Dozens of students, faculty and members of the public gathered in the Elvehjem Building Monday to hear author Edmund White speak about his experience in a same-sex marriage and his recent publications.
White, the author of numerous books and professor of creative writing at Princeton University, came to the University of Wisconsin campus to address a wide variety of topics ranging from the changes in gay culture since the 1960s to the challenges of writing for a largely gay audience.
Also featured at the event was author Michael Carroll, a gay fiction writer and White’s husband. Terrace Books, a subsidiary of UW Press published Carroll’s first collection of short fiction, Little Reef and Other Stories, in June 2014.
Part of Carroll’s Little Reef includes short stories loosely based on his two-decade relationship with White.
“Everything is permitted; certainly Michael had permission to write about me,” White said. “I would never try to control someone’s portrait of me.”
White said both men’s families struggled with the pair’s relationship. White’s stepmother went as far as to remove mentions of her stepson from his father’s daily newspapers, he said.
Carroll said his parents seemed okay with their son’s relationship with White, but were shocked when he told them he and White had married.
“I still haven’t gotten my wedding present,” Carroll said.
On the topic of gay marriage, White said he was not thrilled with the idea at first. Originally, he said he thought marriage was too square for gay people, but then he saw how much the Christian right hated it, so he thought it must be a great thing.
White said his views have changed slightly since then, as he now believes gay marriage passing in state after state has been beneficial in helping gay people become accepted into societal norms.
Much of the discussion also revolved around the topic of writing for a gay audience.
“It’s a very intense, very invested group of readers,” White said. “Gay life is this object out there that’s waiting to be written about. A lot of people think we’ve exhausted all the themes of gay fiction, but we’ve just barely touched on them.”
Little Reef and Other Stories, a collection of short stories, depicts life in an America full of prejudice, but more accepting of gay marriage than at any point in its history, Carroll said.
One of the topics addressed in Little Reef is the relationship between gay men and straight women.
“What’s interesting about the relationship between gay men and women is there can be a lot of affection, but there’s a line that you don’t cross,” Carroll said.
White’s newest book, States of Desire Revisited, was published just days ago by the UW Press. The novel, a revisit of his 1980 novel States of Desire: Travels in Gay America, explores the gay liberation movement of the 1970s and includes a summary of the LGBTQ movement in current times.
The discussion, part of the Humanities Without Boundaries lecture series, was hosted by the Center for the Humanities and the University of Wisconsin Press.