Thursday, February 13, 2014

Inside a Pearl: Talking with Edmund White

Edmund White is the author of A Boy's own Story; City Boy, Jack Holmes and His Friend, The Married Man, plus biographies of Genet and Proust. White's memoir of a long life lived at the center of Gay culture on two continents continues with the just published Inside a Pearl, covering White's twenty years living in Paris and the death from AIDS of his partner, Hubert Sorin.

Edmund White and I spoke on February 12, 2014

Why are so many people-so many writers attracted to Paris?

I think in the 20s they were attracted because there was no Prohibition. They could drink there. And it was cheap. There were lots of women. I think now there aren't so many. Young American writers go to Eastern Europe. They go to Prague and Budapest, even to countries like Latvia and Lithuania.

What brought you to Paris?

For me it was always in my imagination. Growing up in the 50s as I did, Paris was always the
center of the world.  I was always a huge fan of Marcel Proust, of Jean Genet, of Gide. Paris became sacred territory for me. 

You have been the biogrpapher of Genet and Proust

That's right, yes

Did you know when you were very young that you were going to have a fascinating life?

No, I didn't. I thought I was a weirdo. My mother was always very encouraging in whatever I wanted to do, especially if it was something artistic. So I would take one lesson playing the harp, and one lesson playing the harpsichord, and one lesson acting and dancing. The only thing I could really do was write. I had an eighth grade teacher who encouraged me to write.

When did you realize you were going to be a full time writer? Making your living writing?

I started writing seriously when I was 15. I wrote a novel at that age. I wrote four or five more novels all unpublished. I didn't get one published until I was 31.  By the time I was 33 I knew I would write full time.

Your work is largely about the gay experience. Do you mind being typed as a gay writer?

No, it seems to me that middle aged white writers like myself who publish eight or nine books 
are a dying breed. Many we can't get published again because their sales aren't high enough. Everything today is bottom line. I'm lucky to have a niche.

But you are published all the time. The books are well respected and reviewed and hopefully they sell really well

Well, not really well but they are well reviewed , or at least widely reviewed and always published  up to this point.

Which of your book's made you famous?

Maybe A Boy's Own Story.  I think the first one was States of Desire: Travels in Gay America.
That was very  widely reviewed and mostly attacked. Now its being reissued by the University of Wisconsin this coming fall. 

Did you get any bad feedback from that book-any hate mail?

Oh, yes I certainly did. Not from the people in the book who I was careful to disguise, but from readers who would get indignant about writing so freely and openly about being gay. They'd write that I'd get some terrible disease and die, things like that.

What does the title Inside a Pearl Mean?

One day I was with my current partner. We'd been together 18 years and we got married last fall. He lived with me in Paris my last three years there. One day he was complaining about the weather. I said, well just think you're inside a pearl, its always kind of filtered, its cozy, its a nice feeling.  

Whay wonderful quote! It leads me to ask what you read?

Right now I'm reading an autobiography by a friend of mine called Brad Gooch. This book isn't out yet but it will be out soon. (Brad Gooch wrote a fine biography of Flannery O'Connor) Brad was a fashion model and writes a lot about that in his autobiogrhpy.  I judge several new book contests so I'm always hauling books around. OneI really loved is called The Teleportation Accident. It's by Ned Bowman  

What books do you think everyone should read?

Moby Dick. It really is the great American novel.

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