Richard Grayson (writer)
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Richard Arnold Ginsberg|
June 4, 1951
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Grayson's fiction is largely autobiographical, or pseudo-autobiographical, and his early work was heavily influenced by the metafictionists of the 1970s, such as John Barth, Donald Barthelme, Ronald Sukenick, and his mentor, Jonathan Baumbach, who headed the Brooklyn College MFA program in fiction and was one of the founders of the publishing cooperative The Fiction Collective, for which Grayson worked as an editorial assistant in the 1970s.
Grayson was born in 1951 and attended New York public schools, graduating from Midwood High School in 1968. He attended Brooklyn College and received a B.A. in political science in 1973 and an M.F.A. in creative writing in 1976; Grayson also received an M.A. in English from Richmond College (now The College of Staten Island) in 1975. His stories began appearing in literary magazines in the mid-1970s, and in 1979, his first book-length collection of short stories, With Hitler in New York, was published. In the same year Grayson, active in liberal politics since his teenage years, registered with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) as a candidate for Vice President of the United States, receiving coverage for his humorous "campaign" in The New York Times and various other media outlets.
He began a long career in higher education as an adjunct lecturer in English at Long Island University in 1975, and has taught English and other subjects at numerous colleges and high schools in New York, Florida, and Arizona. His parents moved to Florida in the late 1970s, and in January 1981 he relocated to Florida also. For several years he divided his time between New York City and South Florida, where many of his stories are set.
By 1979, Grayson had over 125 stories published in magazines and anthologies. He remained a prolific writer in the early 1980s, when several short story collections came out in quick succession: Lincoln's Doctor's Dog (1982), Eating at Arby's (1982), and I Brake for Delmore Schwartz (1983). Grayson's stories from this period characterized by an extreme self-consciousness, an appreciation of wordplay and jokes, and confessions of ineptitude on the part of the author. Most of these stories originally appeared in journals such as Transatlantic Review, Texas Quarterly, California Quarterly, and Epoch.
In 1983 Grayson filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to run for President of the United States as a Democrat. Over the next year, the exploits in his humorous campaign to replace President Ronald Reagan were widely covered in the media. Perhaps his best-known remark, quoted in Time, USA Today, and The Wall Street Journal, was his explanation of why he asked the actress Jane Wyman, star of the then-current nighttime soap opera Falcon Crest and the former wife of the incumbent President, to be his Vice Presidential running mate: "She already has experience in dumping Ronald Reagan." Other platform planks in the Grayson campaign included making El Salvador the 51st state and moving the U.S. capital to Davenport, Iowa.
In 2012, Grayson ran for President again, this time in the Green Party's Arizona presidential primary and was endorsed by the Tucson Weekly, which noted "we have been most impressed with Richard Grayson, including his plan to deport Republicans back to the 18th century, where they could be more comfortable with their tricorner hats and other Tea Party garb, and his demand that Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu be nicer to his ex-boyfriends." In a field of six candidates, Grayson finished in a tie for third place, with 39 votes.
In 2014, running unopposed, Grayson won the Democratic nomination for Wyoming's at-large congressional district. In November 2014, he garnered 23% of the vote running against Republican Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis. In 2016, he filed to run again in Wyoming, but quit when a local Democrat entered the race.
Gay rights activism
Grayson also worked in the unsuccessful 1994 campaign to defeat an anti-gay rights referendum in Alachua County, Florida, where Gainesville is located. He was a member of the board of directors of the Human Rights Council of North Central Florida and its political action committee, which in subsequent years managed to help elect enough pro-gay candidates to the Gainesville city commission to pass local gay rights legislation.
Grayson's experience as a lawyer and gay activist informed some of the stories in his 1996 collection, I Survived Caracas Traffic, whose title story Kirkus Reviews called "a resonant meditation on the themes of relationships, AIDS, and mortality." Another story in the same volume is "Twelve Step Barbie," which, along with "With Hitler in New York" is probably the author's best-known work and the subject of academic criticism. The New York Times Book Review called the book "far too bright and keenly made to flick casually away."
Although Grayson had originally published some of the stories in The Silicon Valley Diet on early internet sites that featured short fiction, in 2004 he began appearing widely in various literary webzines with his memoirs, satire, and stories. His "Diary of a Congressional Candidate in Florida's Fourth Congressional District," a recurring feature on the website of McSweeney's, covered his 2004 campaign as the sole opponent to Rep. Ander Crenshaw, a Jacksonville Republican, and brought him a new audience.
More recently, Grayson published two short story collections almost simultaneously. The more experimental book was Highly Irregular Stories (2006), which Kirkus Discoveries called "an eclectic anthology of intriguing short stories...Grayson’s stories here recall no one so much as Richard Brautigan, who walked a similar line between wit and warmth in his more eccentric novels." The second volume, And to Think That He Kissed Him on Lorimer Street, which Kirkus Discoveries termed "[a] funny, odd, somehow familiar and fully convincing fictional world," featured more representational and autobiographical stories, mostly set in Brooklyn.
In a satirical response to a 2011 edition of Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" published by NewSouth Books, which replaced the word "nigger" with "slave" to make the novel more "classroom-friendly," Grayson published "The Hipster Huckleberry Finn," which is an edition with the word "nigger" replaced with the word "hipster" in order, he claimed, to make Huck's adventures "neither offensive nor uncool."
While the literary reference volume Contemporary Literary Criticism has called Grayson "a marginal figure in contemporary American fiction," it also noted that "he and his fictional persona seem quite aware of this fact" and that "taken as a body of work, Grayson's short fiction ultimately appears to be one ongoing, career-long writing project, focused always on the effects of contemporary culture on the self."
- "Severely Awesome". Tucson Weekly. February 23, 2012. Retrieved November 5, 2014.
- "2012 Presidential Preference Election Official Election Canvass of Results" (PDF). Arizona Office of the Secretary of State. March 12, 2012. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 19, 2014. Retrieved November 5, 2014.
- "Arizona man wins Wyoming Democratic US House vote". Casper Star-Tribune. August 19, 2014. Retrieved November 5, 2014.
- "Cynthia Lummis Midterm Election Results Show Incumbent Victorious Over Richard Grayson". Huffington Post. November 4, 2014. Retrieved November 5, 2014.
- Richard Grayson, "Diary of a Congressional Candidate in Florida's Fourth Congressional District," "McSweeney's Internet Tendency", last modified November 5, 2004, accessed November 5, 2014. http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/the-diary
- Joe Coscarelli, "Hipster Huckleberry Finn Solves Censorship Debate by Replacing 'N-Word' With 'H-Word'," The Village Voice, last modified January 7, 2011, accessed April 13, 2012, "Archived copy". Archived from the original on January 10, 2011. Retrieved February 10, 2011..