The Violet Hour: The Violet Quill and the Making of Gay Culture

The Violet Hour: The Violet Quill and the Making of Gay Culture

The Violet Hour: The Violet Quill and the Making of Gay Culture

The Violet Hour: The Violet Quill and the Making of Gay Culture

Synopsis

The members of the literary circle known as the Violet Quill—Andrew Holleran, Felice Picano, Edmund White, Christopher Cox, Michael Grumley, Robert Ferro, and George Whitmore—collectively represent the aspirations and the achievement of gay writing during and after the gay liberation movement. David Bergman's social history shows how the works of these authors reflected, advanced, and criticized the values, principles, and prejudices of the culture of gay liberation. In spinning many of the most important stories gay men told of themselves in the short period between the 1969 Stonewall Riots and the devastation of the AIDS epidemic during the 1980s, the Violet Quill exerted an enormous influence on gay culture. The death toll of the AIDS epidemic, including four of the Violet Quill's seven members, has made putting such recent events into a historical context all the more important and difficult. The work of the Violet Quill expresses the joy, suffering, grief, hope, activism, and caregiving of their generation. The Violet Hour meets the urgent need for a history of the men who bore witness not only to the birth but also to the decimation of a culture.

Excerpt

We have the Lost Generation, the Mauve Decade, and even what the eminent scholar Hugh Kenner dubbed the Pound Era. I call the subject of this book “the Violet Hour” not only because I wish to avoid grandiosity but also because I want to emphasize the brevity, fragility, and transitory nature of this particular cultural episode. The title derives from the Violet Quill, the name a group of writers gave to their short-lived literary club. But by the Violet Hour, I mean something larger. I hope to evoke with the term that short period when a few gay men were creating their own culture in the wake of gay liberation. Edmund White has written, “To have been oppressed in the 1950s, freed in the 1960s, exalted in the 1970s, and wiped out in the 1980s is a quick itinerary for a whole culture to follow” (BL:215). It is this quick itinerary that I shall here examine. But White’s account, although it seems like one of those breathless packaged tours of Europe, really disguises the rapidity of the changes. Between the June 1969 Stonewall Riots—in which White took part—and the first gleanings of the disease that would come to be known as AIDS (and from which he suffers) is a mere dozen years. I have attempted to use the seven authors who made up the Violet Quill as a lens to view this period. Ironically, they came together just as the culture that they were a part of was on the verge of being wiped out. Indeed, of the seven writers who comprised the Violet Quill, only three are still alive.

All lenses produce distortions, and the Violet Quill distorts, no doubt, what we can observe of the cultural formation of gay men after Stonewall. The writers in the group speak of a relatively small society, but their works, taken together (which are among the best known of the time), have a clarity and scope . . .

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