Edmund White

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Edmund White
Edmund White 2 by David Shankbone.jpg
White in his home in New York, in 2007
BornEdmund Valentine White III
(1940-01-13) January 13, 1940 (age 82)
Cincinnati, Ohio, United States
  • Novelist
  • short story writer
  • non-fiction writer
Alma mater University of Michigan
Notable works The Joy of Gay Sex , A Boy's Own Story , The Beautiful Room Is Empty , The Farewell Symphony
Spouse Michael Carroll

Edmund Valentine White III is an American novelist, memoirist, and an essayist on literary and social topics. Much of his writing is on the theme of same-sex love. His books include The Joy of Gay Sex , written with Charles Silverstein (1977); his trilogy of semi-autobiographic novels, A Boy's Own Story (1982), The Beautiful Room Is Empty (1988) and The Farewell Symphony (1997); and his biography of Jean Genet.


Early life

Edmund Valentine White mostly grew up in Chicago, Illinois. [1] He attended Cranbrook School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, as a boy. Afterward, he studied Chinese at the University of Michigan, graduating in 1962. [1]

Incestuous feelings colored his early family life. His mother, for instance, was sexually attracted to him. [2] White, moreover, spoke of his own attraction to his father: "I think with my father he was somebody who every eye in the family was focused on and he was a sort of a tyrant and nice-looking, the source of all power, money, happiness, and he was implacable and difficult. He was always spoken of in sexual terms, in the sense he left our mother for a much younger woman who was very sexy but had nothing else going for her. He was a famous womanizer. And he slept with my sister!" [3] He has also stated: "Writing has always been my recourse when I've tried to make sense of my experience or when it's been very painful. When I was 15 years old, I wrote my first (unpublished) novel about being gay, at a time when there were no other gay novels. So I was really inventing a genre, and it was a way of administering a therapy to myself, I suppose." [4] [5]

White was at the Stonewall Inn in 1969 when the Stonewall Uprising began. [6] He writes, "Ours may have been the first funny revolution. When someone shouted “Gay is good” in imitation of “Black is beautiful,” we all laughed; at that moment we went from seeing ourselves as a mental illness to thinking we were a minority." [7]

Literary career

White declined admission to Harvard University's Chinese doctoral program in favor of following a lover to New York, where he worked for eight years as a staffer at Time-Life Books and freelanced for Newsweek . After briefly relocating to Rome and then New York, he was briefly employed as an editor for the Saturday Review when the magazine was based in San Francisco in the early 1970s; after the magazine folded in 1973, White returned to New York to edit Horizon (a quarterly cultural journal) and freelance as a writer and editor for entities, including Time-Life and The New Republic .

White is gay and much of his work draws on his gay experience. His debut novel, Forgetting Elena (1973), set on an island, can be read as commenting on gay culture in a coded manner. The American/Russian novelist Vladimir Nabokov called it "a marvelous book". [8] Written with his psychotherapist [9] Charles Silverstein, The Joy of Gay Sex (1977) made him known to a wider readership. His next novel, Nocturnes for the King of Naples (1978) was explicitly gay-themed and drew on his own life. [10]

From 1980 to 1981, White was a member of a gay writers' group, The Violet Quill, that met briefly during that period and included Andrew Holleran and Felice Picano. White's autobiographic works are frank and unapologetic about his promiscuity and his HIV-positive status. [11]

In 1980, he brought out States of Desire, a survey of some aspects of gay life in America. In 1982, he helped found the group Gay Men's Health Crisis in New York City. [12] In the same year appeared White's best-known work, A Boy's Own Story the first volume of an autobiographic-fiction series, continuing with The Beautiful Room Is Empty (1988) and The Farewell Symphony (1997), describing stages in the life of a gay man from boyhood to middle age. Several characters in the latter novel are recognizably based on well-known people from White's New York-centered literary and artistic milieu. [13]

From 1983 to 1990 White lived in France. In 1984 in Paris he was involved in the foundation of the French HIV/AIDS organisation, AIDES. During this period, he brought out his novel, Caracole (1985), which centres on heterosexual relationships. After returning to America White maintained his interest in France and French literature, publishing Genet: a biography (1993), Our Paris: sketches from memory (1995), Marcel Proust (1998), The Flaneur: a stroll through the paradoxes of Paris (2000) and Rimbaud (2008).

White at the 2011 Brooklyn Book Festival Edmund White BBF 2011 Shankbone.JPG
White at the 2011 Brooklyn Book Festival

The novel The Married Man (2000) is gay-themed and draws on White's life. Fanny: A Fiction (2003) is a historical novel about novelist Frances Trollope and social reformer Frances Wright in early 19th-century America. White's 2006 play Terre Haute (produced in New York City in 2009) portrays discussions that take place when a prisoner, based on terrorist bomber Timothy McVeigh, is visited by a writer based on Gore Vidal. (In real life McVeigh and Vidal corresponded but did not meet.)

In 2005 White published his autobiography, My Lives organised by theme rather than chronology and in 2009 his memoir of New York life in the 1960s and 1970s, City Boy.

White has been influential as a literary and cultural critic, particularly on same-sex love and sexuality.[ citation needed ]

He is currently a professor of creative writing in Princeton University's Lewis Center for the Arts. [14] In June 2012, White was reported by his husband, Michael Carroll, to be making 'remarkable' recovery after suffering two strokes in previous months. [15]

He has received many awards and distinctions. Among these he is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and an Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He received the inaugural Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement from Publishing Triangle in 1989, and is also the namesake of the organization's Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction.

In 2014, Edmund White was presented the Bonham Centre Award from The Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies, University of Toronto, for his contributions to the advancement and education of issues around sexual identification. [16]

Awards and honors








  • The Darker Proof: Stories from a Crisis, with Adam Mars-Jones (1987)
  • In Another Part of the Forest: : An Anthology of Gay Short Fiction (1994)
  • The Art of the Story (2000)
  • A Fine Excess: Contemporary Literature at Play (2001)


See also

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  2. "Edmund White: Who are you calling a Trollope?". Tim Teeman. August 23, 2003. Retrieved August 30, 2020.
  3. Interview with Edmund White, David Shankbone, Wikinews , November 8, 2007.
  4. "Steve Dow, Journalist". stevedow.com.au.
  5. Dow, Steve (May 20, 2006). "The story of his lives". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved August 30, 2020.
  6. "Edmund White on Stonewall, the 'Decisive Uprising' of Gay Liberation". Literary Hub. April 30, 2019. Retrieved August 10, 2021.
  7. "How Stonewall felt – to someone who was there | Edmund White". the Guardian. June 19, 2019. Retrieved August 10, 2021.
  8. Edmund White, City Boy, 2009. Archived September 26, 2015, at the Wayback Machine ("Gerald Clarke...had gone to Montreux to do an interview with Nabokov for Esquire, and followed the usual drill...On his last evening in Switzerland he confronted Nabokov over drinks: 'So whom do you like?' he asked—since the great man had so far only listed his dislikes and aversions. 'Edmund White' Nabokov responded. 'He wrote Forgetting Elena. It’s a marvelous book." He’d then gone on to list titles by John Updike and Delmore Schwartz (particularly the short story "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities"), as well as Robbe-Grillet’s Jealousy among a few others.")
  9. Altmann, Jennifer (July–August 2021). "Trailblazer in Gay Lit" (PDF). Princeton Alumni Weekly. Retrieved September 18, 2021.
  10. Yohalem, John (December 10, 1978). "Apostrophes to a Dead Lover". The New York Times . Retrieved September 25, 2015.
  11. Mascolini, Mark (August 2005). "AIDS, Arts and Responsibilities: An Interview With Edmund White". The Body. Retrieved June 22, 2014.
  12. Wood, Gaby (January 3, 2010). "A walk on the wild side in 70s New York". The Guardian. London. Retrieved May 1, 2010.
  13. Benfey, Christopher (September 14, 1997). "The Dead". The New York Times. Retrieved March 12, 2013.
  14. "The Program in Creative Writing, Princeton University". princeton.edu. Archived from the original on March 5, 2008.
  15. Reece, Phil. Washington Blade. "Edmund White's partner after stroke: 'his improvement is remarkable'". June 1, 2012. Retrieved May 16, 2013.
  16. "The 2014 Bonham Centre Awards Gala celebrates Power of the Word on April 24, 2014, honouring authors and writers who have contributed to the public understanding of sexual diversity in Canada". pennantmediagroup.com.
  17. "2018 PEN American Lifetime Career and Achievement Awards". PEN America. February 2017. Retrieved February 7, 2018.
  18. "You searched for edmund white". PEN America. Retrieved August 30, 2020.
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  20. "Stonewall Book Awards List". American Library Association. September 9, 2009. Retrieved November 18, 2020.
  21. "Edmund White to receive Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters". Princeton University. Retrieved August 30, 2020.
  22. "Person, Place, Thing". New York University Arts and Letters. Retrieved August 30, 2020.
  23. "The Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement". The Publishing Triangle. Retrieved August 30, 2020.

Further reading