not an LGBTQ life in this country that reverberations from this one individual man have not impacted. The bi-coastal bookstores he presided over in his quiet, sensitive, unassuming manner were the indispensable life-saving beacons of an era. The wealth of books on the shelves he provided gave us the first intimations of the lives others of us led, and validation of our identity. They instilled pride, led us toward community. In the authors and literary events he spotlighted in his stores, he inspired others to create a nationwide network of bookstores that birthed activism and national community. With his signature plaid shirt that stretched over an imposing stomach, that fulsome beard whitening over the years, those wise, humorous, eyes…gentle, unassuming Richard Labonte became—and will always be—a giant among us.

Greg Wharton (author, editor, former Suspect Thoughts owner):

I had been thinking a lot about Richard Labonte the last month before I heard he had died. We had just moved into a new house and I was able to finally put out all my books that had been boxed up. Among these books are a fair amount of first edition copies of Richard Brautigan novels and collections. These were gifted to me by Richard when he found out how much of a fan I had always been of this wonderful quirky writer that not many folks knew of. As one of my biggest influences to my writing I cherish these books and smile whenever I look over and see them on the shelves. Richard was many things to many people, out gay forerunner, fine smut editor, community bookstore keeper, and for the lucky, friend. Thank you, Richard.

Tony Valenzuela (former executive director, Lambda Literary Foundation):

When I started as executive director of Lambda in 2009, in the devastating aftermath of the Great Recession which had impacted us in dire ways, Richard Labonte was the only other staff person at the time with whom to rebuild the organization. He was in charge of managing Lammy Award submissions (part-time but always contributing whatever it took). I quickly learned no human on this planet was better equipped at facilitating this process of identifying excellence in queer literature. To the job, he brought decades of passion for LGBTQ books as a reader, writer, editor, bookseller, and all around exemplary literary citizen. But what I’ll remember most about Richard as a colleague was how he embodied a rare combination of extraordinary professionalism with a vast capacity for kindness, gentleness, and taking a loving approach to the work and to his community. He was the definition of a class act.

Emanuel Xavier (poet, spoken word artist):

I first met Richard when I worked at A Different Light Bookstore in NYC. I was a sassy queen straight off the piers. He was giving me Santa Claus daddy realness. Richard didn’t have a mean bone in his body, but he loved himself a vicious sense of humor. His sweet demeanor also shrouded the fact he was a master at gay erotica. My first publication was an erotic short story he helped edit and, though I would become a poet, he eventually got me to select finalists for one of his erotica anthologies. Richard brought me to the West Coast for the first time under the guise of the A Different Light employee exchange program to work at the San Francisco store. This was in the 90s, long before social media. It gave me the opportunity to introduce myself to the spoken word poetry scene outside my gay downtown NYC arts bubble. He helped launch the careers of so many young queer writers. Richard was such a great mentor to many in the literary arts community. I truly hope his legacy will never be forgotten.

DL Alvarez (artist, former bookseller):

Richard and I worked in a closet-sized office at A Different Light bookstore several hours a day for ten years. He knew my aspirations, tastes, pet peeves, and even my mom. In the hours following the 1989 earthquake, he and I kept the bookstore open for people to use as a meet-up point and place to leave messages. At sunset that day, he invited me to his house for dinner. He originally hired me to curate store readings because I was coordinating a series on my own time. That would have been enough—getting paid to do what I loved. But because he also knew I was pursuing an art career, he offered a pay raise. He did little things like this for people. He knew we had dreams and would grant time off, give loans, and encourage us with sage but humble advice. For example: even though we were part-time bookstore employees, we had health care coverage. He made things possible in a world where the routine is fraught with obstacles.

Dale Chase (author):

In the modern way, I never actually met Richard Labonte, knowing him only as editor over the years and, of course, facebook friend. But, again, in the modern way, it doesn’t matter that I never shook his hand or gave him a hug or sat and talked with him (how wonderful that would have been). I felt an instant connection to Richard with the first anthology story of mine that he edited. He liked my work, I liked his light editing hand, and we shared the good humored friendship that grows out of working together. I respected him so much, know what a presence he’s been in all our lives. I celebrate how deeply he’s touched so many.

Charlie Vazquez (author and editor):

I “met” Richard during the editing of Best Gay Erotica 2008 (Cleis Books, 2007), which Emanuel Xavier coedited. Richard suggested developmental edits to improve my story’s pacing and climax, advice I heeded. I had only published three stories by then and sensed that I was working with someone who cared about the art of erotic writing, even if I wasn’t good at it. I had met Emanuel the year prior through the author Trebor Healey, so it was an honor to be collaborating with writers with superior craft and publishing experience. The collection was republished by Cleis as Studs: Gay Erotic Fiction (2014) and this reconnected me to Richard for the last time. We never met in person, though what comes to mind when I think of him was his generosity of craft insight, such as the power of contrasts (calm/rage) in riveting storytelling.

Terry DeCrescenzo (former Member, Board of Trustees, Lambda Literary Foundation):

Among my favorite memories of Richard are long, lazy afternoons, sitting outside with him and Betty Berzon, on the deck of the home Betty and I shared in the hills above West Hollywood. It was a privilege and a pleasure to listen to his erudite and wise comments about what was going on in the “gay literary world,” as we would have called it at the time. He was sweet, smart, and thoughtful. The phrase, “gentle giant” might sound cliched, but it really does describe Richard. Though he had plenty to say, he used an economy of words to make his points, quickly getting to the essence of a subject. His death is a huge loss to us all.

Thanks to our participants for helping to celebrate the life of one of our pioneers. Happy Pride, everyone! If you feel so moved and would like to comment, please do so below.

JW

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