Across biography, social history, and memoir, in both fiction and nonfiction, Edmund White has chronicled the gay experience in the United States from the closeted 1950s through the AIDS crisis and beyond. But as William Goldstein wrote in Publishers Weekly, “To call Edmund White merely a gay writer is to oversimplify his work and his intentions.” The acuity, insight, and compassion with which White explores the human condition transcends labels.
“A master of narrative and craft across fiction, journalism, memoir, and more, White has built a career defined by its indelible impact on many literary forms. Whether it’s evocative depiction of gay life during the tumultuous 1980s, painstakingly researched biography, or elegant memoir, White’s work stands out across decades as singular in its resonance and significance for a multitude of devoted readers.” — David Steinberger, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Book Foundation.
With the coming-of-age classic A Boy’s Own Story, White cemented a place for himself—and for gay fiction—in the cultural consciousness. Comparing White to James Baldwin, Herman Wouk, and Mary McCarthy, Thomas M. Disch wrote in The Washington Post Book World that the novel “represents the strongest bid to date by a gay writer to do for his minority experience what the writers above did for theirs—offer it as a representative, all-American instance.” The New York Times Book Review concluded, “Edmund White has crossed J. D. Salinger with Oscar Wilde to create an extraordinary novel.” The landmark American novel will be adapted into a graphic novel in December 2022.
Astonishingly prolific and versatile, White has been praised by contemporary John Irving as “one of the best writers of my generation; he’s certainly the contemporary American writer I reread more than any other, and the one whose next book I look forward to reading most.” His celebrated fiction also includes Nocturnes for the King of Naples, Caracole, The Beautiful Room is Empty, The Farewell Symphony, The Married Man, Fanny: A Fiction, and Our Young Man, which follows a seemingly ageless model through the full spectrum of gay amorous life, from the disco era into the age of AIDS.
“[T]he paterfamilias of queer literature” (The New York Times), White has been involved in the gay rights movement since the 1969 Stonewall riot and has acted as one of its canniest observers. His pioneering The Joy of Gay Sex: An Intimate Guide for Gay Men to the Pleasures of a Gay Lifestyle was published in 1977 and served as a national coming-out announcement for the gay community. White’s travel memoir, States of Desire: Travels in Gay America, first published in 1980, explored homosexual life in fifteen major American cities just before the advent of AIDS. City Boy: My Life in New York During the 1960s and 70s, an account of White’s time spent in Manhattan during a time of revolution in the gay subculture, was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award.
White’s work as a cultural critic and his analysis of the impact of AIDS on the gay community and on American society is perhaps his most valuable contribution to letters. In fiction such as The Darker Proof: Stories from a Crisis and Skinned Alive: Stories, The Los Angeles Times Book Review observed that White “conjures… a serious, sustained look at how AIDS measures and shapes the meaning of our existence.” In 1982 White co-founded the Gay Men’s Health Crisis alongside Nathan Fain, Larry Kramer, Larry Mass, Paul Poham, and Paul Rapoport, a pioneering organization in the early days of the AIDS epidemic.
White has also made his mark as a highly accomplished biographer and memoirist. Genet: A Biography, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, is the definitive work on writer and playwright Jean Genet. The New York Times Book Review contributor Margo Jefferson said that White “presents the life meticulously, reads Genet’s work intelligently and writes beautifully.” White authored also the well-received Marcel Proust (for the Penguin Lives series) and Rimbaud: The Double Life of a Rebel. White’s memoirs plumb his own experiences with family, culture, sex, and literature, including My Lives which was named a 50 Best Memoir of the Past 50 Years by The New York Times Book Review. Another memoir, Inside a Pearl: My Years in Paris, recounts the 15 years he spent living in Paris—one of the most productive and creative phases in his career. White’s most recent work of nonfiction―part essay, part memoir―is The Unpunished Vice: A Life of Reading. Within, he remembers the words, stories, and poems that have shaped his singular life. In a starred review, Kirkus called the book “a literary delicacy with more takeaways than one can count…White’s reflections are just as lucid as they are fascinating and just as compelling as they are bountiful.”
White’s immeasurable contribution to the world of arts and letters was properly recognized in 2019, when the National Book Foundation, presenter of the National Book Awards, awarded him the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters (DCAL). The DCAL was presented to White by cult filmmaker John Waters. Fittingly, having mastered memoir, biography and fiction, his novels since receiving this recognition have continued to push through the boundary of each form. In his 2020 novel A Saint from Texas, White traces the extraordinary fates of twin sisters, one destined for Parisian nobility and the other for Catholic sainthood. Spanning the 1950s to the recent past, it is “a stunner about the secrets and dreams that bind two very different women” (AARP). A Previous Life imagines a septuagenarian reflecting on his present marriage to a woman half his age and on the affair with a fictionalized Edmund White decades in the past. “A dizzyingly enticing and kaleidoscopic take on the spectrum of sexual experience” (Publishers Weekly, starred review), it confounds categories in its exploration of love through numerous eyes, hearts, and minds.
His latest, The Humble Lover, is an “audacious” (Publishers Weekly, starred review) tragicomedy that explores the many layers of love and sexual desire. “Studded with endless witticisms and brilliant social comedy, this book is likely the most clever and creative pornographic novel ever written by an octogenarian,” Kirkus Review writes, “everything you love about White, explicit sex, French champagne, and insouciant murder included.”
White received his BA from the University of Michigan. He has taught at Johns Hopkins, Columbia, Brown, Yale, and Princeton, where he is now professor emeritus of creative writing. In 2018, White received the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Career Achievement in American Fiction, previously awarded to Phillip Roth, Don DeLillo, Cormac McCarthy, and Toni Morrison. White is a Chevalier de L’Ordre des Arts et Lettres, the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, medalist for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters (DCAL), and the winner of the Award for Literature from the National Academy of Arts and Letters. He lives in New York.Download Edmund White's press kit here.