John D'Emilio is professor of history and of gender and women's studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. A Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Humanities fellow, from 1995 to 1997 he served as the Founding Director of the Policy Institute at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. He is the co-author of Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America (1997). He earned his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1982.
Author biography courtesy of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
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In our interview, D'Emilio shared some fun facts and fascinating insights with us:
"I eat cereal every night before bed, and eat it with orange juice rather than milk. Cheerios and Grape Nuts are my current favorites."
"I won the citywide essay contest of the Archdiocese of New York back in 1961 or 1962, and got written up (I think on the front page, but I'm not sure) in the New York Herald Tribune -- a great paper, now defunct."
"Every time I get a new computer, I have to delete all the games on it because if I didn't, I'd never get anything else done!"
"I make a chicken soup and a tomato sauce that is better than any I've ever had."
"I long for a time again in this country when values of generosity, community, justice, and peacefulness reign."
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In the fall of 2003, John D'Emilio took some time out to talk with us about his favorite books, authors, and interests.
What was the book that most influenced your life or career as a writer -- and why?
James Baldwin's Another Country. I read this book when I was 15 years old, in 1964, and it was the first time I had confronted a gay character in print. It let me know that this was possible, that there was a life out there I might have. I've reread the novel a number of times and it still has emotional impact.
What are your favorite books, and what makes them special to you?Jame's Baldwin, Another Countr -- It changed my life.
Anne Moody, Coming of Age in Mississippi -- The most powerful memoir of childhood and adolescence I have ever read. I use it in the classroom again and again, and I've never had a student who didn't love it.
Oscar Wilde, De Profundis -- It was the first "gay manifesto" I ever encountered. Wilde's eloquence is breathtaking.
Karl Marx, Capital, Volume One -- The world looked completely different after I read this. It took me a year to get through it, and it has had a deep impact on me. I don't believe we will ever have real freedom and democracy in this country as long as there is vast inequality in wealth.
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice -- I have read this book more often than any other. It always makes me smile, laugh, and feel happy.
Lucy Dawidowicz, The War Against the Jews -- There was a line in it, I think maybe from Goebbel's diary, something like "not much will be left of the Jews." It stopped me cold. The utter casualness of it brought home the horror of the Holocaust in a completely unexpected way.
Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters -- What a sweeping history of the civil rights movement and the life of Martin Luther King! I wish I wrote like that!
Rita Mae Brown, Rubyfruit Jungle. I stayed up all night finishing this one. A lesbian Horatio Alger novel.
What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?
All my favorite films are versions of the same movie. Good triumphs, heroic people, working-class people with dreams and aspirations. And, I admit it, I cry like a baby when I watch these movies:
Casablanca -- Nothing will ever surpass this.
E.T. -- Every time I see the bicycles rising from the ground I cheer, and I laugh my head off when a young Drew Barrymore sees E.T. for the first time.
An Officer and A Gentleman -- Ok, I'm a romantic.
Working Girl. I know it was meant as a satire on greedy Wall Street in the 1980s, but I prefer to see it as girl from Staten Island makes good.
All About Eve -- I know, good doesn't triumph here, but evil does get punished in the end.
What kinds of music do you like?
I'm so not musical.
If you had a book club, what would it be reading, and why?
Novels -- contemporary ones. Because I never leave myself time to read these, but I would do it if the club was assigning it. I always did my homework.
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
I shouldn't say this, but I almost never give books as gifts, and no one would ever give me one -- they'd be afraid I already had it!
Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
I need a cup of Starbucks decaf Americano. I buy the decaf espresso beans and make it by the pot.
Many writers are hardly overnight success stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
I write history and contemporary affairs. I've never had a "mass audience" but my books have always been well received, and they have stayed in print for a long time. When I first started writing gay history in the 1970s, I couldn't find a publisher or an agent. No one thought any one would read it, and no one would publish it. Doug Mitchell, an editor at the University of Chicago Press, took a chance -- and I haven't stopped writing since.
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
Just keep writing, and show your writing to people -- to anyone!
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|John D'Emilio Home
Good to Know
|Sexual Politics, 1983|
|Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America, 1989|
|Making Trouble: Essays on Gay History, Politics, and the University, 1992|
|Out of Line, 1997|
|Creating Change: Sexuality, Public Policy, and Civil Rights, 2000|
|The World Turned: Essays on Gay History, Politics, and Culture, 2002|
|Changing Men and Masculinities in Latin America, 2003|
|Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin, 2003|