Monette Wins the National Book Award for Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

While living with AIDS, Paul Monette wrote Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story to provide solace and meaning for gays and lesbians who grew up closeted and alone.

Summary of Event

Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story (1992) was written when Paul Monette was dying of AIDS. He composed the book on a computer and left no printed manuscripts, such was the compelling haste of the project, meant to help others through exorcising his own agonies of living in the closet until his late twenties. [kw]Monette Wins the National Book Award for Becoming a Man (1993) [kw]National Book Award for Becoming a Man, Monette Wins the (1993) [kw]Book Award for Becoming a Man, Monette Wins the National (1993) [kw]Becoming a Man, Monette Wins the National Book Award for (1993) Becoming a Man (Monette) National Book Award;Becoming a Man (Monette) Literature;gay HIV-AIDS[HIV AIDS];literature on [c]Literature;1993: Monette Wins the National Book Award for Becoming a Man[2240] [c]Publications;1993: Monette Wins the National Book Award for Becoming a Man[2240] [c]HIV-AIDS;1993: Monette Wins the National Book Award for Becoming a Man[2240] Monette, Paul Horwitz, Roger Wilde, Winston Rorem, Ned Bourland, Roger McClatchy, J. D.

He writes in the memoir of having no story to tell in the years he was in the closet. He had crushes on straight men, “golden Adonises” who comprised “a Parthenon frieze of heroic male flesh parading to the showers after practice.” He formed emotional and physical relations with women. This behavior was all too typical in the years when all realms of society stigmatized homosexuality: law, medicine, religion, psychiatry. His interior life was agonized because he could not tell the truth, but he would not know how to speak if he could, because there were so few examples of how to speak.

Monette was born into a working- and middle-class family but was able to attend prestigious schools: Phillips Academy, Andover as a day student, and Yale University on a scholarship. In his adolescence, Monette delineates a cultural attitude of the day. It was okay to be very effeminate—and usually the butt of jokes—but there was no place for a more masculine-acting homosexual. This quandary would not be resolved until the 1970’s, after gay liberation.

At Yale he wrote his thesis on Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s In Memoriam (1850) without acknowledging its homoerotic overtones, another aspect of the silence of the closet. In his youth he wrote poetry and attracted the attention of various poets and poet critics.

A trip to Sea Island, Georgia, with poet J. D. (Sandy) McClatchy gave Monette the setting for a sex scene in his first novel. Discussions with McClatchy showed Monette that there was not just gay sex but a gay sensibility. This writing breakthrough led to his coming out completely. In 1974 in Boston at Rudy Kikel’s place, with Kikel’s friend Craig Rowland, Monette met his ideal accepting gay male, the “laughing man” who would reciprocate his love, Roger Horwitz.

Horwitz had received a doctorate in comparative literature and a law degree, both from Harvard. In 1977, Monette and Horwitz moved to Los Angeles, where they led a privileged life among an accepting lesbian and gay subculture. Horwitz’s stepbrother was Sheldon Andelson, also gay, a businessman who was appointed a University of California regent.

Monette had stopped writing poetry, but before Horwitz’s death Monette wrote well-received novels in the genres of romance and comedy. His first novel, Taking Care of Mrs. Carroll, appeared in the annus mirabilis, or wonderful year, of gay fiction, 1978, when gay novels were also published by East Coast writers Edmund White, Larry Kramer, and Andrew Holleran. Gay publishing had progressed a great deal by that time, and Monette’s novel appeared in part in the slick gay male erotica magazine Blueboy, with appropriate illustrations by Stavrinos.

Horwitz’s death from AIDS compelled Monette to produce works different from his early, lighter works. A book about Horwitz’s death, Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir Borrowed Time (Monette) (1988), put into words the experiences of thousands of persons living with AIDS or caring for someone with AIDS. Monette then wrote a book of poems to Horwitz, Love Alone: Eighteen Elegies for Rog (1988); a novel about survivors of partners who died of AIDS, Afterlife (1990); and another novel about AIDS, Halfway Home (1991).

Significance

Monette’s circles in Los Angeles gay life were more than social. He and Horwitz supported such pioneering institutions as the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center.

While written U.S. literary history is still centered on the East Coast and New York City, Monette was a writer living in and writing about his adopted city, Los Angeles. He tells his stories with details and settings that enrich the city’s larger social and cultural history.

Monette used his considerable public speaking talent to promote his work, especially his AIDS writings, and helped to create the audience and even the acceptance for his memoirs. Borrowed Time was nominated for a National Book Award, and Becoming a Man won the award a few years later. His abilities also made him a community spokesman on numerous topics of protest, such as the Roman Catholic Church’s condemnation of homosexuality.

For his books on Horwitz’s dying of AIDS, Monette received an almost unprecedented amount of fan mail. Monette brought out into the open and articulated for others what at the beginning of the AIDS pandemic few could express.

Several composers have set Monette’s AIDS writings to music and thus enlarged their original impact. Ned Rorem used the poem “Here” from Love Alone, while Roger Bourland used a portion of the prose foreword to that volume, “Love Is All You Need.” Bourland’s work was written for the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, another example of interrelated gay cultural influences.

In the years remaining to him, Monette had two other lovers, Stephen Kolzak, a casting director who also died of AIDS, and Winston Wilde, who would become a psychotherapist. Monette then wrote several compelling short works and poems, including a touching memoir of an older lesbian friend, along with works that move in a more spiritual direction, such as the essay “My Priests,” which appeared in Last Watch of the Night: Essays Too Personal and Otherwise (1994). One of his last public appearances was to speak at St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Hollywood, to inspire an audience overflowing the sanctuary.

Before Monette’s death, director Monte Bramer began his documentary film Paul Monette: The Brink of Summer’s End. Released in 1996, the film won the 1997 Sundance Festival Audience Award for a documentary. Monette’s brother, Robert, and Kolzak, Wilde, and numerous others appear in the film to give him homage as brother, lover, friend, writer, and activist. Becoming a Man (Monette) National Book Award;Becoming a Man (Monette) Literature;gay HIV-AIDS[HIV AIDS];literature on

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kermode, Lloyd Edward. “Using Up Words in Paul Monette’s AIDS Elegy.” In Response to Death: The Literary Work of Mourning, edited by Christian Riegel. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2005.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Monette, Paul. Afterlife. New York: Crown, 1990.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Last Watch of the Night: Essays Too Personal and Otherwise. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1994.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Love Alone: Eighteen Elegies for Rog. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Robinson, Paul. Gay Lives: Homosexual Autobiography from John Addington Symonds to Paul Monette. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Román, David. “Paul Monette.” In Contemporary Gay American Novelists, edited by Emmanuel S. Nelson. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993.

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

1980-1981: Gay Writers Form the Violet Quill

May, 1987: Lambda Rising Book Report Begins Publication

June 2, 1989: Lambda Literary Award Is Created

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