OUT ON THE BAYOU
DECEMBER 10,1999 • HOUSTON VOICE
> Continued from page 17
I did very little explaining of the Violet Quill in
the publicity. That was an interesting test, to
see if they would get the book with people not
knowing its background.
HV: What do the members of the Violet Quill
think of the book?
FP; I dedicated it to .Andrew Holleran.
Edmund White read it, so they both read it
before publication. I didn't give it to them to
say 'pass' or 'fail,' although we continue to
give each other work to comment on. I
thought they should read it, to see if anything
offended them, or seemed patently false.
HV: Did you feel a liberty to write more
freely about those who find died?
FP: Not really. I guess by the time you get to
the half century mark you pretty much accept
things about yourself that cannot be changed.
It's really mixed up. By no means is anybody
real, exactly definable. There were only seven
of us and there are nine Purple Circle members in this book. Even though 1 fooled around
with book titles, the give-away is where the
narrator talks about his Nancy Drew hidden
closet. 'The Book of Lies" is a serious literary
mystery but also something of a Nancy Drew
or a I lardy Boys book, or possibly even a computer game, like Myst where there are maps
and curses, treasures to be found.
HV: As io academia, there's some intrigue.
Does this refer to certain academics liaving been
fooled by literary hoaxes, such as the Harvard
Gay & Lesbian Review being hoodwinked by
Daniel Harris when he wrote a parody of an
academic paper, and they published ii?
FP: Not really, although that was funny. One
of my closest friends was George Stambolian
(a founder of early Gay Studies, and the first
editor of the popular "Men on Men" anthologies). Between him, John Boswell and a couple
other people who are still alive, I began to find
out that academia can really be a crazy, cutthroat world. So this book is a tribute to them,
for going through the absolute madness of it.
HV: But wliat about academic misinterpretation of the artist's intent? Ross is running
around trying to find the facts, but sometimes
ignores the real people and their art. Perliaps
that's why they're taking a joy in leading him
around by the nose.
FP: Ross discovers who these people were
by finding out what the survivors around
them are like, in the same way that an explosion can be investigated through its debris and
scars. The reader sees what has taken place in
the aftermath of this hurricane of writers, who
lasted for only a brief while—10 years—and
did a great deal of damage, whether intentional or not.
One of the things I was trying to show was
how artists go through their lives, what they
have to do, and the toll this often exacts on the
people around them. In one case, the surviving brother of Mark Dodge (one of the fictional literary group), who's living in the lap of
luxury off his dead brother's royalties, cannot
figure out what the hell happened 20 years
HV: With academics poring over author's
collected writings, do you become self-conscious
about xvhat you want to leave as a legacy?
FP: The Beinecke Library at Yale collects
groups of American writers, including the
Violet Quill and the group around Gertrude
Stein. Both John Boswell and George
Stambolian were behind the library collecting
our work. They have 22 volumes of my journals from 1969 on, all the early manuscripts.
Besides collecting the stuff, they have to chemically treat it, photograph it all. They're doing
a massive job. Each author has agreements
with them as to who will see the work, when
it will be released, etc.
HV: So, are there juicy literary scandals for
FP: More personal scandals than literary
ones, but I don't have a problem with that.
When David Bergman was doing The Violet
Quill Reader—some of it was pretty juicy—I
had to notate who everyone was. Pat Loud
(whose family was the subject of a 1970's TV
documentary, "An American Family") was the
agent for some of us. Also, a graduate student
in Baltimore is working on getting more of my
journals out (including in a Modem Library
Association periodical). We're pretty much in
agreement that the dirt gets published, and not
just literary dirt, sexual dirt, too.
HV: So it might be a gossip-filled confessional?
FP: Not exactly, but it could be useful in
other ways if these people at the Beinecke are
right about the value of these journals, which
I'm not sure about, that it has historical value,
by virtue of me being a writer, editor and publisher in New York when I was. I got to meet
just about everybody in the previous generation as well as my own and later generations—
Isherwood, Auden, Williams, I corresponded
with Vidal—just by propinquity.
After he read the "The Book of Lies,"
Andrew I lolleran said, 'It'samazing, knowing
all the people, and what you know, that you
would make fictional characters.' I told him,
'Oh that's okay, dear. I'm saving the rest for
HV: Authors' personal lives become more
acknowledged when we have documentation
of their love lives. English instructors often
deny gay authors their sexuality, but the
Violet Quill group stands out by having been
out from the beginning.
FP: .And we were surrounded by lots of
homosexual writers who would not do it. John
Ashbury, James Merrill; they stayed in the
closet somewhat longer than we did, maybe
until we had already tested the ground. We felt
it was literally up to us to do it.
HV: The Len Spurgeon character echoes Neal
Cassady and hozv his exploits touched so many
Beat writers. Len seems to have permeated their
lives in tliat way.
FP: Obviously he hung around with
them, and affected their lives. He's a baseball player, scam artist, con man, writer, hustler, porno actor, and not just their boy-toy. I
think we've all known someone in gay life
like Len. He's also the Henry Jamesian figure in the carpet. The other members are
brought together by love affairs, professional jealousies. If men like him did not exist,
we'd be forced to create them.
HV: Is he based on an actual ball player?
FP: I've been sworn to secrecy.
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