Hot off the Presses, by Elliott Mackle. Lethe Press, 302 pages, $18 paper.
A high-profile young, black lad on the down-low, a world-class Olympic gymnast committed to his closet, an evangelical black mayor deep into African-American AIDS denial, a crusading queer journalist coping with the hang-ups of the wealthy straight couple who inherited the gay Atlanta newspaper their dead son founded: Mackle’s meaty novel packs in a lot of provocative plot. Central to the story is crusading editor Henry Thompson, who has shied away from commitment since the AIDS-related death of his lover, until a bathhouse hookup with a Games-bound muscle god develops romantic overtones, even though the athlete lives with a fiancée. Though it’s set around the time of the 1996 Olympics – which Mackle covered for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution – the story’s several potent themes remain relevant. Homophobia in both the black and the jock communities is addressed; so too is the sometimes vexing question of how the queer press ought to cover the queer community’s own foibles and failings. Mackle tackles these topics with a delicious mix of wisdom and wit – and with titillating dashes of sex and romance.
The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings, by James Baldwin, edited by Randall Kenan. Pantheon, 336 pages, $26.95 hardcover.
There was a time when writers had real intellectual presence, not just TV talk show moments and anointment by Oprah Winfrey. This momentous collection of essays, book reviews, speeches, letters and journalism – and one short story – is a fierce and felicitous reminder of how towering a literary figure James Baldwin was. None of the 54 pieces appear in two other collections, The Price of the Ticket and the Library of America’sCollected Essays; it’s a testament to how prolific the author of Giovanni’s Room was that Kenan pulled together such a powerful, and readable, book. Homosexuality is all but ignored, except for scattered, scathing mentions of black radicals like Eldridge Cleaver who disdained gays. Nonetheless, Baldwin’s sense of outsider-ness permeates the collection. There is seldom a dull thought or a slapdash sentence in what editor Kenan describes as a “grab bag” of a book, and one of the more journalistic pieces, “The Fight: Patterson vs. Liston” is as muscular and majestic as the boxers whose 1962 fight it chronicles.
* Richard Labonte has been reading, editing, selling, and writing about queer literature since the mid-‘70s. He can be reached in care of this publication or at [email protected]