Joseph Hansen was born on July 19, 1923, in Aberdeen, South Dakota, the son of shoe shop operator Henry Harold Hansen and Alma Rosebrock Hansen. The Hansens moved often during the Great Depression, and Joseph’s education was divided among public schools in Aberdeen, South Dakota; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Pasadena, California, as his family drifted from the Midwest to the West Coast in search of work. Hansen, who identified himself as a homosexual in his late teens, was more interested in writing for the school newspaper and acting in school plays than in languishing in classrooms and never attended college. Despite his sexual orientation, in 1943 he fell in love with and married lesbian Jane Bancroft, who in 1944 bore one daughter, Barbara Bancroft—who later underwent gender reassignment—during their marriage, which lasted more than fifty years (Jane died in 1994).
In 1944, Hansen received an encouraging option contract in 1944 from Houghton Mifflin Company on the basis of a few pages of a first novel. However, that novel was never published, nor were four other novels, several plays, and numerous short stories written during the 1940’s. Hansen struggled to keep food on the table while working in bookshops, as an assistant to the literary agent Stanley Rose, and for ten years as a billing clerk in a Hollywood film-processing plant.
Professional recognition came slowly, but by the late 1950’s several of Hansen’s poems had been...
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