Sessums, Kevin 1956(?)-
Sessums, Kevin 1956(?)-
Born c. 1956, in Forest, MS.
Home—New York, NY.
Writer, editor, and magazine journalist.
(Author of interview) Robert Risko, The Risko Book, introduction by Graydon Carter, Monacelli Press (New York, NY), 2000.
Mississippi Sissy (memoir), St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2007.
Interview magazine, former executive editor; Vanity Fair, former contributing editor; Allure former contributing editor.
Contributor to magazines and periodicals, including Elle, Travel and Leisure, Playboy, POZ, Out, and Show People.
Kevin Sessums is a writer, magazine journalist, and memoirist based in New York City. He has been a contributing editor for prestigious magazines such as Vanity Fair and Allure. He worked as the executive editor of Interview magazine, and is known as a reliable and incisive interviewer of celebrities and stars. For his own part, Sessums rejects the title of journalist. "If I thought of myself as a journalist, I'd really have an inferiority complex," he said to Bookslut interviewer Stephanie Merchant. "I think of myself as a writer who is unintimidated by fame. I can structure a sentence; I innately know the arc of a narrative as it unfolds before me. But I'm not a journalist."
Sessums takes on the role of memoirist with Mississippi Sissy, his candid and emotionally honest story of growing up gay in 1950s and 1960s Mississippi. Born in Forest, Mississippi, a small town near Jackson, Sessums entered a world that was suffering from McCarthyite paranoia, where communists were to be found around every corner, where the concepts of civil rights and racial equality had not yet taken hold, and in which homosexuals were reviled and ostracized. Even as a young boy, Sessums notes that he clearly displayed the traits that led to him being labeled a "sissy," a bland euphemism for those who were effeminate or gay. At age four, he wanted to wear dresses which enraged his father, a former professional basketball player and high school basketball coach. His mother, a tolerant and understanding woman, indulged his wishes and encouraged him to see the strength and uniqueness his personality and characteristics bestowed upon him. Sessums also developed a fascination with urbane and sophisticated television star Arlene Francis, a stage and screen performer perhaps best known for her many years as a panelist on the intellectual game show What's My Line. He insisted that everyone call him Arlene, and, if not humored in this request, would launch into a violent temper tantrum that could only be quelled by the name of his favorite television star.
Sessums was orphaned at a young age. His father was killed in an automobile accident when he was seven years old, and his mother died of cancer a year later. He and two younger siblings were raised by their material grandparents. Not all was well, however; he endured a sexual assault by an older male, then, some years later, he was sexually molested by a trusted priest. His mentor, journalist Frank Hains, was brutally bludgeoned to death, and Sessums was the one who found the body (and spent some time on the police's suspect list). He also observed firsthand the cruelty and injustice of racism, the full force of which was unleashed on the family housekeeper, Matty May, an intellectually capable woman who was assigned to menial roles solely because of her race. Sessums relates stories of his travails in school, but also notes that the family atmosphere in which he grew up was loving and supporting even if his grandparents did not agree with his homosexuality. Elsewhere, he made the acquaintance of well-known Southern writer Eudora Welty, and spent time with her and her literary associates. Sessums became a friend of Welty and her colleagues, absorbing as much information on writing, the arts, and the literary world that he could.
Sessums is unwavering in his depiction of the sexual abuse he endured when he was molested by older men. "One of the reasons I graphically describe those scenes is that often people's imaginations are even worse than what really happened," he told Merchant. "I wanted to be specific about what happened—graphic if you wish—because if I weren't then I would inherently be owning the shame of that complicity in some way." Reviewer Norah Vincent, writing in the New York Times, remarked, "There is no question that Sessums has suffered, that he is emotionally stalwart, a consummate survivor. Whether one writes well or poorly of being molested, one always does so with great pain and vulnerability, and Sessums is certainly no exception. To judge the work as less than what it might have been is not to judge the man as such, nor is it to invalidate the effort."
In a School Library Journal review, Francesca Goldsmith commented, "Whether gay or straight, readers will relate to the author's youthful awareness that self-certainty and terrifying uncertainty seem to be inextricably bound." Sessums "has written a landmark memoir that could be made into a hilarious movie," observed William A. Percy III and Aidan Flax-Clark in the Gay & Lesbian Review. His "story-telling brings warmth, honesty, and hope to those who don't fit in," commented Nancy R. Ives, writing in Library Journal. "A marked detour from the often repetitive coming-out memoir, Sessums's story offers wit and incisive observation," remarked a Publishers Weekly contributor. Barbara Hoffman, also writing in Publishers Weekly, observed that Sessums's "beautifully written tale of growing up different … could broaden some narrow minds."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Sessums, Kevin, Mississippi Sissy (memoir), St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2007.
Bay Area Reporter (San Francisco, CA), Jim Provenzano, "Sissy Fire," profile of Kevin Sessums.
Entertainment Weekly, March 9, 2007, Thom Geier, review of Mississippi Sissy, p. 113.
Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide, November-December, 2007, William A. Percy III and Aidan Flax-Clark, "The South Reverts to Gothic," review of Mississippi Sissy, p. 31.
Library Journal, November 1, 2006, Nancy R. Ives, review of Mississippi Sissy, p. 84.
New York Times Book Review, March 4, 2007, Norah Vincent, "Consummate Survivor," p. 15.
Publishers Weekly, November 6, 2006, review of Mississippi Sissy, p. 43; January 1, 2007, Barbara Hoffman, review of Mississippi Sissy, p. 10.
San Francisco Chronicle, March 18, 2007, Edward Guthmann, "A ‘Sissy’ Tells it Straight," review of Mississippi Sissy.
School Library Journal, April, 2007, Francisca Goldsmith, review of Mississippi Sissy, p. 173.
Washington Post Book World, March 18, 2007, Jonathan Yardley, "Growing Up Gay in the South in the 1960s," review of Mississippi Sissy, p. 15.
Bookslut,http://www.bookslut.com/ (December 5, 2007), Stephanie Merchant, interview with Kevin Sessums.
Counter Punch,http://www.counterpunch.org/ (March 17/18, 2007), John Scagliotti, "Kevin Sessums and the Power of Sissydom," review of Mississippi Sissy.
EconoCulture,http://www.econoculture.com/ (June 15, 2007), Paul Morton, interview with Kevin Sessums.
Kevin Sessums Home Page,http://www.mississippisissy.com (December 5, 2007).