National Book Awards Acceptance Speeches
Winner of the 1992 NONFICTION
for BECOMING A MAN: HALF A LIFE STORY
I didn't prepare remarks, and twice in the last day, I've sat between David McCullough and Gary Wills, whose work I admire immensely, and I've cultivated that Nick Nolte smile so well. I'm simply overwhelmed by this. I got, well, I got to be what I wanted to be in life. I got to be a writer. And I didn't know what it was going to be for. Ten or fifteen years ago, I was writing glib and comic novels and poems about nothing, and the lightning rod of history which struck my generation of gay men happened to strike me, too, and my writing literally kept me alive. And I have to thank, first of all, my editor, Drenka Willen at Harcourt Brace. We keep telling her that she's the last of a breed, and I'm sure she feels like a brontosaurus, but she has an exquisite sense of what is right, and she had to battle through some very painful times in my life.
You know, I wrote a hundred pages of this book, and I thought, gee, everybody should write an autobiography. It's so illuminating and you get it all back, and by the time I was on page 120, I thought nobody should do this, because there's a reason we keep all these things down. But I must also thank Michael Dennehy (ph) from St. Martins Press, who first printed my AIDS work, my AIDS poems, when I really didn't even know what I was doing.
I have spent the last few years as the AIDS poster child, and it's been a remarkable and moving experience. Though I'm still proud to be a writer, and I'm glad I got to a place as a writer, it's made me understand that you have to do something with that; you have to do more, you have to be part of the resistance to evil. I very much believe, as a gay man, that our First Amendment freedom has been in great trouble in the last generation, and a lot of wonderful people, including a lot of wonderful people in this room, have struggled to maintain its heroism.
There's a wonderful remark that Kurt Vonnegut makes in Slaughterhouse Five, where he says that the national anthem of the United States is the only national anthem that ends in a question: "O say, does that star spangled banner still wave, for the land of the free and the home of the brave?" I think those of us who are artists and writers have sometimes wondered whether the answer to that question is "yes." Tonight, I feel it is. Thank you very much, and thank you to The National Book Award Committee.