After starting a book 30 years ago he never thought he’d be alive to finish, playwright and activist Larry Kramer has published his first volume on the history of homosexuality and AIDS in the United States titled, The American People, Volume 1: Search for My Heart.
“Larry lives to write,” Will Schwalbe, old friend of Kramer’s and editor in chief of Hyperion Books, said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that Larry’s writing is what keeps him alive.”
If he didn’t live to finish the book, he asked Schwalbe to finish the book and self-publish with money from Kramer’s estate if necessary.
However, Kramer, 79, survived a liver transplant and has even started writing the second volume, which is expected to come out in 2017.
Kramer said he has written the book so that gays are no longer excluded from history books.
“Most history is written by straight people, and they don’t have gaydar,” Kramer said. “People say, ‘Can you prove to me that George Washington was gay?’ and I say, ‘Can you prove to me he wasn’t?’”
Kramer said he would call some history books fiction.
“Farrar Straus said, ‘Call it a novel, that way the lawyer will leave you alone,’” he said. “But I believe everything in the book is true. It may look like fiction, but to me, it’s not.”
In his book Kramer criticizes historians like Ron Chernow, who wrote a biography of Alexander Hamilton in 2004.
“I’m glad that Larry Kramer is raising the issue [that Hamilton may have been bisexual], I’m just mystified at why he’s attacking me, when I thought he would have applauded the fact that I take this seriously,” Chernow said. “It’s a legitimate issue for historians or novelists, but we also have to be careful not to ransack history in service of a political agenda.”
Jonathan Galassi, president and publisher of many historians Kramer criticized, said he found the book both ambitious and provocative.
“This book is, in a way, a culmination of all his artistic activity,” he said. “Larry is a great polemicist and a fighter, and this book is part of his polemic about gay history and the roles of gays in our society. He’s still fighting and he’s using art to do it.”
Kramer graduated from Yale and started off as a comedy writer, even getting nominated for his screenplay adaptation of the D.H. Lawrence novel, Women in Love. When he lost two friends to AIDS, he founded Gay Men’s Health Crisis and Act Up, both to bring attention to AIDS.
In 1989, Kramer learned he was HIV positive. In the last few years he was in an out of the hospital for abdominal infections and nearly died twice, he said. In 2013, he and his longtime partner, architect David Webster, married in the intensive care unit of the NYU Langone Medical Center.
Now, he writes for five or six hours each day. He is also working on a screenplay for the sequel of The Normal Heart, in addition to the second volume of his book.
He said he hopes to be remembered for not only his activism, but for his art as well.
“It goes against the grain in this country to do both, and that’s why I’m not taken seriously,” Kramer said. “I want this book to be taken seriously as a work of art and a work of thought.”