Fleming, Keith 1960(?)-

views updated

FLEMING, Keith 1960(?)-


Born c. 1960; Education: Graduated from University of Chicago, 1984.


Home—Providence, RI. Agent—c/o Author Mail, HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd St., 7th Floor, New York, NY 10022.


Writer, editor, and journalist. Served as editor of Chicago Literary Review.


The Boy with a Thorn in His Side: A Memoir, Morrow (New York, NY), 2000.

Original Youth: The Real Story of Edmund White's Boyhood, Green Candy Press (San Francisco, CA), 2003.


In the mid 1970s, at the age of sixteen, writer Keith Fleming went to New York City to live with his uncle, prominent gay novelist Edmund White. Fleming's parents had just divorced, and he faced a rough future of being institutionalized for little more than teenage rebelliousness and his emotional reaction to the crumbling of the life he had known. White "rescued me," Fleming wrote in the Guardian. "It was the defining moment of my life: my experience as the heterosexual ward of a gay uncle was even weirder than one might imagine."

Fleming describes his years with White in The Boy with a Thorn in His Side: A Memoir. Though at the time White was struggling financially, and the milieu of mid-70s gay Manhattan did not make much accommodation for a teenage boy, Fleming was welcomed, loved, treated with respect, and reminded of his own worth. Immediately after arriving, White sent him to a dermatologist to treat his severe acne; he also sent him to the barber and the dentist and changed Fleming's wardrobe to fit in better with his environment. White then sent him to a pricey private school, financed in part by the advance from one of the writer's best-known works, The Joy of Gay Sex. White provided Fleming with the most normal life he possibly could, even while continuing to pursue his own lifestyle. "Uncle Ed continued to lead the life of a dandy, equally at home with leather bars and the Lincoln Center," Fleming commented in the Guardian article. "Many a school night would find me doing my homework at the kitchen table and my uncle, in leather jacket and jeans, saying good night as he headed out for a wild night downtown" at any of a number of gay nightspots. "And yet," observed Adam Goodheart in New York Times Book Review, "improbably enough, Fleming found in his Uncle Eddie the first really trustworthy parent, and the first happy family life, that he'd ever had." Fleming "tells his story with humor and compassion, all the while informing the national debate about the definition of a family," observed Ron Ratliff in Library Journal. Sheryl Fowler, writing in School Library Journal, remarked favorably on the book's "strong and affecting narrative," while Lambda Book Report critic Kevin W. Reardon called it a "first-rate coming-of-age memoir."

In Original Youth: The Real Story of Edmund White's Boyhood, Fleming examines the childhood and teen years of the man who became his surrogate parent. Writing "with a biographer's zeal and an intimate's insight," noted Reardon, Fleming "reinterprets the formative years between White's parents' divorce when he was seven years old and White's first contact with gay subculture during his freshman year at the University of Michigan." He finds parallels to his own youth in White's childhood. White had also been threatened with institutionalization as a teen, though in the context of 1950s America, where homosexuality was considered a mental disorder and institutional "treatment" a common practice. While White struggled with his own sexual impulses, he also had to deal with a dysfunctional family in the form of his emotionally distant, self-centered father and needy, emotionally manipulative mother. Even in his youth, however, White was drawn to writing, composing plays and novels while still a boy.

Fleming fills in the details of White's youth through interviews with friends and associates, his own mother (White's older sister), and White himself. "Keith's wonderful biography of my early years will set a new standard, I'm sure," White remarked in an interview on the Green Candy Press Web site. "I think he takes a sympathetic but objective look at my youth." Nancy R. Ives, writing in Library Journal, called the book "An intimate biography about an important man of letters" and "a valuable contribution to literature collections." And Felice Picano and Jeff Reys remarked in the Advocate that Fleming's work "substantially raises the criterion by which gay literary criticism must now be judged."



Advocate, December 9, 2003, Felice Picano and Jeff Reys, "Play Grounds," review of Original Youth: The Real Story of Edmund White's Boyhood, p. 90.

Booklist, November 15, 2003, Ray Olson, review of Original Youth, pp. 563-564.

Guardian (Manchester, England), January 15, 2000, Keith Fleming, "My Life with Uncle Ed; At Sixteen, Keith Fleming Was Rescued from a Psychiatric Ward by His Uncle, the Writer Edmund White. Fleming, a Heterosexual, Was Raised in New York's Wild Gay 70s Scene, and Learned Unexpected Lessons about Life, Love, and Art," p. 1.

Lambda Book Report, December, 2003, Kevin W. Reardon, "Proustian Detail," pp. 31-32.

Library Journal, April 15, 2000, Ron Ratliff, review of The Boy with a Thorn in His Side: A Memoir, p. 110; December, 2003, Nancy R. Ives, review of Original Youth, pp. 117-118.

New York Times Book Review, May 21, 2000, Adam Goodheart, "Uncle Ed," p. 12.

Publishers Weekly, February 21, 2000, review of The Boy with a Thorn in His Side, p. 72; November 24, 2003, review of Original Youth, pp. 55-56.

School Library Journal, February, 2001, Sheryl Fowler, review of The Boy with a Thorn in His Side, p. 145.


Green Candy Press Web Site,http://www.greencandypress.com/ (April 1, 2004), interview with Edmund White and Keith Fleming.*