A WELL-KNOWN PLAYWRIGHT and novelist, Sebastian Stuart is the author of a memoir titled What Wasn’t I Thinking: A Memoir of Rebellion, Madness, and My Mother. It delves into his privileged childhood in Manhattan, where he discovered his (gay) sexuality as a teenager, and into his deep friendship with his soulmate and cousin Tina, who was stricken with schizophrenia at fifteen. The challenge of trying to save her and not be pulled into her madness proved too much; he left for San Francisco in his late teens. He writes compellingly about his wild sexual past, including hustling and his descent into drugs.
Stuart’s other books include the novels The Mentor (1999), To The Manor Dead (2011), and the award-winning novel The Hour Between (2009). His plays include Underbelly Blues, The Frances Farmer Story, and Ethel and Miriam.
The interview was conducted by phone in January 2022.
Gay & Lesbian Review: Can you give us an overview of what your journey was like from actor to playwright to novelist?
Sebastian Stuart: I was in San Francisco, where I was a wild kid while living there. I went back East obstinately to become an actor but I soon realized that I didn’t have the chops for it. I was pretty insecure, as most actors are, but I took it pretty far. So, I asked myself what else could I do. I had all these bottled-up experiences from living in San Francisco, and so I sat down and they just poured out of me, and I wrote the play Underbelly Blues. Edward Albee read it and gave me a grant for a residency in his Long Island workshop in Montauk. It was produced for a three-day run and later at the Eugene O’Neil playwright conference. So I said: “This is easy.” This was something I could do—but there are about ten playwrights making a living at it! I kept writing plays, which I really enjoyed. I loved the reaction of the audience when I made them laugh.
Then I was looking for other writing gigs, and I started writing porn for a while. That was a really good gig. You would go in on a Monday, and they would give you a setting—like a suburban cul-de-sac with incest—and you had four days to write the whole book. It all went into a primitive computer, kind of like braille, and then it would get printed out with no re-writing at all.
Next I started writing screenplays with a friend; we had four optioned. I had plays going up at La Mama and The Kitchen theaters in New York. I went to a writers’ center called Dorset Colony House in Vermont, and that’s where I met Stephen McCauley [author of the novels Object of My Affection, My Ex-Life, and Insignificant Others]and we clicked. So, I decided to move up to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to be with him. We’ve been together now for 31 years.
William Burton is a writer based in Provincetown, Mass.