White, Edmund 1940- (Edmund Valentine White, III)
White, Edmund 1940- (Edmund Valentine White, III)
Born January 13, 1940, in Cincinnati, OH; son of Edmund Valentine II (an engineer) and Delilah (a psychologist) White. Education: University of Michigan, B.A., 1962.
Time, Inc., Book Division, New York, NY, staff writer, 1962-70; Saturday Review, New York, NY, senior editor, 1972-73; Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, assistant professor of writing seminars, 1977-79; Columbia University School of the Arts, New York, NY, adjunct professor of creative writing, 1981-83; New York Institute for the Humanities, executive director, 1982-83; Brown University, Providence, RI, professor of English, 1990-92; Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, professor in creative writing, 1998—. Instructor in creative writing at Yale University, New Haven, CT, New York University, New York, NY, and George Mason University, Fairfax, VA. Member of jury, Booker Prize, 1989.
American Academy of Arts and Letters (member of awards committee, 1999-2000), American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Hopwood Awards, University of Michigan, 1961 and 1962, for fiction and drama; Ingram Merrill grants, 1973 and 1978; Guggenheim fellow, 1983; American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters award for fiction, 1983; citation for appeal and value to youth from Enoch Pratt Free Library's Young Adult Advisory Board, 1988, for The Beautiful Room Is Empty; chevalier, Ordre des Arts et Lettres (France), 1993; National Book Critics Circle award for biography, 1994, for Genet: A Biography; honorary doctorate, State University of New York at Oneonta, 2000, Deauville Festival prize (France), 2000; Ferro-Grumley Award, Publishing Triangle, 2003, for The Married Man.
Blue Boy in Black (play), produced Off-Broadway, 1963.
(With Peter Wood) When Zeppelins Flew, Time-Life (Alexandria, VA), 1969.
(With Dale Browne) The First Men, Time-Life (Alexandria, VA), 1973.
(With Charles Silverstein) The Joy of Gay Sex: An Intimate Guide for Gay Men to the Pleasures of a Gay Lifestyle, Crown (New York, NY), 1977.
States of Desire: Travels in Gay America, E.P. Dutton (New York, NY), 1980, E.P. Dutton (New York, NY), 1983, Plume (New York, NY), 1991.
(With others) Aphrodisiac (short stories), Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1984.
(With Adam Mars-Jones) The Darker Proof: Stories from a Crisis, New American Library/Plume (New York, NY), 1988.
(Editor) The Faber Book of Gay Short Fiction, Faber & Faber (Winchester, MA), 1991.
(Compiler) The Selected Writings of Jean Genet, Ecco Press (New York, NY), 1993.
Genet: A Biography, Knopf (New York, NY), 1993.
The Burning Library: Essays, edited by David Bergman, Knopf (New York, NY), 1994.
Skinned Alive: Stories, Knopf (New York, NY), 1995.
Our Paris: Sketches from Memory, Knopf (New York, NY), 1995, Ecco (New York, NY), 2002.
Altars (essays), Random House (New York, NY), 1995.
Marcel Proust ("Penguin Lives" series), Viking (New York, NY), 1999.
The Flaneur: A Stroll through the Paradoxes of Paris ("The Writer and the City" series), Bloomsbury (New York, NY), 2001.
(Editor) Loss within Loss: Artists in the Age of AIDS, University of Wisconsin Press (Madison, WI), 2001.
Arts and Letters, Cleis Press (San Francisco, CA), 2004.
My Lives, Ecco (New York, NY), 2006.
Chaos: A Novella and Stories, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 2007.
Forgetting Elena, Random House (New York, NY), 1973, Penguin Books (New York, NY), 1981, Vintage International (New York, NY), 1994.
Nocturnes for the King of Naples, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1978, Penguin Books (New York, NY), 1980.
A Boy's Own Story, Dutton (New York, NY), 1982, with new introduction by White, 1994, Vintage Books (New York, NY), 2000, Modern Library (New York, NY), 2002.
Caracole, Dutton (New York, NY), 1985; Vintage Books (New York, NY), 1996.
The Beautiful Room Is Empty, Knopf (New York, NY), 1988.
The Farewell Symphony, Knopf (New York, NY), 1997.
The Married Man, Knopf (New York, NY), 2000.
Fanny: A Fiction, Ecco/HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.
Also author of Argument for Myth. Contributor to anthologies, including The Fabric of Memory: Ewa Kuryluk: Cloth Works, 1978-1987, Northwestern University Press, 1987. Contributor of articles and reviews to New York Times, London Observer, Los Angeles Times, Architectural Digest, Artforum International, Home and Garden, Mother Jones, New York Times Book Review, Savvy Woman, Southwest Review, and other periodicals. Editor, Saturday Review and Horizon; contributing editor, Vogue.
American author Edmund White has produced highly acclaimed novels, insightful nonfiction on gay society, and semi-autobiographical novels that combine the best features of fiction and nonfiction. Known as a "gay writer," White also belongs among those writers whose literary reputations transcend simplistic labels. William Goldstein explained in Publishers Weekly, "To call Edmund White merely a gay writer is to oversimplify his work and his intentions. Although that two-word label … aptly sums up White's status, the first word no doubt helps obscure the fact that the second applies just as fittingly." White's studies of the gay lifestyle and changing attitudes about homosexuality in America, including the impact of AIDS on the gay community, are considered important contributions to late-twentieth-century social history. Though male homosexuality is the subject of his nonfiction, White offers insights into human behavior in general, according to reviewers. Nation contributor Carter Wilson commented, "White is to be envied not only for his productivity … but because he is a gifted writer who has staked himself a distinguished claim in the rocky territory called desire."
Critics praised White's first novel, Forgetting Elena, for its satiric and insightful look at social interaction as well as for its elegant prose. A first-person narrative of an amnesia victim struggling to determine his identity and the identities of those around him, Forgetting Elena exposes the subtle entrapments of social hierarchy and etiquette. White told Library Journal that the novel's premise illustrates the "sinister" aspects of life in an artistically obsessed society. In such a culture, he explained, "Every word and gesture would … convey a symbolic meaning. Ordinary morality would be obscured or forgotten. People would seek the beautiful and not the good—and, perhaps, cut free from the ethics, the beautiful would turn out to be merely pretty." Setting the novel's action at a fictitious resort reminiscent of New York's Fire Island, White creates, in the words of Nation contributor Simon Karlinsky, "a semiology of snobbery, its complete sign system." Karlinsky stated that "what might at first seem to be merely a witty parody of a particular subculture's foibles and vagaries actually turns out to be something far more serious and profound…. He has produced a parable about the nature of social interaction that transcends any given period and applies to the human predicament at large."
Most critics consider Forgetting Elena a highly accomplished first novel. Karlinsky called the work "an astounding piece of writing—profound, totally convinc- ing and memorable." Alan Friedman likewise praised the book in New York Times Book Review, though not without qualifications. Friedman wrote: "There is something so unfailingly petty about the narrator's apprehensions … and something so oppressive about his preoccupations … that it is often difficult to be receptive to the book's genuine wonders." Friedman nevertheless concluded that this "tale of a sleuth who strives to detect the mystery of the self" is "an astonishing first novel, obsessively fussy, yet uncannily beautiful."
Nocturnes for the King of Naples, White's second novel, won acclaim for its discerning treatment of human values and relationships. As John Yohalem explained in New York Times Book Review, Nocturnes for the King of Naples "is a series of apostrophes to a nameless, evidently famous dead lover, a man who awakened the much younger, also nameless narrator … to the possibility of sexual friendship. It was an experience that the narrator feels he did not justly appreciate," Yohalem continued, "and that he has long and passionately—and fruitlessly—sought to replace on his own terms." David Shields wrote in Chicago Tribune: "Because of the speaker's final realization of the impossibility of ever finding a ground for satisfaction, a home, this book is more than a chronicle of sorrow and regret. It becomes, rather, a true elegy in which sorrow and self-knowledge combine and transform into a higher form of insight. This higher insight is the artistic intuition of the mortality of human things and ways."
While Doris Grumbach suggested in Washington Post Book World that White "will seem to the careful reader to be the poet of the burgeoning homosexual literature," she also noted: "The music of White's prose is seductive. It is of course possible that a tone-deaf, a melody-indifferent reader might turn his back on White's homo-erotic narrative." However, she added, White's prose in Nocturnes for the King of Naples promises satisfaction to "the lover of good fictional writing who is open to this most subtle exploration of the many ways of love, desertion, loss, and regret."
Caracole goes back to an earlier century and retrieves a more elaborate fictional form. Christopher Lehmann-Haupt observed in New York Times that White has "certainly conceived a nineteenth century plot steeped in the conventions of romanticism" when he writes of two country lovers forcibly separated who turn to sexual escapades in a large city. The resulting story is a "puzzling melange of comic opera and sleek sensuality," added the reviewer. New York Times Book Review contributor David R. Slavitt described Caracole as "a grand fantasy…. Shrewdness and self-awareness ooze from every intricate sentence, every linguistic arabesque and hothouse epigram." Slavitt concluded that Caracole "is, provokingly, a challenge to taste, which is likely to vary from one reader to another or even from moment to moment in the same reader."
White's novel The Married Man, called his "most readable novel" by David Bergman in Review of Contemporary Fiction, is about the relationship between Austin, an American writer living in Paris, and Julien, a younger married architect Austin meets in a gym and with whom he forges an alliance. The pair travel together and eventually return to Providence, Rhode Island, where Austin is to teach a class. Austin is HIV positive, but healthy, and Julien promises to care for him until the end, but it is Julien who wastes away from AIDS, whereupon Austin discovers that Julien's life had been one of secrets and lies. "What is most interesting, however," wrote Alice Truax in New York Times Book Review, "is not the revelations themselves but how little the facts really matter: if Julien deceived Austin, Austin also collaborated in his deception. After all, it was that subtle blend of shared illusions and private realities that had nourished the marriage and made it possible—and White seems to be suggesting, perhaps the same can be said of most marriages." Like Julien in the book, White's own lover, Frenchman Hubert Sorin, died in Morocco of AIDS at age thirty-three. The Married Man is loosely based on White's years with Sorin.
In Fanny: A Fiction White presents what People reviewer Bella Stander dubbed a "witty and richly imagined" fictional biography of early nineteenth-century Scottish-born protofeminist Frances "Fanny" Wright. Purportedly authored by Frances "Fanny" Trollope—mother to more famous author Anthony Trollope—the novel is written in a style that mimics Trollope's perfunctory, sometimes harsh, and often unknowingly humorous prose. In the novel, Wright has founded Nashoba, a utopian colony of freed slaves located in Tennessee, and it is here she invites her struggling writer friend, in the hopes that the visit will provide literary inspiration for her Domestic Manners of the Americans. At the core of the book is middle-aged Fanny, whom Wright describes as "a funny little snaggle-toothed old woman with ratty hair." Three of her six children and a French artist also join Wright on the trip to America, a trip that sets the stage for the rest of the novel. As New Statesman contributor Carmen Callil described it, Wright "sails first class, while the Trollope family suffers amid the vomit and creaking of steerage. Nothing improves on arrival; Fanny Trollope's adventures lead her to be disappointed with—and even to hate—America, a place where men pass the day spitting at walls, where utopians and democrats pontificate about God and indulge in an ‘acrobatic Christianity,’ which includes demonic treatment of their slaves." Although Callil noted that White's inclusion of a "plethora of historical detail" can sometimes be overwhelming, Fanny "captures with an amusing cattiness both Trollope's sharpness of tongue and Wright's self-delusion," noted Penelope Mesic in her Book review, while in Publishers Weekly a reviewer noted that "Trollope's struggle to maintain her own little bit of interior civilization is a joy to witness."
White's concern about AIDS has left its mark on his writing, particularly his short fiction, collected in The Darker Proof and Skinned Alive: Stories. Among the eight tales in the latter collection, several feature "gay love and loss in the shadow of AIDS" as a central motif, commented Maxine Chernoff in Chicago's Tribune Books. In "Running on Empty," a man returns to his hometown in Texas after traveling in Europe and confronts his worsening illness. "Palace Days" offers a love triangle in which one character is dying of AIDS while another, though healthy, is coping with the recent discovery that he is HIV-positive. And in "An Oracle," a man grieving for his dead lover falls in love with a young man while traveling in Greece.
"What Edmund White conjures here is a serious, sustained look at how AIDS measures and shapes the meaning of our existence," commented Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor Michael Bronski. While noting that the stories dealing with AIDS are "rarely somber," New York Times Book Review commentator Morris Dickstein wrote that "in the best stories … the author sometimes gives way to a sadness that reverberates more deeply than in anything else he has written." "White is never ponderous but vastly compassionate, and has the grace to be humorous in his compassion," remarked Alberto Manguel in the London Observer. James Woods, reviewing Skinned Alive for London Review of Books, commended "the scattered gorgeousness" in White's writing and concluded that the collection "shows us that for all his confusions, White has lost none of his artistry." As Chernoff observed, White's "subject is the human condition, no matter our sexual practices, and our final estrangement from each other, despite our efforts to hold on."
White's nonfiction on gay life in America is considered by many to be as compelling as his fiction. The Joy of Gay Sex: An Intimate Guide for Gay Men to the Pleasures of a Gay Lifestyle, published in the late 1970s, attempted to make the topic less mysterious for curious heterosexuals and to provide useful information for gay men. In 1980 White published States of Desire: Travels in Gay America. A documentary on segments of homosexual life in fifteen major American cities, States of Desire contains interviews, autobiographical reminiscences, and accounts of cultural and entertainment centers for gays. According to Ned Rorem in Washington Post Book World, States of Desire "poses as a documentary … on our national gay bourgeoisie. Actually it's an artist's selective vision … of human comportment which is and is not his own, mulled over, distilled, then spilled onto the page with a melancholy joy."
The Joy of Gay Sex and States of Desire qualified White as one of the first prominent spokespersons for gay men in America. He knew that publishing these works would engage him in politics to some extent. He explained in a Paris Review interview: "It was a political act for me to sign The Joy of Gay Sex at the time. The publisher could not have cared less, but for me it was a big act of coming out. Charles Silverstein, my coauthor, and I were both aware that we would be addressing a lot of people and so in that sense we were spokesmen. We always pictured our ideal reader as someone who thought he was the only homosexual in the world. States of Desire was an attempt to see the varieties of gay experience and also to suggest the enormous range of gay life to straight and gay people—to show that gays aren't just hairdressers, they're also petroleum engineers and ranchers and short-order cooks."
Since the 1980s, White has continued his role as a social historian on the homosexual experience in America. He writes with particular authority about the gay liberation movement because he has been an active participant in it since the Stonewall riot in New York City in 1969. Police had raided the discotheque and the gay men fought back in what is now seen as the official beginning of the campaign for homosexual rights. "The riot itself I considered a rather silly event at the time," he recalled in his Paris Review interview; "it seemed more Dada than Bastille, a kind of romp. But I participated in that and then was active from the very beginning in gay liberation. We had these gatherings which were patterned after women's and ultimately, I think, Maoist consciousness-raising sessions. Whether or not our ses- sions accomplished anything for society, they were certainly useful to all of us as a tool for changing ourselves." Before that time, he explained, gay men tended to think of themselves as primarily heterosexual except for certain sexual habits—"but we weren't homosexuals as people. Even the notion of a homosexual culture would have seemed comical or ridiculous to us, certainly horrifying."
White believes that gay writers should recognize the historical significance of the AIDS epidemic in the context of the larger culture in which they live. In Rolling Stone he noted: "No American phenomenon has been as compelling since the Vietnam War, which itself involved most of the same themes. Although obviously a greater tragedy, the war nevertheless took place on a different continent and invited a more familiar political analysis. We knew how to protest the war. In the rancorous debates over AIDS, all the issues are fuzzy and the moral imperatives all questions."
White maintains that while the tragedy of AIDS has caused the gay liberation movement some daunting setbacks, it has not been the only factor in the movement's mixed success. He explained in Mother Jones: "Gay liberation grew out of the progressive spirit of the 1960s—a strange and exhilarating blend of socialism, feminism and the human potential movement. Accordingly, what gay leaders in the late 1960s were anticipating was the emergence of the androgyne [a kind of person neither specifically masculine nor feminine], but what they got was the superbutch stud [a muscle-bound type whose homosexuality is a heightened form of masculine aggression]; what they expected was a communal hippie freedom from possessions, but what has developed is the acme of capitalist consumerism. Gays … consume expensive vacations, membership in gyms and discos, cars, elegant furnishings, clothes, haircuts, theater tickets and records…. Unfortunately, today this rampant and ubiquitous consumerism not only characterizes gay spending habits but also infects attitudes toward sexuality: gays rate each other quantitatively according to age, physical dimensions and income; and all too many gays consume and dispose of each other, as though the act of possession brought about instant obsolescence." White pointed out that finding a solution to this problem, as it is for the AIDS epidemic, is important not only for gays, but for all Americans.
Many of the essays in which White explores the intersection of homosexuality, culture, and AIDS are collected in The Burning Library: Essays. Consisting of forty pieces, many of them previously published, the collection chronicles White's literary and personal odyssey from the pre-Stonewall period to the sexually liberating 1970s and into the devastation wrought by AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s. Noting the "unparalleled stylistic elegance deployed" in these essays, Observer reviewer Jonathan Keates characterized White as being "armed with [a] … deep moral awareness and the … ability to charm the socks off the reader even while retailing unpalatable truths." Writing in Los Angeles Times, Chris Goodrich called The Burning Library "strikingly traditional, a writer's attempt to fathom his own identity and that of the subculture in which he works and lives."
Times Literary Supplement contributor Neil Powell claimed that the more personal essays in The Burning Library are stronger than those in which White discusses other writers and their works. Commented Powell, "White's admirable capacity for sympathetic understanding not only inhibits his critical judgment but actually weakens the case being argued." Goodrich, focusing on the more personal essays, noted that White's "reflections on AIDS are uncommonly thoughtful." Keates concurred, writing that White's "own HIV-positive status might have fueled him with accusatory hysteria and recrimination. Instead … he has challenged mortality with these noble fragments."
In addition to his social commentary, White has also made his mark as a biographer, and his interest and familiarity with French culture are evident in both Genet: A Biography and Marcel Proust. White spent seven years researching and writing the biography of acclaimed writer Jean Genet, interviewing those who knew Genet and examining Genet's literary output. He chronicles the writer's early hardships—being abandoned by his parents and becoming a ward of the state—his adolescent initiation into stealing, which became a lifelong addiction, his first burst of literary creativity during the 1940s, which resulted in five novels and secured his fame, and his turbulent personal life, marked by his homosexuality and his apparent brutish ways towards friends and lovers alike. Noting Genet's legendary habit of falsifying the events of his life, New York Review of Books reviewer Tony Judt commended White for attempting "to unravel the threads that Genet so assiduously knotted and crossed in his various writings and interviews."
Critical reaction to Genet was mostly positive, with several reviewers calling the biography a definitive work. Writing in Chicago's Tribune Books, Thomas McGonigle said that "White has written a wonderfully readable account of a thoroughly repulsive individual," adding that the author "brings to bear on the life of Genet a grand literary sensibility." Similarly, Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor Daniel Harris called the work "an extraordinarily lucid biography" and noted, "White delights in ferreting out Genet's most compromising secrets." Some reviewers criticized White for focusing too heavily on Genet's homosexuality as a means of interpreting his life and literary output. Judt, for instance, stated that occasionally White falls "victim to his own anachronistic concern with sexual preference as a key to aesthetic appreciation." Writing in New York Times Book Review, Isabelle de Courtivron concurred, noting that "at times White comes perilously close to reducing his subject's complex works to an overinterpretation in light of" Genet's homosexuality. Nevertheless, added the critic, White's work "is so meticulously researched and detailed, his understanding and illumination of the works is so rich, that the book ultimately succeeds in resisting the nagging temptation of reductionism." New York Times Book Review contributor Margo Jefferson concluded by saying that White "presents the life meticulously, reads Genet's work intelligently and writes beautifully." Reflecting the positive critical opinion of the book, Genet was awarded the National Book Critics Circle award for biography in 1994.
White's biography of French writer Marcel Proust is one of the first in the "Penguin Lives" series that New York Times Book Review contributor Peter Ackroyd said "bear[s] testimony to the fact that biographical narratives can aspire to art rather than to history." Ackroyd described the volume as issuing "from imagination and intuition as much as from scholarship and research." Ackroyd continued, "White explores the pathology of a man who was passionate and yet oblique, rhetorical and secretive; sentimental and yet clearsighted, innocent and depraved—a great writer condemned as a flaneur and a gossip who wrote a masterpiece. It requires the skill and intuition of an imaginative artist to make these aspects cohere within a single and living portrait."
In addition to his accomplished fiction and nonfiction, White has produced several semi-autobiographical works that bring together the best features of both kinds of writing, beginning with A Boy's Own Story, a first-person narrative of a homosexual boy's adolescence during the 1950s. As a Harper's reviewer described it, A Boy's Own Story "is a poignant combination of the two genres … written with the flourish of a master stylist." The main conflict in this psychological novel is the narrator's battle against negative judgments from society and from within. Emotional turmoil related to homosexuality, though prominent in the novel, is only one difficulty among many related to coming of age, the Harper's reviewer observed. A Boy's Own Story "is an endearing portrait of a child's longing to be charming, popular, powerful, and loved, and of his struggles with adults … told with … sensitivity and elegance."
More than one reviewer has called A Boy's Own Story a "classic" work. Comparing White to James Baldwin, Herman Wouk, and Mary McCarthy, Thomas M. Disch wrote in Washington Post Book World that the novel "represents the strongest bid to date by a gay writer to do for his minority experience what the writers above did for theirs—offer it as a representative, all-American instance." New York Times Book Review contributor Catharine R. Stimpson found the book "as artful as [White's] earlier novels but more explicit and grounded in detail, far less fanciful and elusive…. Balancing the banal and the savage, the funny and the lovely, he achieves a wonderfully poised fiction." Voice Literary Supplement columnist Eliot Fremont-Smith concluded, "A Boy's Own Story seems intended to be liberating, as well as touching and clever and smart. It is something else as well: unsettling to the willing heart. This makes it a problem, with no happy solution guaranteed, which defines what's wrong with the book. But also what's right, what intrigues." Lehmann-Haupt called the work "superior fiction," adding: "Somehow … White does succeed in almost simultaneously elevating and demeaning his self-history. And these extremes of epiphany and emptiness are what is most universal about this haunting Bildungsroman."
In The Beautiful Room Is Empty, The sequel to A Boy's Own Story, the narrator alternately revels in his homosexuality and rejects himself for it. Psychoanalysis and increasing surrender to sensual activity escalate the young man's battle for self-acceptance. Though his sexuality troubles him, the excitement and audacity of his experiences with gay men in public restrooms seems a needed respite from the blandness of his suburban life. While recreating these scenes, White evokes both humor and terror. The gay characters easily upstage the others in the book with their outspoken opinions, witty banter, and daring sexual exploits, while "White takes us through [the narrator's] unsentimental education like an indulgent pal, making graceful introductions, filling in with pungent details, saving his harshest judgments for himself," Vince Aletti wrote in Voice LiterarySupplement. Sometimes the adolescent makes bold moves—as when he shouts "Gay is good!" in a Greenwich Village demonstration. At other times, he acts out his self-loathing, as when he seduces his music teacher and betrays him to the authorities. By depicting both kinds of behavior, the narrator helps White to evoke "the cautious emergence of a gay consciousness" taking place in the surrounding culture, Aletti said.
Some readers did not see how one could come away from The Beautiful Room Is Empty with a good feeling about homosexuality. In answer to these critics, White explained in a Village Voice interview that his role is not that of a propagandist, but that of a historian. He said, "I like to describe the way people actually are. Some rather young people don't see the historical point of The Beautiful Room Is Empty…. I was trying to point out that people were even more oppressed [in the 1960s] than they are today." Addressing the topic again in a Publishers Weekly interview, the author said, "I feel it wouldn't be true to the experience of the characters if I showed them gliding blissfully through, when it was obviously a painful thing coming out in a period before gay liberation." A Time reviewer concluded, "In the era of AIDS, White's novel is a fiercely remembered plea not to push gays back into the closet."
The title of White's The Farewell Symphony is taken from a Haydn symphony that ends with the orchestra leaving the stage, until only the violin remains. Another autobiographical work, it follows his life from the 1970s to the 1990s, from New York to his expatriation, first in Rome, then in Paris. It also follows his friends, including those he has lost to AIDS. Kent D. Wolf wrote in Review of Contemporary Fiction of the first time period covered by the book, saying, "White's apparent nonstop sexfest … seems to defy logic; at one point the narrator does some math and figures he had over 3,000 partners between 1962 and 1982…. Putting all calculators … aside, amidst all this kissing is plenty of telling." The narrator writes of his growing success as a writer, of his father's death, and his sister's coming to terms with her lesbianism. A Publishers Weekly reviewer felt the book is best enjoyed "for its luminous snapshots of New York, Paris, and Rome, and of the vital parade of men—dowdy, forbiddingly gorgeous, sylph-like, ephebic, closeted, defiantly and militantly out that crowd its pages." Booklist contributor Whitney Scott called White "an older, maturer talent reflecting on the sweeping power of friendship, caring, and love in all its aspects."
The Flaneur: A Stroll through the Paradoxes of Paris is the first in a series of books to be published by Bloomsbury, the goal of which is to introduce readers to a single city in each volume, with someone well acquainted with the city acting as a sort of tour guide. As a longtime resident of Paris, White naturally chose the city of lights. He provides an inside look at the culture and arts life of the city, including information about lesser-known sights and his take on recent Parisian history. Ravi Shenoy, writing for Library Journal, found him to be "richly informed, and his evocative writing should appeal to both armchair travelers and visitors to Paris." Brad Hooper, reviewing for Booklist, remarked of White: "He certainly sees the soul beneath the skin," and goes on to add: "He may be in love with Paris, but he is not blinded by it." A contributor for Publishers Weekly commented: "White's charming book is for literati, voyeurs and aesthetes, and for travelers who love familiar terrain from a different viewpoint."
Loss within Loss: Artists in the Age of AIDS, which White edited, is a collection of essays by influential writers who are addressing the loss to our culture when an artist dies of AIDS. In the instance of famous artists, it is obvious that they will never share any more of their talent with the world, but even the deaths of lesser known individuals results in a loss, as one will never know what they might have achieved had they survived for the course of their otherwise natural lifespan. Writing for Library Journal, Krista Ivy indicated that White restrained himself in his effort on behalf of the collection, noting that "his apolitical introduction lacks the outrage at society's inaction often associated with AIDS discourse." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly wrote: "This book is an important contribution to the history of AIDS's effect on gay life and culture."
Arts and Letters, a series of essays, is a collection focused primarily on writers and writing, though he includes other figures in the arts as well. Among other insights, White offers a chronicle of his research process when he was working on his biography of Genet, including how he acquired difficult-to-find pieces of information on the author known to be a recluse. Jim Marks, in a review for Lambda Book Report, noted that, despite being known for longer works based in part on his own life and experiences, White "demonstrates considerable skill in these brief and brilliant glimpses of writers, artists and—as he terms them—personalities."
In My Lives, White offers readers a true memoir, chronicling his life from childhood on, including such disturbing details as his mother asking him to lace up her corset-like girdle and his father attempting to seduce his thirteen-year-old sister Margaret. His colorful life had an early beginning, and is seeped in the sexual experimentation of a young man trying to come to terms with his homosexuality from an early age. White appears to hold nothing back, and for readers not familiar with his life, it should come as no surprise that he tested HIV-positive in 1985, when testing was just recently available. Andrew Wilson, in a review for New Statesman, observed that "in a lesser writer's hands, all this could have resulted in a freak show. Yet White invests his material with a stylistic richness that transforms the sensationalist and the shocking into something approaching lyricism." Jim Gladstone, in a review for Lambda Book Report, commented that "for an author whose most beloved works are autobiographical novels, this approach seemed to offer an opportunity for fresh perspectives and a thru-line for reassembling and re-examining his memories," but went on to note that "any such thru-line, geographical or otherwise, is exactly what's lacking." However, a reviewer for Publishers Weekly preferred the approach White did take, remarking: "Wisely, he has not attempted a straightforward autobiography, but instead a collection of essays or meditations."
Discussing the role of writer, White believes that originality is the creative writer's foremost concern. As he explained to interviewer Larry McCaffery in Alive and Writing: Interviews: "There are two ways of looking at literature. One is to feel that there is one great Platonic novel in the sky that we're all striving toward. I find that view to be very deadening, finally, and certainly it's a terrible view for a teacher or a critic to hold. The other view is that each person has a chance to write his or her own book in his or her own voice; maturing as an artist occurs when you find your own voice, when you write something that only you could have written. That's the view I have."
In a Paris Review interview White described the two impulses—toward fiction and nonfiction—between which he balances his writing, saying, "Writers can use literature as a mirror held up to the world, or they can use writing as a consolation for life (in the sense that literature is preferable to reality). I prefer the second approach, although clearly there has to be a blend of both. If the writing is pure fantasy it doesn't connect to any of our real feelings. But if it's grim realism, that doesn't seem like much of a gift. I think literature should be a gift to the reader, and that gift is in idealization. I don't mean it should be a whitewashing of problems, but something ideally energetic. Ordinary life is blah, whereas literature at its best is bristling with energy."
At a time when books by gay writers are not as widely read as he hopes they will be, White, who once had a novel rejected by twenty-two different publishers, admits to being thrilled by the recognition his writing has received. "I know I'll always be doing this," he told Publishers Weekly, "and I know that I'll never make a living from my writing; but that's fine. It's enough to be published…. I don't have very exalted notions of what a writer's life should be like." Concurrent with his career as an author, White has taught creative writing at several East Coast universities, including Johns Hopkins, Columbia, and Yale. His reviews and profiles appear frequently in Vogue and other magazines. He also writes travel articles and, from his home in Paris, reports on French social history and contemporary trends in art and politics.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Barber, Stephen, Edmund White: The Burning World, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1999.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 27, 1984, Volume 110, 1999.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 227: American Novelists since World War II, Sixth Series, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2000.
Gay and Lesbian Biography, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1997.
McCaffery, Larry, Alive and Writing: Interviews, University Press of Illinois (Champaign, IL), 1987.
White, Edmund, My Lives, Ecco (New York, NY), 2006.
Advocate, September 16, 1997, Sarah Schulman, "The White Party," interview with author, p. 61; January 20, 1998, review of The Farewell Symphony, p. 102; March 2, 1999, Robert Plunket, review of Marcel Proust, p. 65; June 20, 2000, David Bahr, "French Lessons," p. 137, Robert Plunket, review of The Married Man, p. 138; April 10, 2001, David Bahr, review of Loss within Loss: Artists in the Age of AIDS, p. 66; March 28, 2006, "Ed White Bares All," p. 63.
American Prospect, May 7, 2001, David L. Kirp, review of Loss within Loss, p. 51.
Biography, summer, 2006, Bert Archer, review of My Lives.
Bloomsbury Review, January, 1998, review of The Farewell Symphony, p. 20.
Book, November-December, 2003, Penelope Mesic, review of Fanny: A Fiction, p. 86.
Booklist, November 1, 1995, Brad Hooper, review of Our Paris: Sketches from Memory, p. 453; September 15, 1997, Whitney Scott, review of The Farewell Symphony, p. 211; December 1, 1998, Bryce Christensen, review of Marcel Proust, p. 646; May 1, 2000, Donna Seaman, review of The Married Man, p. 1654; February 15, 2001, Whitney Scott, review of Loss within Loss, p. 1105; February 15, 2001, Brad Hooper, review of The Flaneur: A Stroll through the Paradoxes of Paris, p. 1113; September 15, 2003, Michael Spinella, review of Fanny, p. 212; February 1, 2006, Brad Hooper, review of My Lives, p. 16.
Chicago Tribune, December 10, 1978, David Shields, review of Nocturnes for the King of Naples, p. E3; December 1, 1998, review of Marcel Proust, p. 646.
Entertainment Weekly, October 10, 2003, John Freeman, review of Fanny, p. 127; April 7, 2006, Henry Goldblatt, review of My Lives, p. 65.
Financial Times, September 17, 2005, review of In Brief—My Lives, p. 33.
Gay & Lesbian Review, fall, 2000, Christopher Hennessy, "‘I See My Life as a Novel as I'm Leading It,’" interview with author, p. 26; fall, 2000, Martha E. Stone, "Sketches from Memory," p. 53; winter, 2000, Nick Radel, "Travels of Young Edmund," p. 48; May, 2001, Karl Woelz, "Epitaph to a Genre," p. 43; September 1, 2001, "Encore, Paris," p. 43; July-August, 2003, Chris Freeman, interview with White, p. 10; July 1, 2004, "Edmund White, Outcast Survivor," p. 28; January 1, 2005, "Makers and Shakers of Gay Literature: Jim Nawrocki Talks with an Essayist Known for His Novels," p. 36; January 1, 2005, "White-iana," p. 44; March 1, 2005, "The Gay Artist as Critic," p. 10; May 1, 2006, "Keys to the Kingdom of Edmund," p. 35; July 1, 2006, "A Man's Own Story: Michael Ehrhardt Talks with the Author of My Lives," p. 27.
Geographical, March 1, 2001, Chris Amodeo, review of The Flaneur, p. 93.
Harper's, October, 1982, review of A Boy's Own Story.
Interview, September 1, 1997, "The Importance of Being Edmund," p. 122.
Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 1998, review of Marcel Proust, p. 1522; January 1, 2002, review of The Flaneur, p. 44; January 15, 2006, review of My Lives, p. 79.
Lambda Book Report, June, 2000, Robert Gluck, "The Whole Man in Love," p. 15; March, 2001, Jameson Currier, "The Price We Paid," p. 14; November-December, 2004, Jim Marks, review of Arts and Letters, p. 27; summer, 2006, Jim Gladstone, review of My Lives, p. 7.
Library Journal, February 15, 1973, review of Forgetting Elena, p. 566; September 15, 1997, Eric Bryant, review of The Farewell Symphony, p. 104; January, 1999, Diane G. Premo, review of Marcel Proust, p. 98; May 15, 2000, Brian Kenney, review of The Married Man, p. 127; February 15, 2001, Ravi Shenoy, review of The Flaneur, p. 190; March 15, 2001, Krista Ivy, review of Loss within Loss, p. 83; November 15, 2004, Morris Hounion, review of Arts and Letters, p. 61; March 1, 2006, Kathryn R. Bartelt, review of My Lives, p. 88.
Life, fall, 1989, Edmund White, "Residence on Earth: Living with AIDS in the '80s."
London Review of Books, August 24, 1995, James Woods, review of Skinned Alive, p. 12.
Los Angeles Times, January 12, 1994, Chris Goodrich, review of The Burning Library, p. C7; September 19, 1997, Charlotte Innes, "He's a Pillar to Some, a Source of Strife for Others," interview with author, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 4, 1980; April 3, 1982; November 21, 1993, Daniel Harris, review of Genet, p. 1; July 16, 1995, Michael Bronski, review of Skinned Alive, p. 4; December 14, 1997, Michael Frank, review of The Farewell Symphony, p. 5; January 22, 1999, Michael Frank, review of Marcel Proust, p. 6.
Meanjin, March 1, 2007, "Two Hours before the Master: How Far Are Contemporary Homosexual Sensibilities ‘post-gay’? Visiting Sydney in 2006, American Author and Stonewall Veteran Edmund White Discussed the Issues with Young Turk, John Heard," p. 96.
Mother Jones, June, 1983, interview with author.
Nation, January 5, 1974, Simon Karlinsky, review of Forgetting Elena, p. 23; March 1, 1980; November 13, 1982, Carter Wilson, review of A Boy's Own Story, p. 503; October 20, 1997, Alfred Corn, review of The Farewell Symphony, p. 35.
New Republic, July 12, 1999, Andre Aciman, "Inversions," p. 35.
New Statesman, February 26, 1999, Charlotte Raven, review of Marcel Proust, p. 53; September 1, 2003, Carmen Callil, review of Fanny, p. 37; September 26, 2005, Andrew Wilson, review of My Lives, p. 83.
New Yorker, February 8, 1999, review of Marcel Proust, p. 80.
New York Review of Books, October 21, 1993, Tony Judt, review of The Selected Writings of Jean Genet, p. 8; March 18, 1999, Roger Shattuck, review of Marcel Proust, p. 10; August 10, 2000, John Banville, review of The Married Man, p. 42.
New York Times, December 17, 1982, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of A Boy's Own Story, p. 26; September 8, 1985, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of Caracole.
New York Times Book Review, March 25, 1973, Alan Friedman, review of Forgetting Elena, p. 2; December 10, 1978, John Yohelem, review of Nocturnes for the King of Naples, p. 12; October 10, 1982, Catharine R. Stimson, review of A Boy's Own Story, p. 15; September 15, 1985, David R. Slavitt, review of Caracole, p. 15; November 7, 1993, review of Genet, p. 1; September 14, 1997, Christopher Benfey, review of The Farewell Symphony, p. 11; November 1, 1998, review of The Farewell Symphony, p. 36; January 10, 1999, Peter Ackroyd, "Biography: The Short Form," p. 4; July 2, 2000, Alice Truax, "An Ideal Husband," p. 5; April 8, 2001, Angeline Goreau, "A Walker in the Cité," p. 7; April 15, 2001, review of The Flaneur, p. 26; June 3, 2001, review of The Flaneur, p. 28; April 9, 2006, "The Bearable Lightness of Being," p. 29.
Observer (London, England), June 19, 1994, Jonathan Keates, review of The Burning Library, p. 17; June 14, 1995, Alberto Manquel, review of Skinned Alive; July, 23, 1995, Morris Dickstein, review of Skinned Alive, p. 6; July 12, 1998, review of The Farewell Symphony, p. 18; February 28, 1999, Robert McCrum, "Books: Home to Proust," p. 11; August 8, 1999, Stephen Barber, "Arts: Edmund White Went to a Bath House for Sex, and Found a Whole New World—of Art, Love and Loss," p. 5; February 4, 2001, Peter Conrad, review of The Flaneur, p. 16.
Paris Review, fall, 1988, interview with author.
People, November 3, 2003, Bella Stander, review of Fanny, p. 54.
Publishers Weekly, September 24, 1982, William Goldstein, interview with author; September 6, 1991, review of The Faber Book of Gay Short Fiction, p. 93; October 2, 1995, review of Our Paris, p. 64; April 17, 2000, review of The Married Man, p. 48; January 8, 2001, review of The Flaneur, p. 54; February 5, 2001, review of Loss within Loss, p. 82; March 12, 2001, "Edmund White Times Two," p. 16; August 11, 2003, review of Fanny, p. 37; January 16, 2006, review of My Lives, p. 48; February 27, 2006, "Writing about Sex: If Rousseau Could Do It, So Can I," p. 44; April 16, 2007, review of Chaos: A Novella and Stories, p. 31.
Reference & Research Book News, August 1, 2006, review of My Lives.
Review of Contemporary Fiction, fall, 1996, "Edmund White Speaks with Edmund White"; spring, 1998, Kent D. Wolf, review of The Farewell Symphony, p. 224; spring, 2001, David Bergman, review of The Married Man, p. 187; fall, 2003, David Bergman, review of Fanny, p. 127.
Rolling Stone, December 19, 1985, interview with author.
Seattle Times, November 24, 2004, review of Arts and Letters.
Spectator, May 10, 1997, Alain de Botton, review of The Farewell Symphony, p. 35; March 20, 1999, Jonathan Keates, review of Marcel Proust, p. 69; February 24, 2001, Euan Cameron, review of The Flaneur, p. 36; October 1, 2005, "The Style Is the Man," p. 46.
Studies in Short Fiction, spring, 1993, John Thomas Farrell, review of The Faber Book of Gay Short Fiction.
Time, April 11, 1988, review of The Beautiful Room Is Empty, p. 67; July 30, 1990, "Imagining Other Lives: Edmund White, America's Most Influential Gay Writer, Is Living—and Writing—with AIDS," p. 58.
Times Literary Supplement, July 1, 1994, Neil Powell, review of The Burning Library, p. 13; May 2, 1997, Nicholas Jenkins, review of The Farewell Symphony, p. 23; May 21, 1999, review of Marcel Proust, p. 8; March 17, 2000, Sylvia Brownrigg, review of The Married Man, p. 21; April 6, 2001, John Stokes, review of The Flaneur, p. 31.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), October 24, 1993, Thomas McGonigle, review of Genet, p. 3; August 13, 1995, Maxine Chernoff, review of Skinned Alive, p. 4.
Village Voice, June 28, 1988, interview with author.
Voice Literary Supplement, December, 1982, Eliot Fremont-Smith, review of A Boy's Own Story, p. 8; April, 1988, Vince Aletti, review of The Beautiful Room Is Empty, p. 3; March, 2001, Richard Klein, "Wander, Lust."
Washington Post Book World, November 12, 1978, review of Nocturnes for the King of Naples, p. E5; December 10, 1978, review of Nocturnes for theKing of Naples, p. E3; January 27, 1980, Ned Rorem, review of States of Desire, p. 3; October 17, 1982, Thomas M. Disch, review of A Boy's Own Story, p. 1; February 28, 1999, Greg Varner, "Passionate Lives," p. 4; June 11, 2000, Michael Dirda, "In Health and in Sickness," p. 1.
Beatrice,http://www.beatrice.com/ (April 24, 2004), Ron Hogan, "Beatrice Interview: Edmund White."
Edmund White Home Page,http://www.edmundwhite.com (May 3, 2004).
Gay.com,http://www.gay.com/ (October 1, 2001), "Edmund White Discusses The Married Man, Life, and Love."
PlanetOut,http://www.planetout.com/ (October 1, 2001), Lawrence Chua, "Interview with Edmund White."
Thebestofmen.com,http://thebestofmen.com/ (October 21, 2001), "Fiction."