March 5, 2021 The Newspaper Serving LGBT Los Angeles

Remembering an Unjustly Forgotten LGBTQ+ Author

Richard Hall’s stories are unflinching about gay life. So why isn’t he remembered more widely?

It’s no secret that during the ‘80s and ‘90s, we lost some of our best writers, musicians, artists and thinkers to the AIDS crisis. Not only that: we lost some of our bakers, our servers, our bartenders, our public servants, our lovers, our friends. In short: we lost.

Writers like Edmund White, Armistead Maupin and Larry Kramer have documented this in their work. Even if they hadn’t become famous for writing about a time that most people who didn’t live through can’t fathom, they would have been able to have the last word simply due to their survival. It’s said that history is written by the victors. In the case of queer history, it’s written by the survivors, who are their own kind of victors.

Among the people randomly picked off by the  AIDS crisis was Richard Hall, a writer who died in 1991, just two years after the death of his partner. Rather than ending with his death and letting it define him, et’s start with it and work backward. During his life, Hall distinguished himself by writing short stories, plays and murder mysteries with gay people – and gay life – at the center. From 1976 to 1982, Hall wrote a regular column for the Advocate (which, sadly, has not been digitized.) He was the first out-gay person to be elected to the National Book Critics Circle. Today, none of Hall’s books are in print.

Photos: Flickr.
“Fidelities” and “Couplings” were among Hall’s short story collections.

I was lucky enough to find a copy of Hall’s “Letter From a Great-Uncle” in, of all places, the playwright Edward Albee’s library in Montauk, New York. The 1985 collection published, like most of his others, by San Francisco’s extinct Grey Fox press, is slim, with the title story making up the bulk of it. The format of “Letter From a Great-Uncle” uses an extremely traditional format to talk about an unconventional man. The story begins when the narrator – a stand-in for Hall himself, who likewise had a gay uncle – is on his way to his home in San Francisco when he is spurred by a memory of being 10 years old and being given a promise by his Great-Uncle Harris to tell him his life story. When Harris dies before he can keep the promise, the narrator is forced to delay his San Francisco trip with a detour to the family hometown of Gideon, Texas, to read a sealed letter written by his Great-Uncle explaining his life. Harris’s letter describes growing up in frontier-era Texas right after the Civil War, and slowly realizing his homosexuality. His father finds out and sends him to a mental institution-cum-primitive conversion camp, where other inmates’ testicles are routinely removed in order to ‘cure’ them of their sexuality. Uncle Harris escapes and makes his way to New York city where he lives out his life as a proud “Yankee.” and an out gay man.

The narrator realizes that, by breaking the seal, he has become the first and only person to learn the true story of his uncle. In the last line of the book, he admits that very likely, of the people who knew and survived his family, “not one of them, I’m quite sure, remembered Uncle Harris.”

Today, Hall is one of the many people whom history has, likewise, chosen not to remember. Looking online, one can only find a handful of resources about him, mostly linked to out-of-print books and essays about his work. One such book, “The Lost Library: Gay Fiction Rediscovered,” carries a touching tribute to to him by the writer Jonathan Harper. In the essay, Harper tries to use Hall’s work as a way to relate to one of his lover’s standoffish friends. “The source of my empathy,” Harper writes, “was a fiction book by a deceased, out-of-print author that he’s not even going to read.” Still, he makes an attempt, using Hall to tie two people in the same community together.

Remembering people and their lives isn’t just about saying their names aloud or running them off in a list. It’s about trying to hold space in your memory not just for who they were, but for what they were trying to do and say. Not all hope is lost for Hall of course: A project is afoot to turn Hall’s “The Country People” into a film. Perhaps a new generation will come across a copy of “Fidelities” or “Couplings” and find something to love inside of it. Let’s hope so: After all, there’s a lot to love there.

Related Posts

Strut Bar & Club Announces Mural To Frontline Workers

February 21, 2021

February 21, 2021

Costa Mesa’s Strut bar and club has announced that it will dedicate a mural to the community of frontline workers...

Drive N Drag Los Angeles

February 14, 2021

February 14, 2021

Drive N Drag will be coming to the Rose Bowl, Pasadena. Featuring RuPauls Drag Race Alumni favorite Aquaria, Asia O’Hara,...

The Pride Poets’ Corner “Death Sentence” By: Victor Yates

February 11, 2021

February 11, 2021

In honor of Black History Month The Pride’s featured poem this month is by poet Victor Yates.  Yates is a...

Hal Holbrook, Actor Who Played Mark Twain, Dies At 95

February 3, 2021

February 3, 2021

Hal Holbrook, the actor best known for his accurate portrayal of Samuel Clemens — better known as Mark Twain —...

Black History Month: Celebrating Bayard Rustin

January 31, 2021

January 31, 2021

Bayard Rustin was an American leader in social movements for civil rights, socialism, nonviolence, and gay rights. Due to criticism...

Trailblazing Actress Cicely Tyson Dies At 96

January 28, 2021

January 28, 2021

Iconic actress, former model and civil rights activist Cicely Tyson has died at the age of 96.  Tyson’s manager Larry...

Award Decorated Actress, Cloris Leachman, Dead At 94

January 27, 2021

January 27, 2021

Cloris Leachman, Oscar and Emmy winning actress, has died at the age of 94 from natural causes at her home...

WeHo Will Commemorate MLK Jr. Day With Virtual Donation Drive

January 17, 2021

January 17, 2021

In January 2021, the City of West Hollywood will continue its tradition of joining hundreds of communities across the country...

The Pride Poet’s Corner “Some Super Contextual New Year’s Resolutions” By: Brian Sonia-Wallace

January 17, 2021

January 17, 2021

Some Super Contextual New Year’s Resolutions By: Brian Sonia-Wallace a Don’t wash the dishes. Don’t go for a walk. Wear...

WeHo Renaming The West Hollywood Library

January 14, 2021

January 14, 2021

The City Council of the City of West Hollywood approved an item to submit a request to rename the West...

LA LGBT Center Receives $100K Grant

January 14, 2021

January 14, 2021

The Los Angeles LGBT Center has been awarded a $100,000 grant from the S. Mark Taper Foundation to support the...

2021 WeHo Artist Grant Recipients

January 9, 2021

January 9, 2021

The City of West Hollywood has announced three $5,000 grant awards, totaling $15,000, for three resident artists for its 2021...

The Pride Poet’s Corner “After The Music” By: Brian Sonia-Wallace

December 17, 2020

December 17, 2020

The “After the Music” video animates a poem written especially for the holiday season by West Hollywood City Poet Laureate...

Meet WeHo’s New Poet Laureate Brian Sonia-Wallace

December 17, 2020

December 17, 2020

Brian Sonia-Wallace has been named West Hollywood’s 4th City Poet Laureate making him the youngest person to occupy the role. ...

WeHo Sounds Virtual Concert Series

November 12, 2020

November 12, 2020

The City of West Hollywood is launching its 2020-21 WeHo Sounds Free Virtual Concert Series, which will take place on...