Courage in the Telling: The Critical Rise and Fall of David Leavitt

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Abstract

Openly gay American fiction writer David Leavitt, who had received positive reviews for his previous novels and short story collections, was sued in 1993 over his novel While England Sleeps by English poet Stephen Spender, who claimed that Leavitt plagiarized an episode from his own 1951 memoir World Within World, and grafted pornographic fantasies onto his biography. The accusations created a homophobic backlash against Leavitt, whose career has yet to recover fully. The result is that Leavitt, who had once been viewed as the one gay writer to find a footing in the mainstream literary community, is now firmly positioned in the gay literary subgenre and his work categorized as such. This essay examines book reviews in order to illustrate the difficulties that a writer who deals with gay life “frankly and unapologetically” finds in being accepted by the mainstream literary establishment, no matter how “normal” or assimilationist he or others might perceive his work to be.