The Godfather of Gay StudiesHistorians in the News
tags: LGBT, Martin Duberman
Martin Duberman, the historian and gay-studies pioneer, has had a few things on his mind lately — three books’ worth of things this year alone, in fact. One volume takes a fresh, hard look at gay activists’ recent narrow focus on marriage rights and asks, Has the Gay Movement Failed? A second, The Rest Of It, extends three earlier installments of autobiography by covering the years 1976-88, and by including a number of now-long-ago details he’s not proud of, such as a cocaine habit and a surfeit of hustlers. The third book, titled Luminous Traitor and due out next month, is what he calls a "novelized biography" of the gay Irish diplomat and patriot Roger Casement, hanged by the British for treason in 1916.
Meanwhile another manuscript is already at the University of California Press, and he’s finishing up the introduction to a book of feminist essays by his friend Naomi Weisstein, a psychologist and neuroscientist who died three years ago. After that, "something’s cooking about getting old," he says, "but I don’t know what form it will take."
Duberman, by the way, recently turned 88.
He swims and works out with weights, and he safeguards time to write in a sunny front room of the Chelsea apartment he shares with his husband, Eli Zal, 63. Two big windows overlook the quiet street they’ve lived on for decades, and above his desk is a collage called Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, purchased years ago from an artist friend. "I’ve lived a long life and I’ve been lucky enough to have written about most of the things that I wanted to," Duberman says in the course of a good-humored two-hour conversation, "though things like Roger Casement popped into my head quite late. Who the hell knows what might yet pop into my head?"
That’s hardly an unreasonable question, given the breadth of his interests. Duberman’s career as a published historian began in 1961, when Houghton Mifflin released his book about Charles Francis Adams, a politician and historian who was the grandson of John Adams and son of John Quincy Adams. The book won the Bancroft Prize the following year. His next big success, in 1964, was a play, In White America, followed by a biography of the poet and critic James Russell Lowell in 1966. All told, he’s written or edited more than 30 books, including a 1972 history of Black Mountain College, the progressive North Carolina arts institution that lasted from 1933 to 1957; an acclaimed 1989 biography of the singer Paul Robeson; and volumes about the politics of the left and about gay history, including a 1993 account of the Stonewall riots. ...