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Christopher Bram
Contemporary Authors Online. 2018. Lexile Measure: 1290L. Updated: Feb. 22, 2018
Born: February 22, 1952 in Buffalo, New York, United States
Other Names: Thersites; Bram, Chris
Nationality: American
Occupation: Writer
Updated:Feb. 22, 2018
 
PERSONAL INFORMATION:

Born February 22, 1952, in Buffalo, NY; partner of Draper Shreeve. Education: College of William and Mary, B.A. (with honors), 1974. Memberships: Authors Guild, Omicron Delta Kappa, Publishing Triangle. Addresses: Home: New York, NY. Agent: Donadio & Olson, 40 W. 27th St., New York, NY 10011.

 
CAREER:

Writer and educator. Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, VA, reporter, 1971; Social Security Administration, Flushing, NY, benefit authorizer, 1978-79; Scribner Bookstore, New York, NY, clerk, 1979-86; New York Native, New York, NY, typesetter, 1986-87; Gallatin School, New York University, NY, adjunct professor, 2008--.

 
AWARDS:

Guggenheim Fellow, 2001; Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement, 2003.

 
WORKS:

WRITINGS:

NOVELS

  • Surprising Myself, Donald I. Fine (New York, NY), 1987.
  • Hold Tight, Donald I. Fine (New York, NY), 1988.
  • In Memory of Angel Clare, Donald I. Fine (New York, NY), 1989.
  • Almost History: A Novel, Donald I. Fine (New York, NY), 1992.
  • Father of Frankenstein, Dutton (New York, NY), 1995.
  • Gossip, Dutton (New York, NY), 1997.
  • The Notorious Dr. August: His Real Life and Crimes, Morrow (New York, NY), 2000.
  • Lives of the Circus Animals, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.
  • Gods and Monsters, Perennial (New York, NY), 2005.
  • Exiles in America, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2006.

OTHER

  • Mapping the Territory: Selected Nonfiction (essays), Alyson Books (New York, NY), 2009.
  • Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America, Twelve (Boston, MA), 2012.
  • The Art of History: Unlocking the Past in Fiction and Nonfiction, Graywolf Press (Minneapolis, MN), 2016.

Also author, with Draper Shreeve, of screenplays for Dangerous Music and short films George and Al and Business-like; author of unproduced screenplay based on novel by David Leavitt, The Lost Language of Cranes, 1989.

Contributor to books, including Aphrodisiac: Fiction from Christopher Street, Coward (New York, NY), 1980; (short story "Meeting Imelda Marcos") Men on Men 3, edited by George Stambolian, Dutton (New York, NY), 1990; (short story "Greenwich Village") Hometowns, edited by John Preston, Dutton (New York, NY), 1991; (introduction) Barbie in Bondage, by Stan Leventhal, Hard Candy Books (New York, NY), 1996; and Our Deep Gossip: Conversations with Gay Writers on Poetry and Desire, edited by Christopher Hennessy, University of Wisconsin Press (Madison, WI), 2013.

Contributor to periodicals, including Lambda Book Report, Premiere, New York Times Book Review, Commonweal, New York Native (under name Chris Bram), and Night and Day (under pseudonym Thersites).

Editor of William and Mary Review, 1973-74; contributing editor of Christopher Street, 1979-82.

 

Sidelights

Summarizing Christopher Bram's writing history and development, Gay & Lesbian Literature essayist Michael Bronski reported that "Bram first came to the attention of lesbian and gay readers when his story 'Aphrodisiac' was published in Christopher Street." Since then, praised Bronski, "[Bram] has consistently pushed the boundaries of content and the narrative possibilities in gay male fiction." In Contemporary Gay American Novelists, Mark E. Bates identified "three major components" to Bram's writing: a New York City setting, a "focus on gay life during a particular time period, complete with historical and cultural referents," and "the use of suspense as narrative device."

Bram's debut novel, Surprising Myself, "explores gay sexuality and political activism in New York during the 1970s," described Bates, relating that the story's suspense involves "the tension created when Joel's sister ... leaves her career army officer husband Bob Kearney in Germany and flees to New York with her infant daughter." Joel's life becomes complicated when Kearney uses information about Joel's infidelity to his partner, Corey, to extract the location of his wife and daughter. In the midst of this predicament, recounted Bates, Joel "must rely on his irresponsible father for help," he "doubts Corey's love for him," and he deals with "the imminent death of his grandmother."

Surprising Myself is a "candid [novel] ... with compelling characters who are engagingly human first, and only then straight or gay," according to Sybil Steinberg in Publishers Weekly. "Its 'coming out' story--a perennial theme in gay male novels ... made the book both accessible and comfortable for the common gay reader. But," remarked Bronski, "while other writers remained secure and happy in this genre, Bram seemed to chafe at its stylistic and narrative restrictions."

Hold Tight "expanded the usual 'coming out' theme and placed it in a broader historical and philosophical context," noted Bronski, who claimed that the novel "proved that [Bram] was a master at using and subverting genre while expanding the parameters of what was possible in the contemporary gay male narrative." "Most importantly," emphasized Bronski, "Hold Tight presented a viable way for readers to deal with larger themes in a positive context of gay male sexuality, among them the interplay of global and personal politics and the role that alternative sexuality plays in governmental policy decisions."

Hold Tight presents a "New York City of the 1940s ... a world shrouded in secrecy, where even the most minor sexual indiscretion could lead to imprisonment," detailed Bates. To avoid charges of "unnatural sexual acts," wrote Bates, a gay sailor named Hank Fayette agrees to participate "in a sting operation to catch Nazi spies"; he is outfitted with a "hidden microphone" while working as "a male prostitute at the same brothel where he was arrested." "Quite by accident," continued Bates, "Hank encounters a wealthy Nazi sympathizer who has hoped to receive valuable information from the same brothel to assist Nazi Germany's war effort. When the would-be spy bungles his mission, he decides to kill Hank to guard the secrets of the spy ring. A frantic chase scene ensues."

"In Memory of Angel Clare ... reads like a travel guide to gay New York," announced Bates. "[It] portrays the AIDS-contaminated world of gay life in the mid to late 1980s," he wrote, adding that the novel "presents and develops tensions around a ... personal conflict--Michael Sousza's decision to commit suicide."

Describing In Memory of Angel Clare as "half comedy-of-mismanners and half philosophical exploration of what the idea of 'community' really means," Bronski noted: "[Published] at a time when most novels dealing with AIDS veered towards the sentimental, Angel Clare was a daring and notable exception."

In Lives of the Circus Animals, declared a Kirkus Reviews contributor, "straight and gay lives share the stage in a good-natured Broadway valentine refreshingly free of theatrical excess." The book recounts the excitement in the Broadway theater of the coming of the great, popular (and gay) British Shakespearean actor Henry Lewse, who has come to star in a musical comedy. The center of Bram's novel, however, is Lewse's personal assistant, Jessie, and her brother Caleb, a gay playwright who is trying to rekindle a relationship with Toby, a former lover who wants a role in the musical.

"The well-drawn characters run the gamut of the human condition," Joanna M. Burkhardt stated in Library Journal, "and the story encompasses all the joys and sorrows of everyday life." The result, wrote Paula Luedtke in Booklist, is a "sweetly funny and engaging novel that makes the contemporary New York theater scene spring to life."

Exiles in America evokes the America of the early twenty-first century against the backdrop of the beginning of the Iraq war. Daniel Wexler and Zach Knowles live and work in a small Virginia college town when their relationship is tested by the arrival of an expatriate Iranian artist and his Russian wife.

The novel, explained Seth J. Bookey in the Lambda Book Report, "is essentially an examination of long-term gay marriage, a subject rarely seen in novels, even gay ones. ... The fight for gay marriage rights has been a staple of mainstream news for several years, but most Americans don't have the vaguest idea of how real gay relationships play out. Bram wisely puts the events in this novel from the point of view of either Daniel or Zack, while exploring both their present and their past as a couple." "His couples endure difficult times and contemplate splits, but they try to survive," concluded Wayne Hoffman in his Lambda Book Report interview with the author. "Simply because a relationship is rocky, Bram suggests, it is not necessarily doomed."

In 2009 Bram released his first collection of nonfiction essays and articles, Mapping the Territory: Selected Nonfiction. The essays, which were published in various periodicals between 1981 and 2009, mainly concern gay issues.

Reviewing the work, After Elton contributor Brent Hartinger commented that some of the essays are rather dated and not particularly relevant to contemporary gay culture. Nonetheless, Hartinger also noted, "as backward glances go, this is a pretty interesting book." Library Journal contributor Nancy R. Ives remarked: "These thoughtful, well-written essays will appeal to a gay audience and those wishing to learn more." In a review of the work in Booklist, contributor Ray Olson stated: "Nothing here resembles academic or snide magazine lit crit." Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide contributor Charles Green put forth: "Mapping the Territory is a penetrating look inside the mind and personality of a thoughtful, careful writer. Bram demonstrates that he can write beautifully crafted nonfiction as well as novels. With humor and intelligence, he relates what it means to be a gay author and reader."

In Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America, Bram analyzes the lives and works of several authors, including Gore Vidal, James Baldwin, Allen Ginsberg, and David Leavitt. He suggests that their works helped to bring about social change.

Reviewing Eminent Outlaws in the New York Times, Dwight Garner commented: "This book is not a mess, exactly. It's argumentative and often resonant, and lit from below by a gossipy wit. But its power is less sentence by sentence than cumulative. You don't realize how much the details of these writers' books and difficult lives have touched you until the book's final chapters." World Literature Today writer Bernard F. Dick described the volume as "deftly written and refreshingly nonacademic." T.J. Haskell, a contributor to Choice, called it "an impeccably researched narrative" and "a must read for those interested in culture, sexuality, literature, or history." "Unified by the keen observations of a novelist working in the tradition that re-energized American letters, Bram successfully informs and entertains," asserted a Publishers Weekly critic. A writer in Kirkus Reviews described the book as "an educative mixture of analysis, celebration, description, disappointment, disdain and, finally, love." David Azzolina, a reviewer in Library Journal, stated: "Bram's own prose is wonderfully immediate and readable, combining biography, gossip, literary criticism, and social history."

According to Frank Pizzoli, a writer on the Lambda Literary website: "Bram's 184-page The Art of History: Unlocking the Past in Fiction & Nonfiction is a brisk and entertaining jog through twenty-nine great books and how authors grappled with history in their writing." Bram published the volume in 2016. Among the writers whose work he examines are Cormac McCarthy and Hilary Mantel.

Emmett Rensin, a critic on the Los Angeles Review of Books website, stated: "Nothing inThe Art of History works toward any theory of aesthetics; if there is an art revealed here, it is the art of Christopher Bram's taste." Rensin added: "Bram does offer reasons for his taste, but they rarely extend beyond his assessment of whether or not a particular approach 'worked' for him." Other assessments of the volume were more favorable. Amos Lassen, writing on his website Reviews by Amos Lassen, commented: "It is great fun to discover history in books and it is even greater fun when you have someone like Christopher Bram to show you how to do so. He also leaves us with an appendix of recommended reading that goes perfectly with the skills of exploration, appreciation and instruction that we have learned reading his book." Writing on the Pasatiempo website, Jonathan Richards suggested: "Despite a weakness for drawn-out descriptions of plots and histories, Bram delivers some digestible and often tasty observations on the art and challenges of writing in and around history. His 'Books Referred to and Recommended' appendix offers an intriguing invitation to further reading, and many more titles are scattered throughout his treatise. His own writing is equal to the task at hand, often entertaining, sometimes insightful, occasionally a little cavalier with grammar." Matthew Snider remarked in a review for the PopMatters website: "At 157 pages, The Art of History is just an introduction to the role of history in literary criticism, but it's an excellent introduction with a conversational style that makes Bram's criticism accessible to anyone with even a modest interest in historical storytelling."

Bram once told CA: "I am a gay novelist, but, like John Fox, Stephen McCauley, and other writers in my generation, I try to treat gayness as just one strand in a life that has more similarities with 'mainstream' life than dissimilarities, without denying the dissimilarities. We offer a different perspective on the world, as interesting, accessible, and valid to anyone as the perspectives offered by black, Jewish, or feminist writers. I am a reader, a cinephile, a comic realist, and a smoker."

FURTHER READINGS:

FURTHER READINGS ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

BOOKS

  • Bates, Mark E., editor, Contemporary Gay American Novelists, Greenwood (Westport, CT), 1993.
  • Gay & Lesbian Literature, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1994.

PERIODICALS

  • Book, November 1, 2003, Stephanie Foote, review of Lives of the Circus Animals, p. 83.
  • Booklist, October 15, 2003, Paula Luedtke, review of Lives of the Circus Animals, p. 387; September 15, 2009, Ray Olson, review of Mapping the Territory: Selected Nonfiction, p. 17; December 15, 2011, Brad Hooper, review of Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America, p. 8.
  • Choice, October, 2012, T.J. Haskell, review of Eminent Outlaws, p. 273.
  • Entertainment Weekly, October 3, 2003, Nicholas Fonseca, review of Lives of the Circus Animals, p. 77.
  • Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide, March 1, 2010, Charles Green, review of Mapping the Territory, p. 40.
  • Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2003, review of Lives of the Circus Animals, p. 974; June 15, 2006, review of Exiles in America, p. 589; December 1, 2011, review of Eminent Outlaws; May 1, 2016, review of The Art of History: Unlocking the Past in Fiction and Nonfiction.
  • Lambda Book Report, fall, 2006, Seth J. Bookey, review of Exiles in America, p. 21, and Wayne Hoffman, review of Exiles in America, p. 20.
  • Library Journal, September 15, 2003, Joanna M. Burkhardt, review of Lives of the Circus Animals, p. 89; September 15, 2006, Stephen Morrow, review of Exiles in America, p. 46; October 15, 2009, Nancy R. Ives, review of Mapping the Territory, p. 75; January 1, 2012, David Azzolina, review of Eminent Outlaw, p. 104.
  • New York Times, February 3, 2012, Dwight Garner, "Writers at the Ramparts in a Gay Revolution," review of Eminent Outlaws, p. C29.
  • Publishers Weekly, April 17, 1987, Sybil Steinberg, review of Surprising Myself, p. 67; September 1, 2003, review of Lives of the Circus Animals, p. 63; June 12, 2006, review of Exiles in America, p. 29; November 14, 2011, review of Eminent Outlaw, p. 44.
  • World Literature Today, September-October, 2012, Bernard F. Dick, review of Eminent Outlaws, p. 75.

ONLINE

  • After Elton, http://www.afterelton.com/ (November 9, 2009), Brent Hartinger, review of Mapping the Territory.
  • Alyson Books Website, http://www.alyson.com/ (December 14, 2010), author interview.
  • Christopher Bram Home Page, http://www.christopherbram.com (June 20, 2017).
  • Lambda Literary, http://www.lambdaliterary.org/ (October 11, 2016), Frank Pizzoli, review of The Art of History.
  • Los Angeles Review of Books, http://blog.lareviewofbooks.org/ (August 8, 2016), Emmett Rensin, review of The Art of History.
  • New York University, Gallatin Website, http://gallatin.nyu.edu/ (June 20, 2017), faculty profile.
  • Pasatiempo, http://www.santafenewmexican.com/ (September 16, 2016), Jonathan Richards, review of The Art of History.
  • PopMatters, http://www.popmatters.com/ (July 20, 2016), Matthew Snider, review of The Art of History.
  • Reviews by Amos Lassen, http://reviewsbyamoslassen.com/ (June 20, 2017), Amos Lassen, review of The Art of History.

 
Source Citation   (MLA 8th Edition)
"Christopher Bram." Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2018. Biography In Context, http%3A%2F%2Flink.galegroup.com%2Fapps%2Fdoc%2FH1000011412%2FBIC%3Fu%3Dunlv_main%26sid%3DBIC%26xid%3D22327342. Accessed 18 July 2019.

Gale Document Number: GALE|H1000011412