Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Gay Men's Press

The Gay Men's Press was formed in 1979 and throughout the 80s in particular was a powerhouse of 'minority publishing' along with other special interest publishers catering, for example, to women and black audiences. I think as a publisher the GMP is currently very underrated by collectors, as is much of 1980s culture. In fact, although it limped on as far as 2006, its achievements as a serious literary publisher were largely over by the mid-1990s and it devolved into a publisher of glossy gay photo books. But those first 10-15 years, I think, were a very special moment in gay publishing. The GMP gave a platform to gay writers that they would never had otherwise had. More importantly, as is Rupert Smith noted in an article marking the demise of the publisher, it is in books that we most often meet 'people like us'. The books of the GMP were, to me, and to many I know, like a drink of water in a desert. They also, in their Modern Gay Classics series, kept alive some of the pioneering literature of the gay movement.

They can also be credited with being the named cause of the infamous Clause 28 legislation in the UK that banned the 'promotion of homosexuality' in schools and publicly funded arenas. This because they published a children's book Jenny Lives With Eric and Martin and the Daily Mail conspired to find a copy in the library of a left-wing council and frothed at the mouth and Margaret Thatcher bowed down before the righteous indignity of middle England and low, one of the most vicious and retrograde pieces of legislation in modern British history was written and passed.

Although the bulk of their output was in paperback they also produced some copies in hard cover. I have yet to discover if these were produced for general sale or if they were intended for libraries. I do know that they are pretty scarce these days. I was delighted a little while ago to come across a stash of five hard cover titles.

Better still, in this lot of hardcover titles was The Carnivorous Lamb by Augustin Gomez-Arcos. This was one of the books of my adolescence: which is why I also have the well-thumbed, grubby ex-library copy still from my teenage years (below). It is set in the stultifying atmosphere of a Spanish villa with the Civil War grumbling in the background and tells the story of an intense incestuous relationship between two brothers brought up under the cloying and claustrophobic influence of their emotionally crippled mother. It drips with an eroticism like melting wax and I can heartily recommend it as a difficult but beautiful and poignant read.

UPDATE: I'm reliably informed by a great correspondent that the hardcover issue of GMP books were on sale to the public at the same time as the paperback release.


Patrick said...

The Carniverous Lamb! I've never met anyone else who's read it. I too encountered it in adolescence. I'll never forget the description of the older brother coming into the bathroom, his balls swinging "like the clappers of a bell" or similar.

Callum said...

Hi Patrick and thanks for stopping by. I don't know if you have ever read Le Livre Blanc or The White Book by Cocteau, I think I must have read them both at about the same age and they still today go together in my mind. I'm sure their actually very different but I remember them as being quite similar in tone. For me, the standout image in The Carnivorous Lamb was the flight of butterflies which surrounds them as the older brother takes the younger for the first time.

Like you, I've never met anyone else who has read it so thanks for taking the time to say hi...


Patrick said...

Ah yes, the flight of butterflies... it's a bit over the top, but fantastic! At the time I attributed the purple prose to Latin spirits. Unfortunately I sold my copy a long time ago, I suppose it was a first American (not GMP in any event). I have indeed read The White Book, but not until years later. The subject of gay literature read in adolescence, however, would make a great post topic in future perhaps? Keep up the great work, I'm a longtime fan of the blog and the press.

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