Gay Writers Form the Violet Quill Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Violet Quill, a short-lived but ultimately successful and significant writing group, helped change the world of publishing and literature. Violet Quill members helped create an open environment in which it was acceptable to write about gay topics in a way that did not compromise true gay experiences.

Summary of Event

During the year 1980 to 1981, a group of gay writers came together in New York City New York City;gay writers in to form a writing group called the Violet Quill. The group members’ dialogues and writings would change the face of gay literature in the United States. The group consisted of seven men: Christopher Cox, Robert Ferro, Michael Grumley, Andrew Holleran, Felice Picano, Edmund White, and George Whitmore. While their combined efforts would together change the arena of gay publishing, they brought both common goals and individual purpose to the group. [kw]Gay Writers Form the Violet Quill (1980-1981) [kw]Writers Form the Violet Quill, Gay (1980-1981) [kw]Violet Quill, Gay Writers Form the (1980-1981) Violet Quill Literature;gay [c]Literature;1980-1981: Gay Writers Form the Violet Quill[1360] [c]Publications;1980-1981: Gay Writers Form the Violet Quill[1360] [c]Organizations and institutions;1980-1981: Gay Writers Form the Violet Quill[1360] Cox, Christopher Ferro, Robert Grumley, Michael Holleran, Andrew Picano, Felice White, Edmund Whitmore, George

Edmund White, “May 16, 1996.”

(Jill Krementz/ Courtesy of Allen and Unwin)

The men of the Violet Quill met formally on only eight occasions over the course of one year. The revolving gatherings were held in members’ homes and included readings from one another’s manuscripts or journals and, on a lighter note, servings of dessert, which became more lavish with each gathering. Generally, two people would read at each meeting, receiving comments from other members.

Ferro, Grumley, and Holleran had met while attending the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop. The remaining members became acquainted through various New York literary circles. The common denominator of the group was that they were all out gay writers who were having similar struggles in dealing with their own literature and the world of publishing. They were ambitious in their fields and open in their sexuality, a mix that was not easily accepted. They were writing a new type of gay literature, without apologies, in a post-Stonewall era.

It could be said that the eight meetings of the group were the least important part of the Violet Quill. In fact, this group had been given its name even before the occasion of its first meeting. The members’ common struggles solidified an alliance before they came together on their own. They asked questions of themselves and others, such as, How do we represent a gay culture that is not subversive of the dominant discourse? and, How do we create gay characters that are true to our own experience and still have our work published by the mainstream not familiar with those experiences? Although they had a common goal, they did not always share a collective thought. Scholar David Bergman noted that the group,

shared several impulses: a desire to write works that reflected their gay experiences, and specifically, autobiographical fiction; a desire to write for gay readers without having to explain their point of view to shocked and unknowing heterosexual readers; and finally, a desire to write…in a selection of the language really used by gay men.


The Violet Quill did much to change the way that publishers and the general public felt about gay literature. However, change was not always easy to see, nor was change seen immediately. Some gay writers would come to criticize the impact of the group in the literary arena, claiming that the members of the Violet Quill had actually blocked the doors to the publishing world. Despite the criticism, the future would show that the group had had a positive influence.

After the existence of the Violet Quill, each group member was able to publish his work. Edmund White (who had actually published prior to the group’s formation) would go on to become one of the most influential writers of the 1980’s and 1990’s—gay or straight. The literary world in New York ran in relatively small circles, and publishers knew of the Violet Quill and its goals. In an era when the grassroots gay and lesbian rights movement was just beginning, these men were able to bang on doors and demand that publishers pay attention to their work. The outcome, if not full acceptance, was at least the ability to publish. Books and stories may not have been published in their raw original form, but gay characters were emerging from the oppression of previous decades.

The men in the Violet Quill helped pave the way for a future in which other men and women would be able to write with their authentic voices. The result was not only the publication of gay-themed literature but the creation of a new genre. The efforts of the Violet Quill helped lead the way to a proliferation of gay and lesbian literature, to the existence of gay and lesbian publishing houses, and to the wide topical reach of GLBT literature. Violet Quill Literature;gay

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bergman, David. The Violet Hour: The Violet Quill and the Making of Gay Culture. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______, ed. The Violet Quill Reader: The Emergence of Gay Writing After Stonewall. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Herren, Greg. “Felice Picano: Sex, Lies, and Manuscripts.” Review of Picano’s The Book of Lies, Lambda Book Report 8, no. 4 (1999).
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Holleran, Andrew, and Felice Picano. “Telling the Truth in Fiction.” James White Review 16, no. 4 (1999): 5-11.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Picano, Felice. “On the Real Violet Quill Club.” In Queer Representations: Reading Lives, Reading Cultures, edited by Martin Duberman. New York: New York University Press, 1997.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. “The Real Violet Quill Club.” Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review 2, no. 2 (1995): 5.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">White, Edmund. “Out of the Closet, onto the Bookshelf.” The New York Times Magazine, 1991, 22-26.

July 4, 1855: Whitman Publishes Leaves of Grass

May 25, 1895: Oscar Wilde Is Convicted of Gross Indecency

1924: Gide Publishes the Signed Edition of Corydon

1939: Isherwood Publishes Goodbye to Berlin

1947-1948: Golden Age of American Gay Literature

1956: Baldwin Publishes Giovanni’s Room

1963: Rechy Publishes City of Night

June, 1971: The Gay Book Award Debuts

1974: The Front Runner Makes The New York Times Best-Seller List

1975: First Novel About Coming Out to Parents Is Published

1980: Alyson Begins Publishing Gay and Lesbian Books

May, 1987: Lambda Rising Book Report Begins Publication

June 2, 1989: Lambda Literary Award Is Created

1993: Monette Wins the National Book Award for Becoming a Man

Categories: History