Edmund White

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Edmund White
Edmund White 2 by David Shankbone (cropped).jpg
BornEdmund Valentine White III
(1940-01-13) January 13, 1940 (age 83)
Cincinnati, Ohio, United States
  • Novelist
  • short story writer
  • non-fiction writer
Alma materUniversity of Michigan
Cranbrook School
Notable works
Notable awardsGuggenheim Fellowship
National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography
Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction
SpouseMichael Carroll

Edmund Valentine White III (born 1940) is an American novelist, memoirist, playwright, biographer and an essayist on literary and social topics. Since 1999 he has been a professor at Princeton University. France made him Chevalier (and later Officier) de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1993.

White's books include The Joy of Gay Sex, written with Charles Silverstein (1977); his trilogy of semi-autobiographic novels, A Boy's Own Story (1982), The Beautiful Room Is Empty (1988) and The Farewell Symphony (1997); and his biography of Jean Genet. Much of his writing is on the theme of same-sex love.

White has also written biographies of three French writers: Jean Genet, Marcel Proust and Arthur Rimbaud. He is the namesake of the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction, awarded annually by Publishing Triangle.

Early life and education[edit]

Edmund Valentine White mostly grew up in Chicago, Illinois.[1] He attended Cranbrook School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, as a boy. Afterward, he studied Chinese at the University of Michigan, graduating in 1962.[1]

Incestuous feelings colored his early family life. White stated that his mother, for instance, was sexually attracted to him.[2] He, moreover, spoke of his own attraction to his father: "I think with my father he was somebody who every eye in the family was focused on and he was a sort of a tyrant and nice-looking, the source of all power, money, happiness, and he was implacable and difficult. He was always spoken of in sexual terms, in the sense he left our mother for a much younger woman who was very sexy but had nothing else going for her. He was a famous womanizer. And he slept with my sister!"[3] He has also stated: "Writing has always been my recourse when I've tried to make sense of my experience or when it's been very painful. When I was 15 years old, I wrote my first (unpublished) novel about being gay, at a time when there were no other gay novels. So I was really inventing a genre, and it was a way of administering a therapy to myself, I suppose."[4][5]

White was present at the Stonewall Inn in 1969 when the Stonewall uprising began.[6] He later wrote, "Ours may have been the first funny revolution."[7] "When someone shouted 'Gay is good' in imitation of 'Black is beautiful', we all laughed... Then I caught myself foolishly imagining that gays might someday constitute a community rather than a diagnosis".[8]

White declined admission to Harvard University's Chinese doctoral program in favor of following a lover to New York. There he freelanced for Newsweek and spent seven years working as a staffer at Time-Life Books.[1] After briefly relocating to Rome, San Francisco, and then returning to New York, he was briefly employed as an editor for the Saturday Review when the magazine was based in San Francisco in the early 1970s; after the magazine folded in 1973, White returned to New York to edit Horizon (a quarterly cultural journal) and freelance as a writer and editor for entities, including Time-Life and The New Republic.[1]

Personal life[edit]

White identifies as gay and is also an atheist, though he was reared as a Christian Scientist.[2][9] He discovered he was HIV-positive in 1985.[9] However, he is a "non-progressor", one of the small percentage of cases that have not led to AIDS.[2] He is in a long-term open relationship with the American writer Michael Carroll,[2] living with him from 1995 onward.[9]

In June 2012, Carroll reported that White was making a "remarkable" recovery after suffering two strokes in previous months.[10] He has also had a heart attack.[11]


In his 2005 memoir My Lives, White cites Jean Genet, Marcel Proust and André Gide as influences, writing: "they convinced me that homosexuality was crucial to the development of the modern novel because it led to a resurrection of love, a profound scepticism about the naturalness of gender roles and a revival of the classical tradition of same-sex love that dominated Western poetry and prose until the birth of Christ".[12]

His favorite living writers in the early 1970s were Vladimir Nabokov and Christopher Isherwood.[13]

Literary career[edit]

White wrote books and plays while a youth, including one unpublished novel titled Mrs Morrigan.[2]

Much of White's work draws on his experience of being gay. His debut novel, Forgetting Elena (1973), set on an island, can be read as commenting on gay culture in a coded manner.[14][15] The Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov called it "a marvelous book".[13] Written with his psychotherapist[16] Charles Silverstein, The Joy of Gay Sex (1977) made him known to a wider readership.[17] It is celebrated for its sex-positive tone.[18] His next novel, Nocturnes for the King of Naples (1978) was explicitly gay-themed and drew on his own life.[19]

From 1980 to 1981, White was a member of a gay writers' group, The Violet Quill, which met briefly during that period, and included Andrew Holleran and Felice Picano.[20] White's autobiographic works are frank and unapologetic about his promiscuity and his HIV-positive status.[21]

In 1980, he brought out States of Desire, a survey of some aspects of gay life in America. In 1982, he helped found the group Gay Men's Health Crisis in New York City.[9][22] In the same year appeared White's best-known work, A Boy's Own Story — the first volume of an autobiographic-fiction series, continuing with The Beautiful Room Is Empty (1988) and The Farewell Symphony (1997), describing stages in the life of a gay man from boyhood to middle age. Several characters in the latter novel are recognizably based on well-known people from White's New York-centered literary and artistic milieu.[23]

From 1983 to 1990 White lived in France. He moved there initially for one year in 1983 via the Guggenheim Fellowship for writing he had received, but took such a liking to Paris "with its drizzle, as cool, grey and luxurious as chinchilla," (as he described it in his autobiographical novel The Farewell Symphony) that he stayed there for longer.[9] French philosopher Michel Foucault invited him for dinner on several occasions, though he dismissed White's concerns about HIV/AIDS (Foucault would die of the illness shortly afterward).[9] In 1984 in Paris, shortly after discovering he was HIV-positive, White joined the French HIV/AIDS organisation, AIDES.[9] During this period, he brought out his novel, Caracole (1985), which centres on heterosexual relationships.[24] But he also maintained an interest in France and French literature, writing biographies of Jean Genet, Marcel Proust and Arthur Rimbaud.[25] He published Genet: a biography (1993), Our Paris: sketches from memory (1995), Marcel Proust (1998), The Flaneur: a stroll through the paradoxes of Paris (2000) and Rimbaud (2008). He spent seven years writing the biography of Genet.[9]

White came back to the United States in 1997.[2] The Married Man, a novel published in 2000, is gay-themed and draws on White's life.[26] Fanny: A Fiction (2003) is a historical novel about novelist Frances Trollope and social reformer Frances Wright in early 19th-century America.[2] White's 2006 play Terre Haute (produced in New York City in 2009) portrays discussions that take place when a prisoner, based on terrorist bomber Timothy McVeigh, is visited by a writer based on Gore Vidal. (In real life McVeigh and Vidal corresponded but did not meet.)[27]

In 2005 White published his autobiography, My Lives — organised by theme rather than chronology — and in 2009 his memoir of New York life in the 1960s and 1970s, City Boy.[12][25]

White himself was the subject of a biography by Stephen Barber. His response to the book was that Barber "had a very romantic vision of me. It was very flattering. He painted me as a brooding figure. I see myself as much more self-mocking and satirical. I just skimmed that biography. As Genet put it, I didn't want to end up resembling myself".[2]

From 1999 onwards, White became professor of creative writing in Princeton University's Lewis Center for the Arts.[9][28]

Awards and honors[edit]

White has received numerous awards and distinctions. Recipient of the inaugural Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement from Publishing Triangle in 1989,[29] he is also the namesake of the organization's Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction.[30]

In 2014, Edmund White was presented with the Bonham Centre Award from the Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies, University of Toronto, for his contributions to the advancement and education of issues around sexual identification.[31]



  • Forgetting Elena (1973) ISBN 978-0345358622
  • Nocturnes for the King of Naples (1978) ISBN 9780312022631, OCLC 17953397
  • A Boy's Own Story (1982) ISBN 9781509813865, OCLC 952160890
  • Caracole (1985) ISBN 9780679764168, OCLC 490872532
  • The Beautiful Room Is Empty (1988) ISBN 9780679755401
  • Skinned Alive: Stories (1995) ISBN 9780679754756
  • The Farewell Symphony (1997) ISBN 978-0701136215
  • The Married Man (2000) ISBN 978-0679781448
  • Fanny: A Fiction (2003) ISBN 978-0701169718
  • Chaos: A Novella and Stories (2007) ISBN 9780786720057
  • Hotel de Dream (2007) ISBN 978-0060852252
  • Jack Holmes and His Friend (2012) ISBN 9781608197255, OCLC 877992500
  • Our Young Man (2016) ISBN 9781408858967, OCLC 1002723765
  • A Saint from Texas (2020) ISBN 9781635572551
  • A Previous Life (2022) ISBN 9781526632241[46]
  • The Humble Lover (2023) ISBN 9781639730889







See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Edmund White". Cranbrook Schools. Retrieved August 30, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Edmund White: Who are you calling a Trollope?". Tim Teeman. August 23, 2003. Retrieved August 30, 2020.
  3. ^ Interview with Edmund White, David Shankbone, Wikinews, November 8, 2007.
  4. ^ "Steve Dow, Journalist". stevedow.com.au.
  5. ^ Dow, Steve (May 20, 2006). "The story of his lives". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved August 30, 2020.
  6. ^ "Edmund White on Stonewall, the 'Decisive Uprising' of Gay Liberation". Literary Hub. April 30, 2019. Retrieved August 10, 2021.
  7. ^ White, Edmund (June 19, 2019). "How Stonewall felt – to someone who was there". The Guardian. Retrieved August 10, 2021.
  8. ^ White, Edmund (1988). The Beautiful Room is Empty. Vintage International. p. 226. ISBN 0-679-75540-3.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Landau, Elizabeth (May 25, 2011). "HIV in the '80s: 'People didn't want to kiss you on the cheek'". CNN. Retrieved September 28, 2022. White isn't a religious or 'New Age-y' person and considers himself an atheist.
  10. ^ Reece, Phil (June 1, 2012). "Edmund White's partner after stroke: 'his improvement is remarkable'". Washington Balde. Retrieved May 16, 2013.
  11. ^ "Living With Edmund White". The New York Times. July 24, 2020. Retrieved September 28, 2022.
  12. ^ a b Cartwight, Justin (September 25, 2005). "My Lives by Edmund White". The Independent. London. Retrieved September 28, 2022.
  13. ^ a b White, Edmund (2009). "'How did one edit Nabokov?'". City Boy. Archived from the original on September 26, 2015. Gerald Clarke...had gone to Montreux to do an interview with Nabokov for Esquire, and followed the usual drill...On his last evening in Switzerland he confronted Nabokov over drinks: 'So whom do you like?' he asked—since the great man had so far only listed his dislikes and aversions. 'Edmund White' Nabokov responded. 'He wrote Forgetting Elena. It's a marvelous book." He'd then gone on to list titles by John Updike and Delmore Schwartz (particularly the short story "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities"), as well as Robbe-Grillet's Jealousy among a few others.
  14. ^ "Review: Forgetting Elena". August 7, 2020. Retrieved September 28, 2022.
  15. ^ White, Edmund (1984). Forgetting Elena ; and, Nocturnes for the King of Naples. ISBN 9780330283748. Retrieved September 28, 2022.
  16. ^ Altmann, Jennifer (July–August 2021). "Trailblazer in Gay Lit" (PDF). Princeton Alumni Weekly. Retrieved September 18, 2021.
  17. ^ "'The Joy of Gay Sex' Is 44 Years Old. Let's Celebrate Its Provocative Illustrations". Hornet. July 26, 2021. Retrieved August 12, 2021.
  18. ^ Hoffman, Wayne (October 17, 2017). "Why The Joy of Gay Sex Still Has Much to Teach Readers, 40 Years Later". Slate. Retrieved August 12, 2021.
  19. ^ Yohalem, John (December 10, 1978). "Apostrophes to a Dead Lover". The New York Times. Retrieved September 25, 2015.
  20. ^ Summers, Claude J. "The Violet Quill". The GLBTQ encyclopedia. Archived from the original on September 26, 2007.
  21. ^ Mascolini, Mark (August 2005). "AIDS, Arts and Responsibilities: An Interview With Edmund White". The Body. Retrieved June 22, 2014.
  22. ^ Wood, Gaby (January 3, 2010). "A walk on the wild side in 70s New York". The Guardian. Retrieved May 1, 2010.
  23. ^ Benfey, Christopher (September 14, 1997). "The Dead". The New York Times. Retrieved March 12, 2013.
  24. ^ "Caracole by Edmund White". September 18, 1985. Retrieved September 28, 2022.
  25. ^ a b Parini, Jay (January 16, 2010). "City Boy by Edmund White, and Chaos by Edmund White". The Guardian. Retrieved September 28, 2022. In My Lives: An Autobiography (2005), White dug into his primary material with clinical savagery, examining his life not in chronological terms but by subjects, such as 'My Shrinks', 'My Hustlers' and so on.
  26. ^ Aletti, Vince (May 23, 2000). "Amour No More". The Village Voice. New York. Retrieved September 28, 2022.
  27. ^ Lovendusky, Eugene (April 11, 2007). "Review: White's 'Terre Haute' Haunts". BroadwayWorld. Retrieved September 28, 2022.
  28. ^ "The Program in Creative Writing, Princeton University". Princeton University. Archived from the original on March 5, 2008.
  29. ^ a b "The Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement". Publishing Triangle. Retrieved August 30, 2020.
  30. ^ "Awards".
  31. ^ "The 2014 Bonham Centre Awards Gala celebrates Power of the Word on April 24, 2014, honouring authors and writers who have contributed to the public understanding of sexual diversity in Canada". pennantmediagroup.com.
  32. ^ a b c d "Edmund White". Albany.edu. Retrieved August 30, 2020.
  33. ^ "4th Annual Lambda Literary Awards". July 13, 1992. Retrieved September 28, 2022.
  34. ^ "Edmund White Delivers Kessler Lecture – CLAGS: Center for LGBTQ Studies". Retrieved May 15, 2022.
  35. ^ "Person, Place, Thing". New York University Arts and Letters. Retrieved August 30, 2020.
  36. ^ "1994 Pulitzer Prizes". Retrieved September 28, 2022.
  37. ^ "6th Annual Lambda Literary Awards". July 13, 1994. Retrieved September 28, 2022.
  38. ^ "Edmund White to receive Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters". Princeton University. Retrieved August 30, 2020.
  39. ^ Cerna, Antonio Gonzalez (July 14, 1996). "8th Annual Lambda Literary Awards". Archived from the original on March 4, 2012.
  40. ^ "10th Annual Lambda Literary Awards". July 14, 1998. Retrieved September 28, 2022.
  41. ^ "13th Annual Lambda Literary Awards". July 9, 2002. Retrieved September 28, 2022.
  42. ^ "Stonewall Book Awards List". American Library Association. September 9, 2009. Retrieved November 18, 2020.
  43. ^ "2018 PEN American Lifetime Career and Achievement Awards". PEN America. February 2017. Retrieved February 7, 2018.
  44. ^ "You searched for edmund white". PEN America. Retrieved August 30, 2020.
  45. ^ "NBF to Present Lifetime Achievement Award to Pioneering Writer Edmund White". National Book Foundation. September 2019. Retrieved September 28, 2022.
  46. ^ "A Previous Life". Bloomsbury. Retrieved January 26, 2022.

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