In this episode, Book Dreams producer and guest host Gianfranco Lentini takes us on a journey to a real-life literary paradise—a thin barrier island just 50 miles east of New York City—that has been a haven for authors, especially queer authors, for more than a century. Author and scholar Jack Parlett joins Gianfranco to discuss the subject of Jack’s latest book, Fire Island: A Century in the Life of an American Paradise. They talk about the significance of creating and maintaining queer spaces as havens, and they examine the cultural context that led many writers—including Noël Coward, W. H. Auden, Walt Whitman, Tennessee Williams, and James Baldwin—to spend summers on Fire Island, experiencing personal freedom that was denied to them everywhere else. They also explore the effect that those earlier writers, as well as Fire Island itself, had on the authors who make the island their second home today. Says Jack, “The [Fire Island] landscape itself knows something, feels something, about the people who were there. It's a repository of their legacies."
Jack Parlett is a writer, poet, and scholar. He is the author of three books: Fire Island: A Century in the Life of an American Paradise; The Poetics of Cruising: Queer Visual Culture from Whitman to Grindr; and Same Blue, Different You, a poetry pamphlet. Fire Island was named an Editor’s Pick by The New York Times and One of the Best Books of 2022 by The New Yorker and BBC Culture. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Boston Review, Granta, Literary Hub, BBC Culture, Poetry London, and elsewhere. Jack currently holds a junior research fellowship at University College Oxford, where he also teaches. His research focuses on 20th and 21st century American literature and culture with an emphasis on queer writing and questions of gender, sexuality, and race.
Fire Island: A Century in the Life of an American Paradise
*A Town and Country Must-Read Book of Summer*
*A BUZZFEED BEST BOOK OF JUNE*
*A Washington Post “Book to Read This Summer”*
*AN ADVOCATE BEST LGBTQ+ BOOK OF 2022*
*A USA Today "Book to Celebrate Pride Month"*
*A New York Times "Editor's Pick"*
*A Kirkus Reviews Hottest Book of Summer*
“A beautiful, beguiling journey to the ultimate queer utopia, a site of riotous hedonism, wild creativity and immense loss. Fire Island is a fascinating, throbbing history that asks the most urgent of contemporary questions: what does paradise look like, and who does it exclude?”— Olivia Laing
"Jack Parlett’s Fire Island is that rare book: a compelling social history of a time and place that, through carefully assembled detail and astute analysis brilliantly illuminates American culture as well as its topic. Its expansive cast of characters—Frank O’Hara, W.H. Auden, James Baldwin, Truman Capote, Carson McCullers Tennessee Williams, Andy Warhol, Robert Mapplethorpe, Patricia Highsmith—demonstrate that Fire Island was a crucible of brilliance and creativity as well sexual and personal freedom. Interlacing insightful observations with flashes of personal memoir Parlett beautifully conjures Fire Island as myth, metaphor, and microcosm of queer culture that profoundly changed American culture."—Michael Bronski, author of A Queer History of the United States
"The zingy tale of one magnetic place — as well as a sprawling rumination on the intertwined urges to get away and get together. Clued-up but insatiably thirsty, poignant, packed with literary intrigue, Fire Island is a beaming beach read."—Jeremy Atherton Lin, author of Gay Bar