S.E. Hinton’s classic young adult book The Outsiders is about guys, all guys. No notable parents. No notable girls. No notable teachers. Strictly teenage males. Susan Eloise Hinton wrote its first draft when she was 17 in Oklahoma. What could she possibly know about the male sex, let alone about writing novels? She had a great editor to help finalize her novel. And she used her first two initials to take care of the doubt over the male sex part. She didn’t want potential readers, particularly the male ones, to shy away from reading her books because she was female. The Outsiders is timeless and probably the most-read book by male and female adolescents. I read Rumblefish, That Was Then, This is Now and Tex. All with male protagonists, all with plots focusing on the struggle to find one’s way in life without guidance by adults. All powerful stories.
Interviews about her work always include the question, “Why write about guys?” But I never recall a backlash remonstrating her for having done so. Why limit a writer’s imagination to her or his personal biography?
In late May 2011, playwright Edward Albee received the Pioneer Award during the Lambda Literary Awards for writers who have broken ground for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) in literature and publishing. His body of work, including the play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and the novel The Witches of Eastwick, does not reflect gay characters or gay themes because it doesn’t. He said he thought it “deplorable” that he, or any writer, should be expected or limited to writing according to his or her own personal lifestyle.
I agree with Albee, though when I was in my thirties I may not have.
My radical feminist phase occurred in my thirties. Actually how radical it was is debatable. For an obedient Catholic kid in a stoic, modest Slovak family of eight living in steel mill Youngstown, Ohio, I’d say studying for a master’s in women’s studies/American women’s literature at Antioch University and marching in D.C. for women’s freedom of choice is a radical phase.
I read my MS magazine from cover to cover. I attended women’s music festivals. I believed that men had no business using females as their protagonists. What did they know? I was all about Kate Chopin’s The Awakening and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple.
Ah, youth: headstrong, idealistic, anything-for-the-cause youth.
I love Stephen R. Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant series whose protagonist is male with leprosy and Anne McCaffrey’s Dragon Riders of Pern series about humans who ride dragons. Donaldson is not a leper and McCaffrey has never…you get the idea. Several male writers write darn good romance, though they write under pseudonyms. Unlike Albee, they know most of their readers will not believe men can write about women in love.
Albee stands by his beliefs. I applaud his statements and his defense of them. In this I-must-please-everyone-and-offend-no one society, I am impressed with his firm stance to what sounds true and logical.
But his age is in his favor.
I’d like to think that at one time, maybe during a radical gay phase of his youth, he may have wanted to write about homosexual themes and characters. I don’t know. But then those verbally abusive heterosexual twosome, Martha and George, from Virginia Woolf just wouldn’t shut up.