Larry Duplechan has been credited with writing one of the first male "coming-out" novels with a gay black protagonist. Blackbird, Duplechan's second novel, received much attention within the black community. Although short fiction and poetry by and about gay black men had been familiar to readers and critics since the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, until the mid-1980s almost all fictional gay male characters were white. Three of Duplechan's four semiautobiographical novels feature his alter-ego, Johnnie Ray Rousseau. Duplechan has been criticized for creating a black protagonist who seems to prefer white lovers. However his often sexually explicit writings are filled with humor and colorful characters. Duplechan also has achieved some success as a singer/songwriter and musician based in Los Angeles, California.
Became a Well-Read Secretary
Lawrence Duplechan, Jr., was born into a middle-class Los Angeles family on December 30, 1956. His father, Lawrence Duplechan, Sr., was an electronics engineer of Creole heritage. His mother, Margie Nell (Andrus) Duplechan, worked as a postal clerk, office administrator, and homemaker. The oldest of four brothers, Duplechan also had a half-sister from his father's first marriage. Although his parents were left-leaning Democrats, Larry was brought up in a strict, fundamentalist black church.
Like many Los Angeles blacks of his generation, Duplechan was influenced by his family's annual trips to visit grandparents in Louisiana. Both of his parents were from the tiny rural town of Mermentau, Louisiana, and had moved with their siblings to California in the 1950s. Duplechan told Contemporary Black Biography (CBB) that his short story "Zazoo" and his novel Captain Swing were "my two love letters to Mermentau."
While a student at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), Duplechan met his life partner, Greg Harvey, a fellow singer with the men's choir. Duplechan began working as a librarian's assistant at UCLA as an undergraduate and continued there until 1980. Between 1980 and 1990 Duplechan supported himself as a word processor and secretary. In 1990 he began working as a real-estate legal secretary. As of 2005 he worked as a litigation secretary at a large law firm.
Dreamed of Stardom
Duplechan didn't start out to become a novelist. He told CBB: "I've been singing all my life, in church, in school. I had dreams of being a singing star, sort of the mythical lovechild of Johnny Mathis and Barbra Streisand … But this was the late 1970s, early '80s. There weren't any openly gay pop singers back then … it was the era of the singer-songwriter, and at that point I didn't write songs; didn't want to; didn't think I could."
For seven years Duplechan struggled in the music business as a pop/jazz soloist and with the jazz vocal group String of Pearls. He told CBB: "I was in a relationship with a man who, while he really admired my talent, really, really wanted me to be home having dinner with him … and here I was, working a 40-hour job and singing in clubs at night … he basically said, 'You can continue to do this singing thing, or you can be with me, but you can't do both' … I actually chose the guy and stopped singing. But I had this need to create art; and I had this degree in English Lit. So I wrote instead. But writing was always a far-away second to singing."
Duplechan's first published story, "Peanuts and the Old Spice Kid," appeared in the anthology Black Men/White Men in 1983. Although gay literature was entering the mainstream, Duplechan told Contemporary Authors: "I searched in vain for a young, black, openly gay, middle-class, college-educated protagonist with a penchant for girl group music, 1930s movie musicals and the well-placed wisecrack. Someone not unlike myself. Finding none, I decided to create one."
Created His Alter-Ego
Eight Days a Week, an interracial gay love comedy, was based on Duplechan's early experiences with his partner and his singing career. However the novel's protagonist, Johnnie Ray Rousseau, chooses singing over his lover. Duplechan told CBB: "When I decided to write, I just got out a pad and paper and wrote a novel. When I'd written 'The End' on the last page of Eight Days a Week, I sent it off to publishers and finally got one. I was too dumb to know you couldn't get published without an agent." Although generally well-received in the gay press, the novel was ignored by the mainstream.
Duplechan confessed that he gave little attention to traditional writing structures. Duplechan told CBB: "Except for my third novel (Tangled Up in Blue), my novels are extended monologues. I write the way I talk, conversationally. Tom Robbins, particularly Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, influenced my first novel … by showing me that I could take everything I'd learned about proper grammar and sentence structure, and everything I thought I knew about the way to structure a novel, and just chuck it out the window." While this freedom of thought helped Duplechan create unique stories and provide interesting perspectives, he admitted that his skill was a bit lacking. "Unfortunately I'm no Tom Robbins and Eight Days a Week sort of topples under the weight of its own cleverness."
In Blackbird seventeen-year-old Rousseau comes to terms with his sexuality and declares himself gay. On his Web site Duplechan described this novel, his personal favorite, as "a gay Oreo homage to Catcher in the Rye." Arsenal Pulp Press of Vancouver, Canada, planned a twentieth-anniversary edition of Blackbird for the spring of 2006.
Tangled Up in Blue, a love triangle set against the backdrop of HIV/AIDS, was a departure from Duplechan's other work. He told Contemporary Authors that the novel was "an attempt to answer questions I'd asked myself after the completion of Blackbird: Could I write in a voice other than Johnnie Ray's first-person narrative? Could I write believable Caucasian characters? Could I write from the point of view of a woman? Could I write a comic novel concerning AIDS?" Ironically several reviewers criticized the novel for suggesting that HIV/AIDS could become a threat to heterosexuals.
None of Duplechan's novels sold particularly well and they all went out-of-print in 2002. However his short stories continued to be anthologized. His article about the Mar Vista area of Los Angeles appeared in Hometowns and his story about his mother was published in A Member of the Family. Duplechan contributed to various periodicals and published interviews and reviews in Lambda Book Report. As of 2005 he had contracted with a New York publisher for a new novel featuring Johnnie Ray Rousseau.
At a Glance …
Born Lawrence Duplechan, Jr., on December 30, 1956, in Los Angeles, CA; life partner Greg Harvey, 1976. Education: University of California, Los Angeles, BA, English literature, 1978. Religion: Metropolitan Community Church. Politics: Left-leaning Democrat.
Career: Los Angeles, CA, singer, 1975–1982, writer, 1983–, singer and ukulele player, 1994–; University of California, Los Angeles, Continuing Education Program, creative writing instructor, 1991.
Memberships: Metropolitan Community Church, deacon.
Addresses: Office—c/o Irell & Manella LLP, 1800 Avenue of the Stars, Suite 900, Los Angeles, CA 90067; Web—www.larry-d.com.
Returned to Music
In 1994 the house that Duplechan shared with Greg Harvey was destroyed in an earthquake. Seeking relief from the stress, Duplechan, Harvey, and two other men formed an a cappella singing group. Duplechan left the group after two years and tried singing with community choirs and a barbershop quartet. In 1998 after attending his first ukulele concert, Duplechan took up the instrument. He began performing on the ukulele circuit and in 2001 wrote his first song, "Honolulu Surfer Boy," a tribute to Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys. In 2003 Duplechan released a CD under the name Larry D. By 2005 Duplechan was singing his high tenor in a church choir and soloing on ukulele and guitar. He told CBB: "Singing is like breathing to me. It's the most natural thing in the world. So I'll always consider myself a singer, primarily, despite never having made a living at it."
Finding the Baptist church of his youth incompatible with his homosexuality, Duplechan began studying the religions of the world. For his 40th birthday a friend gave him a book by the scholar and mythologist Joseph Campbell. Duplechan told CBB "through Joseph Campbell, I came to the realization that all myth, all religion is equally true, as metaphor for something beyond human expression, which was a life-changing experience for me." This realization enabled Duplechan to return to Christianity. He became a deacon in the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), a gay Christian denomination, and in 2005 Duplechan was considering entering a seminary in order to join the MCC clergy.
Eight Days a Week, Alyson, 1985, 1995.
Blackbird, St. Martin's Press, 1986.
Tangled Up in Blue, St. Martin's Press, 1989.
Captain Swing, Alyson, 1993.
"Peanuts and the Old Spice Kid," Black Men/White Men, Gay Sunshine Press, 1983.
Hometowns: Gay Men Write about Where They Belong, Dutton, 1991.
A Member of the Family: Gay Men Write About Their Families, Dutton, 1992; Plume, 1994.
"Zazoo," Calling the Wind, HarperPerennial, 1993.
"Da-doo-ron-ron," Friends and Lovers: Gay Men Write about the Families They Create, Dutton, 1995.
"Excerpt from Captain Swing," Freedom in This Village, Carroll & Graf, 2004.
Go Go Go, MOL Records, 2003.
Ridinger, Robert B. Marks, "Larry Duplechan: Overview," in Gay & Lesbian Literature, Vol. 2, edited by Tom Pendergast and Sara Pendergast, St. James Press, 1998.
"Larry Duplechan," Contemporary Authors Online, http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC (August 19, 2005).
Larry Duplechan: Author, Singer, Songwriter, www.larry-d.com (September 11, 2005).
Additional information for this profile was obtained through an interview with Larry Duplechan on September 28, 2005.