Happy 64th Birthday
Paul Monette (1945-1995)
Poet, Playwright, Novelist
Chronicler of the Devastation of AIDS
Photo: l to r Paul, Roger
text from glbtq
In novels, poetry, and a memoir, Paul Monette wrote about gay men striving to fashion personal identities and, later, coping with the loss of a lover to AIDS.
Monette was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, in 1945. He was educated at prestigious schools in New England: Phillips Andover Academy and Yale University, where he received his B.A. in 1967. He began his prolific writing career soon after graduating from Yale. For eight years, he wrote poetry exclusively.
After coming out in his late twenties, he met Roger Horwitz, who was to be his lover for over twenty years. Also during his late twenties, he grew disillusioned with poetry and shifted his interest to the novel, not to return to poetry until the 1980s.
In 1977, Monette and Horwitz moved to Los Angeles. Once in Hollywood, Monette wrote a number of screenplays that, though never produced, provided him the means to be a writer. Monette published four novels between 1978 and 1982. These novels were enormously successful and established his career as a writer of popular fiction. He also wrote several novelizations of films.
Monette's life changed dramatically when Roger Horwitz was diagnosed with AIDS in the early 1980s. After Horwitz's death in 1986, Monette wrote extensively about the years of their battles with AIDS (Borrowed Time, 1988) and how he himself coped with losing a lover to AIDS (Love Alone, 1988). These works are two of the most powerful accounts written about AIDS thus far.
Their publication catapulted Monette into the national arena as a spokesperson for AIDS. Along with fellow writer Larry Kramer, he emerged as one of the most familiar and outspoken AIDS activists of our time. Since very few out gay men have had the opportunity to address national issues in mainstream venues at any previous time in U.S. history, Monette's high-visibility profile was one of his most significant achievements. He went on to write two important novels about AIDS, Afterlife (1990) and Halfway Home (1991). He himself died of AIDS-related complications in 1995.
In his fiction, Monette unabashedly depicts gay men who strive to fashion personal identities that lead them to love, friendship, and self-fulfillment. His early novels generally begin where most coming-out novels end; his protagonists have already come to terms with their sexuality long before the novels' projected time frames. Monette has his characters negotiate family relations, societal expectations, and personal desires in light of their decisions to lead lives as openly gay men.
Two major motifs emerge in these novels: the spark of gay male relations and the dynamic alternative family structures that gay men create for themselves within a homophobic society. These themes are placed in literary forms that rely on the structures of romance, melodrama, and fantasy.
Monette's finest novel, Afterlife, combines the elements of traditional comedy and the resistance novel; it is the first gay novel written about AIDS that fuses personal love interests with political activism.
Monette's harrowing collection of deeply personal poems, Love Alone: 18 Elegies for Rog, conveys both the horrors of AIDS and the inconsolable pain of love lost. The elegies are an invaluable companion to Borrowed Time.
Before the publication and success of his memoir, Becoming a Man, it seemed inevitable that Monette would be remembered most for his writings on AIDS. Becoming a Man, however, focuses on the dilemmas of growing up gay. It provides at once an unsparing account of the nightmare of the closet and a moving and often humorous depiction of the struggle to come out. Becoming a Man won the 1992 National Book Award for nonfiction, a historical moment in the history of lesbian and gay literature and culture in the United States.