Larry Kramer Wishes More People Wrote About Gay History
“Most historians taken seriously are always straight,” says the novelist and playwright, whose new book is “The American People: Volume 2.” “They wouldn’t know a gay person if they took him to lunch.”
What books are on your nightstand?
(The great teacher) “Stella Adler on America’s Master Playwrights”: Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Edward Albee, etc. “Kazan on Directing.” I’m writing a new play. But my nightstand is covered with medical stuff. I am recovering from a broken hip. I don’t like to read in bed anyway.
What’s the last great book you read?
“The Stranger,” by Albert Camus.
Are there any classic novels that you only recently read for the first time?
Can a great book be badly written? What other criteria can overcome bad prose?
I hate bad writing but this can be overlooked if I learn something from it.
What’s a favorite book no one else has heard of?
“The Blood of the Lamb,” by Peter De Vries. Talk about a book that can make you cry.
Which writers — novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets — working today do you admire most?
I have been writing a two-volume novel based on historical research into homosexuality and the AIDS plague for a number of years and have come to appreciate a veritable library of writers, scientists, etc. etc. Tony Kushner, Laurie Garrett, Daniel Mendelsohn, John le Carré (I love spy stories!), James Ellroy (and complicated mysteries!), Anne Applebaum, Masha Gessen, Dr. Jacques Pépin, who wrote the classic “The Origins of AIDS,” Timothy Snyder on various holocausts.
What do you read when you’re working on a book? And what kind of reading do you avoid while writing?
When writing anything I tend to seek out stuff that feeds what I’m working on. I include a lot of history and biography. Right now I’m rereading a lot of Hannah Arendt. I’m never not writing or reading something.
What’s the last book you read that made you laugh?
This is a special subject for me. I love words and how they’re made beautiful. Two of my very favorite authors are P. G. Wodehouse and Evelyn Waugh. I am constantly rereading them. Each is a brilliant writer with great skill with words and the English language. No one writes a sentence like both of them. It makes me happy to laugh as I witness this expertise. I guess I should include my Yale classmate Calvin Trillin, who’s no slouch.
The last book you read that made you cry? Furious?
Anything about H.I.V./AIDS.
Has a book ever brought you closer to another person, or come between you?
My husband, David Webster, is a nonstop reader and is especially good at plotting, which I am not. He’s great at getting me out of a rut.
What’s the most interesting thing you learned from a book recently?
Read Volume 2 of “The American People” and you’ll drown in them.
Which subjects do you wish more authors would write about?
Gay history. Most historians taken seriously are always straight. They wouldn’t know a gay person if they took him to lunch. A good example is Ron Chernow’s biography of Hamilton, which doesn’t include the fact that he was both gay and in love with George Washington. Gore Vidal pointed this out to me.
How do you organize your books?
What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?
I have no idea. I have a huge library.
What’s the best book you’ve ever received as a gift?
A first edition of the Sodom and Gomorrah section from Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past.”
What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?
As a kid I was a voracious visitor to Washington’s main public library. I loved reading plays that Arena Stage performed across the street. Plays were more fun to read then. I also loved the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series. Nancy was more fun.
How have your reading tastes changed over time?
What I like today is much wider in scope and quality. I appreciate good writing and know what it is. This also applies to plays and spy thrillers. I love Michael Connelly and Patricia Highsmith.
Have you ever gotten in trouble for reading a book?
Not for reading one but plenty of times for writing one. Gay writers writing about other gays is not exactly a winning audience. And gays are not the best buyers or readers of their own. In “Faggots,” I used my best friend for one of the leading characters because he told such good jokes that I used. He never spoke to me again after the book came out.
What book would you elevate to the canon, and what book would you remove?
I have never been able to get through “Don Quixote” or “Moby-Dick” (even though Melville was gay).
What book would you recommend for America’s current political moment?
“It Can’t Happen Here,” by Sinclair Lewis. It was published in 1935 during the heyday of fascism. It could indeed be today. Very frightening. Lewis’s wife by the way was the great journalist Dorothy Thompson. My brother was a volunteer helping her.
You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?
P. G. Wodehouse, Edmund Wilson, Dostoyevsky.
What do you plan to read next?
“Jerome Robbins, by Himself”; “The Contender: The Story of Marlon Brando,” by William J. Mann; “Ecstasy and Terror,” by Daniel Mendelsohn.
The article was originally published by Newyorktimes