My initial approach to Something Inside: Conversations with Gay Fiction Writers, another astounding ReQueered Tales reprint, this time from 1999, was to read one author interview a day. This seemed like a great way to digest a big book and start my morning; I quickly realized that any other tactic and I would have been overwhelmed – I needed the train ride or long walk that followed to fully digest the wisdom and life-experience contained within each discussion. Philip Gambone, then a budding journalist with a literary bent (he proceeded and followed this compendium with a short story collection, a novel, and additional works of nonfiction) proves not only exceptionally well-read, but a keen listener, mining an author’s answers for further insight. The list of interviewees is astounding: twenty-one gay writers discuss their work, their lives and education, occasionally each other, in ways that define, explore, and expand our definition and understanding of gay life during the 80s and 90s. Starting with Joseph Hansen and ending with Michael Lowenthal, including powerful voices lost to AIDS: Paul Monette, Allen Barnett, and John Preston, the book resonates with our history and can be considered a masterclass when it comes to craft.
For the writers herein who I’ve heard physically read their work, Christopher Bram, Edmund White, Brad Gooch and Scott Heim, I felt like I was again in the room with them, their commentary so resonated. While I had read or had a general awareness of every writer within Something Inside, the conversations with authors on my “what’s-wrong-with-me-why-didn’t-I-read-them-years-ago?” list were oftentimes the most surprising and transformative as I added yet again more titles to the mental tally of books that I’m regularly scouring The Strand for.
This was another reason why I enjoyed reading one interview at a time, as it was an invigorating continuation of the conversation to go online and check out the author’s work, reflect on the course of their career, how reputations expand and contract with the passing of time. I would exit the train as certain phrases lingered, impressions deepened. I always get off at the 4th Street exit, near Christopher Street, and I would reflect on how a plague shaped our culture in ways tragic, heroic and prescient. Paul Monet so poignantly remarked toward the end of his interview, “I want gay and lesbian people to be strong for what’s going to happen in the next twenty years, for the millennial earthquake that’s going to happen. It’s going to be a tough, hard place. The very rich are going to have all the money and everyone else is going to be poor…There are real dark forces out there.”
That’s from 1990. Monet died in 1995.
While every conversation is unique to the author and their work, Gambone does conclude most interviews with a variation on the question: What advice would you give to a young gay writer today? The answers are fascinating, often complex, from the heart, and it would be a disservice to all if I were to quote a favorite morsel or two here, though Holleran and White certainly deliver. Perhaps someone should compile them in a separate essay and asking our contemporaries to continue to pay it forward. But that’s work for another soul.
What probably surprised me the most about these conversations, was for the most part how central a writer’s relationship to New York City was to their identity as an author. Some were fully consumed lovers, others acted as if Manhattan was the worst boss they had ever had at a job that still somehow paid dividends. I haven’t yet fully conceptualized what this means as it relates to the publishing world and gay culture at the time of these interviews but it was the brightest among the multitude of filaments linking these peers, forefathers, and the-then up-and-coming talent contained within.
Something Inside is a singular collection. In fact, halfway through the book I stopped and surveyed my shelves and then jumped online to see if anything else quite like it existed. I am in possession of both Conversations with Edmund White (2017) and Samuel R. Delany’s Silent Interviews (1995) -both are focused solely on one author and, interestingly, the Delany interviews were conducted in writing. I was excited to learn that Christopher Hennessy has two collections of interviews with gay poets available. However, when it comes to fiction and nonfiction, as far as I can tell no other collection of interviews with the writers who witnessed and participated in the birth of gay liberation and the rapid growth of modern gay literature has been preserved in book format. Decade after decade of author interviews and conversation are increasingly separated by time, existing momentarily online or in out-of-print magazines, which makes Something Inside not only recommended, but essential.
Reviewed by Tom Cardamone, editor of Crashing Cathedrals: Edmund White by the Book, and the author of the Lambda Literary Award-winning speculative novella Green Thumb as well as the erotic fantasy The Lurid Sea and other works of fiction, including two short story collections. Additionally, he has edited The Lost Library: Gay Fiction Rediscovered and co-edited Fever Spores: The Queer Reclamation of William S. Burroughs.