Perry Brass

Originally from Savannah, Georgia, I grew up, in the racially segregated fifties and early sixties, in equal parts Southern, Jewish, economically impoverished (after my father died of cancer, when I was 11, my mother, younger sister, and I moved to a public housing project), and very much gay. I cannot remember when I first realized I was different from other boys and the life around me, but by the time I was nine or ten I knew I was attracted to men. To escape the South’s violent homophobia, after a depressing year of college at the University of Georgia, in 1965, at seventeen I hitchhiked from Savannah to San Francisco—an adventure that I still recall as being "like Mark Twain with drag queens.” I spent a year living on the street, sleeping between parked cars or in SRO hotels, doing any job I could get, and loving the freedom of it. I look back on that first year away from home gladly; I was almost completely out, sneaking into gay bars, picking up guys when I felt it, and enjoying all the freedom I could take.     

​In August, of 1966, a month before my 19th birthday, I moved to New York. It was very different from being in San Francisco—not nearly as friendly or openly queer, and it took me a long time to become used to being in big Northern city. My first winter almost killed me—I often recalled how cold weather killed Pocahontas when she moved to London, and as a Southern boy felt the same way. But in New York I quickly became involved with artists, writers, dancers, and poets, and in November of 1969, another big change came into my life: gay liberation.   

​I joined New York's recently formed Gay Liberation Front, and the collective "cell" that put out Come Out!, the world's first gay liberation newspaper. This was actually the reason why I joined GLF—I'd been writing gay poetry and stories for several years (even penning a now lost, autobiographical novel when I was 19), and was told that no one would ever want to publish material like this. But the times were changing, and I wrote poetry, stories, and news pieces for Come Out! and eventually became a leader on the paper: it was published out of my railroad-flat Hell's Kitchen apartment for the last year or so of its existence.   

​Although Come Out! was only published for 9 issues, it was one of the seminal publications of the early "liberation" phase of the movement. Some other writers who came out of Come Out! include the first gay writings of Rita Mae Brown (Ruby Fruit Jungle), the Australian gay theorist Dennis Altman, and Martha Shelly, the first lesbian to write openly about lesbian S & M. Today issues of Come Out! are microfiched and collected in the New York Public Library's International Gay and Lesbian Archive and several other important archives. You can also read the entire run of Come Out at    

​In those years, my work was often anthologized in books like The Gay Liberation Book from Rolling Stone Press; The Male Muse, Ian Young's collection from Crossing Press, that was the world's first openly gay poetry collection (with me, the second youngest poet in it!); Mouth of the Dragon, the first gay male poetry 'zine; Angels of the Lyre, a wonderful early anthology from Gay Sunshine Press; Karla Jay and Allen Young's groundbreaking anthology Out of the Closets, which is still in print; The Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse, the first big-house anthology of queer poetry, edited by Stephen Coote; and numerous other books. But like many gay poets and writers before me, I had a hard time being published by the mainstream—and even the gay mainstream, which found my work to be either too openly erotic, too "liberation" in an atmosphere of internalized homophobia, or too flagrantly romantic in a cynical publishing environment. It was still acceptable to publish books in which homosexuals were seen as sick, twisted, powerless and worthless, and even many gay editors continued to perpetuate those myths and attitudes.    

​In 1990, I started publishing my own books with my partner Hugh. I have published sixteen books and been a finalist six times in three categories (poetry; gay science fiction and fantasy; spirituality and religion) for prestigious Lambda Literary Awards. My novel Warlock received a 2002 “Ippy” Award from Independent Publisher Magazine as "Best Gay and Lesbian Book"; The Manly Art of Seduction was awarded a gold medal "Ippy" in 2011. I feel gratified about putting out my own books, and reaching the thousands of adventurous readers who continue to love and care about them.    

Some other things you might want to know about me.    

​In 1972, with two friends I started the Gay Men's Health Project Clinic, the first clinic for gay men on the East Coast, which is still surviving as New York’s Callen-Lorde Community Health Center. The Gay Men's Health Project Clinic advocated for the use of condoms by gay men roughly 15 years before the AIDS crisis surfaced; it became the model for many grass-roots health organizations in the gay community in that it was organized and run by the men who used it, rather than by doctors.    

​In 1984, my play Night Chills, one of the first plays to deal with the AIDS crisis, won a Jane Chambers International Gay Playwriting Award. I have collaborated with many composers who have set my poetry. These works include “All the Way Through Evening,” a five-song cycle set by the late Chris DeBlasio; “The Angel Voices of Men” set by Ricky Ian Gordon, commissioned by the Dick Cable Fund for the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus, which featured it on its Gay Century Songbook CD; “Three Brass Songs” set by Fred Hersch; "Five 'Russian' Lyrics, set by Christopher Berg, commissioned by Positive Music; and “Waltzes for Men,” also commissioned by the DCF for the NYC Gay Men’s Chorus, set by Craig Carnahan. My latest musical collaboration, "The Restless Yearning Towards My Self," set by opera composer Paula Kimper, was commissioned by Downtown Music.    

I like teaching and have taught many workshops and classes in writing and publishing fiction, as well as the hidden roots of gay culture. One of my favorite projects was producing a talk and PowerPoint slide show about the search for the "gay paradise," "the Greenwood," which E. M. Forster, one of my favorite gay writers spoke about in his early romantic gay novel, Maurice, the forerunner of Brokeback Mountain. "The Search for the Greenwood, the Return to the Gay Paradise," was given at the Bard Conference on God and Sexuality in the spring of 2006 and at the Tom of Finland Erotic Art Festival in New York in June of that year.     I live in the Riverdale section of “da Bronx,” but as I like to tell friends, I can cross bridges to other parts of America without a passport.

Books in order of publication:

Works: And Other “Smokey George” Stories1992
Albert, Or, the Book of Man1995
The Harvest1997
The Lover of My Soul: A Search for Ecstasy and Wisdom1997
How to Survive Your Own Gay Life: An Adult Guide to Love, Sex, and Relationships1998
Angel Lust: An Erotic Novel Of Time Travel2000
The Substance of God2003
Carnal Sacraments: A Historical Novel of the Future2007
The Manly Art of Seduction: How to Meet, Talk To, and Become Intimate with Anyone2009
King of Angels, a Novel about the Genesis of Identity and Belief2012
The Manly Pursuit of Desire and Love, Your Guide to Life, Happiness, and Emotional and Sexual Fulfillment In a Closed-Down World2015
A Real Life, A Memoir: “Like Mark Twain with Drag Queens”2019
Circles: A Novel from the Chronicles of the planet Ki2019
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