This post is part of an ongoing interview with author Mark John Isola about his forthcoming book Inky Flesh, so check back for more questions. Once posted, a link following the current Q&A will allow you to click through to read the next question–or begin reading from the first question: Why the title Inky Flesh? Quotes that are reasonably sized and maintain the context of the discussion are permitted for review, interview, academic, and blogging purposes—a link to the web page quoted will help maintain context.
Here is the next question:
Cal: Of the several authors you mentioned as influences, we are probably least familiar with Paul Reed. I know you have written about him before. Who was Paul Reed?
MJ: Back when the web site glbtq.com was still active, I contacted Dr. Claude Summers to ask if I could submit a bio-essay about Paul Reed. There was nothing on the site about him, and I wanted to remedy that. Glbtq.com was the online companion to The Gay and Lesbian Literary Heritage, which I think is a book every gay person should own. It is no longer an active web site, but the essay I wrote is still archived somewhere. One can look there for a more detailed look at Reed’s life and work, but I am happy to share some information about him.
Paul Reed was a gay American author, who lived from 1956 to 2002. He wrote the first American novel to directly focalize HIV/AIDS. It is titled Facing It: A Novel of AIDS. He was friends with the poet and journal writer May Sarton. He wrote several interesting journals himself, including one while he was undergoing Compound Q trials, an experimental HIV treatment. I’ve read his journals several times—the image of him sitting in his red chair in his San Francisco apartment always comes to my mind.
Reed was also a prolific erotica writer, and he was a friend of John Preston’s. His sex writing appeared under the pseudonym Max Exander. Of his fiction, his novel Longing is my favorite. His work is out of print, but there are second hand books if you look around.
You can learn more about Reed, and many other gay authors, in The Lost Library: Gay Fiction Rediscovered. This is a fun book that features authors suggesting other authors. It is a nice gateway to many of the writers I have read over the years, including several of the Violet Quill writers, Melvin Dixon, Mark Merlis, and others.
A similar book to check out is David Leavitt’s Pages Passed from Hand to Hand. This is an anthology that offers excerpts of authors from previous eras writing in a coded way about homosexuality. It contains a great excerpt from Charles Warren Stoddard, whom I wrote about in my dissertation. It also features Willa Cather, Henry James, and others. David Leavitt is another author I have enjoyed, just like every other gay Gen Xer, I suppose. I really liked his novella The Term Paper Artist. I am more of a bad boy when it comes to gay fiction though, so I suppose it makes sense that I like this end of Leavitt’s work.
Back to Paul Reed though, his life and work reflect an intimate experience with the world before, during, and through the multiple evolutions of HIV. This is, of course, not the only thing Reed writes about. Yet, his writing evolved within these three phases of the epidemic.
In a conference paper along the way, I termed these–facing it, living it, and surviving it, for Reed found himself writing against the realities of the epidemic again, again, and again. And, I greatly admire his artful resilience.
Paul Reed left us an amazing journey in words really.
Click through to the next question: What are Bad Boys? Fantastical Faggots?