True Stories

Memory lane

by Jim Piechota
April 7, 2011
True Stories: Portraits from My Past
by Felice Picano
Chelsea Station Editions, $16

Franz Kafka once wrote, "It is hard to tell the truth, for although there 'is' one, it is alive and constantly changes its face." Telling truths is something that popular, prolific author and memoirist Felice Picano does extremely well. This is most evident in True Stories: Portraits from My Past, his latest collection of expanded personal essays and life reflections. While some are new, many of these pieces have enjoyed publication in other anthologies, but Picano presents them in their unedited form, free from the shackles of word counts and the red editing pencil.

In the introduction, Picano bows to the "strange, wondrous, or simply nutty" people who have passed through his life, since they're the ones who helped him become the writer that he is today. By extension, his writings are a grand gesture to "those I related to, over the years."

As far as celebrity encounters are concerned, Picano boasts a lion's share of personal interactions with divas, doyennes, and a few gayer-than-gay scribes along the way. The "British Auntie" in the opening story is none other than poet W.H. Auden, who accidentally (and quite flamboyantly) dropped a geranium flowerpot down onto St. Mark's Place where a youthful Picano and "working" actor-pal George Sampson happened to be strolling. While "his costume was curious and his apartment a horror," Auden remained magnificently "something to behold."

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Art and Sex in Greenwich Village

Getting Queer Straight

By Felice Picano
Carroll & Graf
$15.95; 272 pages

Prolific gay literary icon Felice Picano ("Like People in History") wrote his captivating new memoir, "Art and Sex in Greenwich Village," to set the record "straight" about the glorious rise of a brave new literary movement on the cooling heels of the 1969 Stonewall uprising. His aim, he said, is to correct "wildly erroneous views on what our life was like a mere 20 or 30 years ago. Errors do tend to creep in and, through the Internet, errors are instantly perpetuated unchanged forever and all over the e-verse. So this is a real problem."

Now, in his early 60s, Picano gives an insider's account of the creatively charged atmosphere that resulted in the spontaneous formation of the renowned Violet Quill Club, a sort of Lavender Bloomsbury group that included Andrew Holleran, Edmund White, and Robert Ferro and promoted what the author calls its "beneficent conspiracy" on behalf of gay literature.

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