New book celebrates Fire Island as ‘an American paradise’

Paradise can be found near home.

Fire Island is a narrow, barrier island 32 miles off the coast of Long Island, containing two communities that have long served as a queer utopia and a safe haven for members of the LGBTQ community.

A comprehensive new book, “Fire Island: A Century in the Life of an American Paradise” by British author Jack Parlett, pays tribute to the queer side of Fire Island by telling the history of the holiday resort through the eyes of renowned authors. It has been written about through history.

About her first visit to the island’s LGBTQ-focused villages of Cherry Grove and Fire Island Pines in the summer of 2017, Parlett, 30, told the Greeley Tribune, “I was completely fascinated by it.”

With its stunning beaches, legendary parties, and rich cultural history, Fire Island is celebrated in Parlett’s deeply researched book as a magical island known for the campy monotony of a boat full of drag queens Every July 4 “invasions” at the port, or the hedonistic sex culture at Fire Island Pines that are still “alive and well,” writes Parlett, or weekly underwear parties in Cherry Grove.

But it is also meant as a place where queer people can call home, strengthen ties with their chosen family, and come together as a community to fight the devastation wrought by the AIDS epidemic. .

It is also a summer paradise that has historically been criticized for being more accessible to the privileged few, as Parlett points out.

James Baldwin, a frequent visitor to Cherry Grove in the 1950s and ’60s, noted with caution that he was drawing into a “mostly white, queer world of the middle class”, writes Parlett. Six decades later, after her first visit to the Pines, Parlett could feel herself “being more neurotic about my eating and exercise habits” and even bleaching her hair “which The kind of sun-kissed flair I had seen early on—the morning dance floor.”

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Parlett, a literary scholar who focused on queer studies and taught American literature at the University of Oxford, lived in New York when he received his Ph.D. was researching. About poets and gay cruises.

As part of his research, he set out to visit the area where American poet Frank O’Hara died at the age of 40, after being hit by a buggy on the dunes of Fire Island Pines in July 1966. A few days after arriving. Being a gay village since the mid-20th century, Fire Island is closely associated with some of the most important names in queer art and literature in the world, including Walt Whitman, Patricia Highsmith, Oscar Wilde, James Baldwin and Janet Flanner. .

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He said, “I’ve been reading these poets, and suddenly see for myself the place where so many of them have been and spent time – after that I couldn’t stop thinking about this place.”

Soon after that summer, Parlett decided to work on a “literary story of the place”, a project that expanded beyond the literary world and became a critical love letter to the community’s history, cultural significance, HIV/AIDS activism and role. changed into Played in the queer liberation movement, while also seeing the ways in which Fire Island could be excommunicated.

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When he worked on the book, Parlett wanted to “follow in the footsteps of particular writers on the island” by tying together WH Auden, Edmund White’s Fire Island, and the many gay writers who burst onto the scene in the 1970s. “What it was like to be there, but what it was like to be gay in New York, what it was like to experience community or exclusion in these different historical eras,” he said.

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Despite Cherry Grove’s long-standing claims of being “America’s first gay and lesbian city”, Parlett said she was less interested in making official claims about “this is the first”. [queer community]”And focused more on finding answers to questions like, ‘What has been the mythology of this place, and how has it informed our sense of community over time?

Writing as an outsider, Parlett wanted to lean into his research to do justice while offering a critical picture. “I see the book as not only a celebration, but something that’s trying to connect with the more complex aspects of Fire Island as a place.”

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For decades, the mystery of the sun-soaked gay Xanadu, just two hours east of New York City, has risen to prominence in popular culture.

There was a Kelly Ripa-produced reality show called “Fire Island” that aired on Logo in 2017; Tony Award-winning drama “The Inheritance” which hit Broadway in 2019; And the rom-com, also titled “Fire Island,” starring Kim Booster and “Saturday Night Live” star Bowen Yang, premiered on Hulu this month.

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“I didn’t set out to write an official history, because I thought people with different experiences of Fire Island would have different claims as a place and different claims on its history,” Parlet said.

“for me, [the book] Sounds like a response to Fire Island as a place, [and] What can we learn from this?”

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