Paul Monette Biography

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(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

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When Paul Monette died he left a legacy of writing that spanned some twenty years, yet it seems clear that his enduring contribution to gay literature in general, and to the literature of AIDS in particular, will be the books he wrote during the last seven or eight years of his life. From 1987, when he lost his longtime partner Roger Horwitz, until his own death, Monette focused all of his creative energies on documenting the lives of gay men living with AIDS, on challenging homophobia in American culture, and on articulating a progressive vision for the gay community. He moved from provincial author of moderately amusing gay novels to national spokesman for gay people and passionate chronicler of the AIDS crisis.

In Becoming a Man, winner of the National Book Award for nonfiction, Monette reveals that he began writing at Philips Academy, Andover, turning to art as a way to escape the puritanical burden of his New England upbringing and the isolation he felt as a young gay student. The struggle to embrace his true identity lasted until his mid-twenties, when he met Horwitz. Only then did he leave the closet for the light of a satisfying life partnership and a career as a gay writer.

Monette’s first critical recognition came for his volume of poems, The Carpenter at the Asylum (1975). His first novel, Taking Care of Mrs. Carroll (1978), is representative of the gay romances Monette wrote before AIDS upended his life in the mid-1980’s. Monette called his romantic novels “glib and silly,” but they consistently portray the reality of gay men loving each other and creating chosen families that support them. All of Monette’s work is predicated on the assumption that gay love is natural, productive, and meaningfully integrated into the larger human community.

In 1985, however, Horwitz was diagnosed with AIDS, and Monette’s writing took a clear turn, becoming far more personal and more resolutely political. Borrowed Time eloquently documents the couple’s battle against AIDS during the early years of the epidemic. The book is a harrowing account of their personal suffering and a celebration of their courageous love. This fierce and passionate new voice is present in Monette’s subsequent two novels, Afterlife (1990) and Halfway Home (1991), each of which explores how gays have been devastated by AIDS and by the homophobic backlash it has generated. In his final volume of essays, Last Watch of the Night, Monette abandons imaginative literature to address more directly questions about the epidemic and the backlash. When he finally succumbed to AIDS, he had established himself for many gay men as the conscience of their community.


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Suggested Readings

Clum, John. “‘The Time Before the War’: AIDS, Memory, and Desire.” American Literature 62, no. 2 (1990): 648-667.

Roman, David. “Paul Monette.” In Contemporary Gay American Novelists, edited by Emmanuel S. Nelson. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993.