Outside the Lines: Sarah Schulman’s Truth

 
 

"Prior to writing The Child, I published seven novels and two nonfiction books between 1984 and 1998," she writes. "Why was this book so suddenly unacceptable?"

She explains: "Clearly something was going on. It became apparent that because I didn't come out against the relationship between the man and the boy, the book became unpublishable."

The companion plot, about a lesbian relationship, didn't help either. The liaison between Stew and David is written against the story of Eva, a lesbian lawyer, her lover and her HIV-positive legal partner. Schulman believes that lesbian literature is disrespected in America, and the publication of lesbian novels has declined dramatically in the last 15 years.

"Unfortunately," Schulman said, "my book with its lesbian protagonist came out at a cultural moment when the social space for lesbian fiction is shrinking into oblivion."

Schulman, a die-hard New Yorker in the put-upon Woody Allen mold, is used to this kind of artistic tsuris. In 1996, sent to review the mega-hit musical Rent, Schulman realized that the play's major plot points were lifted directly from her own novel, People in Trouble. She then struggled for years trying to gain credit and legal restitution for the use of her material. (For more, read her exposé on the episode, Stagestruck: Theater, AIDS and the Marketing of Gay America.)

Even more recently, by the time gay-friendly Carroll & Graf published The Child, what Schulman calls "the clamp-down on gay books" had grown extreme. One week after the novel appeared, Carroll & Graf was purchased by Perseus Books and folded. Despite generally glowing reviews, the book has had trouble finding an audience.

"We're in a propaganda moment where homophobia is treated as an inconvenience," Schulman said. "So, yes, as I have moved away from this kind of false representation about the way people live, I have also had to be more tenacious."

So Schulman multitasks ahead. She's almost embarrassed by the staggering number of projects that she has in the works. "I don't even like to talk about all the things I'm working on," said Schulman, who is also a professor of English at the City University of New York, College of Staten Island. "It makes me sound crazy."

She has four books waiting to be published, including an experimental novel and a treatise on familial homophobia and its consequences. This month, she's making a return trip to MacDowell, the New Hampshire writer's colony, with composer Anthony Davis and Grey Gardens lyricist Michael Korie as they develop her novel Shimmer for the musical stage.

Her adaptation of the Isaac Bashevis Singer novel Enemies, A Love Story had its world premiere at the Wilma Theater in Philadelphia last February, and a new play, The Lady Hamlet, will have a reading in New York this fall with Elisabeth Marvel, directed by Diane Paulus. She is also writing a play, Choice, about the lawyer and plaintiff in the Roe v. Wade case. And in her spare time, Schulman is also writing a screenplay based on the life of the author Carson McCullers and collaborating on an oral history of ACT UP.

"I first started a diary when I was 6 years old," Schulman said. "My first entry was, 'When I grow up, I will write books.' Writing is how I express my feelings. It is my calling and my destiny. I have no choice; it's something I have to do."

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