Certain foundational texts, such as dictionaries, sourcebooks, and encyclopedias, are indispensable for the legitimization as well as institutionalization of any distinct and emergent field of knowledge. Those books collect, organize, and present primary data about the subject. By doing so, they help define the new discipline, create a necessary knowledge base, and form an epistemological framework that can be shared by scholars in the field. They serve as instruments of basic research and as foundations for advanced inquiry; they facilitate dialogue within and across disciplines. Such works, therefore, are vital to the still-new field of gay and lesbian literary studies. Though gay/lesbian studies, in a general sense, has gained considerable academic respectability and institutional recognition in the last decade or so, it remains a young and politically vulnerable discipline that must continue to consolidate its gains, expand its knowledge base, and claim its intellectual ground. This reference volume, which specifically focuses on contemporary gay American poets and dramatists, is intended as a significant contribution to that ongoing project.
The gay presence itself is not new to American verse and theater. In fact, homoerotic themes are discernible in American poetry as early as the mid-nineteenth century, and identifiable gay characters appeared on American stage more than seventy years ago. However, aside from a few notable exceptions, gay artists of earlier generations felt compelled to avoid sexual candor and to resort to silence, evasion, and metaphoric indirection to speak the unspeakable. But most contemporary gay writers are free from those constraints. Almost all the poets and playwrights included in this volume speak freely, candidly, and with self-confidence. This sourcebook is designed not only to document the lives and works of those authors but also to celebrate their collective achievement as gay artists in the contemporary United States.