If Winter Comes… ‘Larger Than Life’

Published in: January-February 2023 issue.


“LARGER THAN LIFE” seems to capture the common property of the people featured in this issue, who had the ability to do more in a day, or a lifetime, than seems possible for us mere mortals. Another common bond is that they’re all contemporary figures—some have recently passed away—and their presence is still being felt. Indeed they are remembered here by people who knew them personally and can attest to their bigger-than-life personæ.

            Someone who embodies this theme is the late Urvashi Vaid, a blur of energy whose impact on the LGBT movement, which was profound, is detailed here by her longtime friend Richard Burns. Her passion for social justice and LGBT equality was matched by a genius for organizing, and it’s astonishing how many organizations she touched and in many cases transformed. As head of the Task Force, Burns points out, Vaid developed a vision of “intersectionality” before the word existed as a way to unify diverse communities by focusing on common goals.

            Another case in point is poet and translator Richard Howard, who also died last year. David Bergman, poetry editor for this magazine, was friends with Howard for decades and knows his poetry intimately, as you will see. In addition to his eighteen books of poems, Howard translated hundreds of books from the French. His poetry can be “threatening” because it’s grounded in a level of erudition—a sweeping grasp of Western literature and civilization—that few people can hope to match, least of all in today’s oversaturated world.

            An artist who’s still with us, having lived a Zelig-like life in post-Stonewall America, is Jimmy Wright, whose career is celebrated here by his lifelong friend Wes Hartley. The fact that he grew up in rural Kentucky and ended up producing artwork that’s now at the Whitney speaks volumes. What Hartley calls Wright’s “yellow brick road” eventually led him to New York City, where he not only lived “the life” in the 1970s but captured it, prolifically, on canvas.

            This issue also includes Martha E. Stone’s annual roundup of notable LGBT people who passed away last year. There are over thirty brief obits, but let me comment on a few that I knew personally. Historian Bill Percy was a friend who lived nearby in Boston’s South End, whose Falstaffian extroversion must have been daunting to college freshmen but certainly livened up the many parties that he threw. I never met Stephen Hunt in person, but he was such a fan of the magazine, letting us know the minute his issue arrived and providing a thoughtful commentary on its contents. The ever cheerful Chuck Colbert was an early contributor back when we were The Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review, as was Arnie Kantrowitz, who wrote about Walt Whitman. Jeffrey Escoffier actually wrote a book titled Bigger Than Life, a history of gay porn cinema, a topic that he covered for us in an interview. Farewell to them all.