Rudy Kikel was born in 1943 in Brooklyn, New York, of Gottscheerbarisch heritage, which he celebrates in various poems. Gottschee is an area swallowed up in the creation of Yugoslavia after World War I. Arriving in America from Gottschee as a blacksmith’s apprentice, Kikel’s father, Joseph Kikel, born in 1912, could not speak English but within ten years owned his own construction firm. Rudy Kikel’s mother was born in America but then lived in Gottschee for six years before she returned to America at age sixteen as a domestic laborer. She had two children: Rudy and a daughter Joan who graduated from New York University and became a secretary for her father. In 1952 the family moved to Glendale in Queens (New York), where Kikel attended Sacred Heart of Jesus Grammar School. Street addresses at which he lived between 1943 and 1988 are chronicled in “Erogenous Zones” (1993).
After high school, Kikel earned an undergraduate degree at St. John’s University in Jamaica, New York, and a master’s degree in English from Penn State, where he first published poetry (under the pseudonym R.J. Stark) in One magazine between 1964 and 1966. He completed a doctorate at Harvard in 1975. In 1980 he published Shaping Possibilities, a chapbook of twenty-four sonnets. On the advice of Felice Picano, a gay novelist and publisher, Kikel published Lasting Relations in 1984 with jacket blurbs from James Merrill,* Edward Field,* and Edmund White, three important voices in late-twentieth-century gay writing. When Publishers Weekly commented that Kikel proved to be “stylish, elegant and clever” in the Oscar Wilde tradition (Rev. of Lasting Relations 72), he was happily encouraged. Leaving teaching in 1975, Kikel began to write reviews and essays for Gay Community News, Gay Sunshine, Philadelphia Gay News, and Boston