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The Obnoxious Charm of Daniel Curzon

By John W. Gettys
Freelance Writer

Daniel Curzon has been a pioneer in the modern gay literary movement since his first novel, Something You Do In The Dark, was published by G.P. Putnam in 1971, at a time when a gay book was a rare (and dangerous) thing. As it says in Contemporary Gay American Novelists (Greenwood Press), "Curzon is one of the principal gay writers to walk the minefields of literary and social criticism to make it easier for those who have followed."

He is one of two hundred writers selected from around the world to be included in Gay & Lesbian Literature (St.James Press/Gale Research Co.) He lives and teaches in San Francisco. We recently caught up with him and asked him some questions.

Q. Where have you been for the past seven or eight years? There hasn't been much about you in the gay press. At one time you seemed to be everywhere.

CURZON. I became Pope for a short while. Didn't you read about that? But it didn't work out. I wanted to make some doctrinal changes--and so did my boyfriend--but the College of Cardinals wasn't buying it. I was forced out of the Vatican in a coup.

Q. Did you stop writing while you were Pope?

CURZON. No, I wrote Superfag, my new novel, among other things. But the grants I had to write for Mother Teresa were especially grueling and time-consuming. But now my book is polished and ready to go. Knights Press was supposed to publish it a while back, but that publisher bit the dust, taking me and several others writers with it.

Q. Superfag -- is that title supposed to be a joke, or just bad taste?

CURZON. Well, the word *queer* has come back with a new twist. The least I can do is save *fag* too. Actually I called Tim McPick, one of my early novels, Queer Comedy, but my agent at the time -- in 1972 -- said that was not a good title. But now it is! I like to believe I'm on the cutting edge. My idea of fun is to write about a semi-divine young man sent from heaven by God to ride the Earth of homophobia, taking on any and all comers. It's a comic look at the gay rights movement of the past quarter century.

Q. Do you see any letup in homophobia, compared to when you first published, in 1971?

CURZON. There's a big difference. You couldn't be known to be a gay writer then or you would lose your job and your family and your friends. Today it's not as universally oppressive. But, believe me, there's plenty of homophobia out there--from the usual suspects of the religious right to the Chinese Communists to some so-called minorities, who are supposed to be universally holy and above criticism. I'm fed up with the way political correctness has tried to prevent us from calling things what they are. I've tried to take on some of these new sacred cows in a comic way in this book.

Q. You sound a bit disgruntled.

CURZON. I've always been disgruntled. I wouldn't know how to be "gruntled." One reason I've pulled back from participating in the gay movement is that I don't like the way some of it has gone. Besides, I'm an idea man, and so I like to sprinkle the world with provocative thoughts and then move on to something else. There's been such a delay, though, in getting Superfag out that perhaps this time my provocations will be more in tune with what other folks are feeling. Of course I live in San Francisco, the heartland of the Thought Police, and that's why I feel the need to write as I do.

Q. I thought San Francisco was Gay Paradise on earth.

CURZON. Well, maybe it used to be. But AIDS has taken the charm off, to say the least. The city is also dirtier and more threatening now. And I'm older--can't discount that. And it's full of political people of the Left of a particularly mind-numbing variety. I'm sorry to say that they can be as rigid and self-righteous as the Right. I myself can give no allegiance to either side. I call 'em as I see 'em. I believe any serious writer worth his salt has to, or else he's just a hack for other people's self-serving agendas.

Q. Specifically what areas are you disgruntled about?

CURZON. Oh, everything has turned into race, gender, and ethnicity -- with very explicit, almost Biblical "interpretations" demanded, whether your own experience indicates something else may be true. A lot of it is white-bashing, "European"-bashing, as though all people of European backgrounds are identical. As though Irish Catholics and Russian Jews and Greek Orthodox -- all just "white people" -- haven't struggled to make it in American society, have been handed everything. Give me a break!

Q. Have you turned conservative?

CURZON. That's exactly my point! You don't have to be "conservative" to see the silliness of the Left. It's easy to see the silliness of a Jesse Helms or the current Pope (who replaced me after the coup), but it's more challenging, certainly in a gay context, to point out what is equally true but harder to say because there's this tremendous pressure not to say certain things. Of course that's exactly when I want to write. Back in the old days I burned to show homosexuals as people with genuine pain in Something You Do In The Dark (now out of print, by the way). These days I burn to say some new things. And so I've said them. I've never been a comfortable writer, like Armistead Maupin, let's say. And, come on, these days colleges have Lesbian-Bisexual-Transgender-Gay Centers, for god's sake. That's P.C. at its hilarious, pompous "inclusive" best. And have you noticed how "gay" is usually last now?

Q. Do you think readers think of you as a comic writer?

CURZON. Probably not. If they think of me as a writer at all. People have a short attention span, or so I've heard. Tons of my contemporaries have died of AIDS and taken their memories of me and my writing with them. I see my books sometimes in their estate sales. "To Tom--wonderful meeting you! Best, Dan Curzon." I see it written on the flyleaf, and I wonder who I wrote that to and when. And now they're dead! It's all numbing, if you think about it.

Q. So does all this mean that you haven't mellowed in middle age?

CURZON. Don't I sound mellow? I'm finally tenured. Once you're tenured you're supposed to turn into a mushmelon, right? Well, I haven't. But I don't think people should confuse my persona as a writer with my private demeanor. I'm a pussycat -- really. Of course when things piss them off even pussycats have claws. What pisses me off now? Oh, for one, the fact that I can never retire from teaching English. I don't have enough years in, because I was a part-time slave for twelve years -- despite getting a Ph.D. and publishing my butt off. Historical forces beyond my control crippled my career. For another, the fact that some younger gay people have never heard of my work. But then as a teacher I know lots of people have never heard of Gore Vidal or even Tennessee Williams either! Amazing! But don't get me started on who reads and who doesn't. I may get depressed and give up the world of literature once and for all and become Mother Teresa's press agent.

Q. Do you have something against Mother Teresa is particular?

CURZON. Just that I'm an ex-Catholic. We can never forget -- or forgive -- the Church. Besides, a guy who thinks Mother Teresa and the Pope are funny can't be all bad, can he?


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