Monday, February 11, 2019

RIP Patricia Nell Warren ... And Thank You

Around the same time I learned about Harvey Milk, I learned about Patricia Nell Warren, and about myself.

Warren’s 1974 novel, The Front Runner, made me think about myself, about who I was, what I was, how I might be. It was the story of an out gay track-and-field athlete, Billy Sive, who fell in love with his closeted, older coach, Harlan Brown. It was about love, and hate, and shame, and finding your way out of the closet, no matter who you were, or how old.

It was about me, but, you know, without the athleticism, cuz that ain’t my thing.

I found the book after asking my sister if she had something I could read and she told me to check her room. And I found The Front Runner, and the cover naturally caught my eye, so I took it. I didn’t know if it was about a gay athlete and his coach at the time, it was just the homoeroticism of that image.

But I read it, and parts made me ache, and made me smile, made me blush, and made my cry. I had never read such a book that talked mostly about the way two men could fall in love, and how they might choose to live after that.

Years later, I told my sister about the book—I kept it for years, never giving it back to her—and she didn’t know anything about it or where she’d gotten it; she said she never read it but she was glad I had.

I say all this because this week Patricia Nell Warren has died at age 82. And I wanted to thank her for her words and for all they meant to a young gay boy struggling to understand what that might possibly mean.

RIP. Thank you so much for helping me understand myself, a boy you never even knew.


Professor Chaos said...

That was a lovely tribute.
I would love to know how that book got there. You must have an angel looking out for you or something.

the dogs' mother said...

What a truly wonderful woman.
I like the guardian angel theory.

Michael said...

What a beautifully written post. I have made that the next book on my booklist.

Sixpence Notthewiser said...

Yes! It’s a novel anchored to its time, though. Without giving too much away in case somebody wants to read it, it ends the way gay-themed novels tended to end back in the day. The relationship though is way ahead of its time and their struggles are still valid. It’s been awhile since I read it.
I should dig out a copy I should have in some box. It’s worth a revisit.
Thanks for the trip down memory lane!


Debra She Who Seeks said...

That's a great story and a great tribute to Patricia Nell Warren. How fortuitous that you found that book in your sister's room! Do you believe in synchronicity? I think it was at play here.

Moving with Mitchell said...

A wonderful post. I remember that book cover too ... and of course the book. But I have no idea how I got hold of it since I would never have bought it myself at the time. It as so empowering but it still took me years to accept in myself.

Jennifer said...

Wonderful tribute to the author. She would be thrilled with it, I'm sure!

Gene Perry said...

OMG! The Frontrunner! I gotta get a new copy. I remember reading the book as a teen. Seriously, mage my life make much more sense.

Vivian Swift said...

That is a marvelous tribute to a writer. These days, could a woman get away with writing gay YA fiction? I doubt she could get published in today's world, but your tribute and the feedback from your sweet commenters makes me think that we can be more open minded about who gets to tell which stories.