“I do get self-righteous about some things,” Larry Kramer says to novelist Andrew Holleran in an excellent interview in a recent issue of The Advocate. It’s both an obvious statement and an understatement.
For 40 years, Kramer has been the queer community’s angry conscience — inspring and infuriating us, sometimes simultaneously — and this month, he’s releasing The American People, an 800-page novel that’s been decades in the making and yet merely the first half of his most ambitious story yet.
When Kramer released Faggots in 1978, he immediately become both hero and villain among gay men. The book’s unflinching take on the hedonism of the 1970s was seen as an attack on queer freedom, and when a disturbing outbreak of disease in 1981 appeared to be sexually transmitted, Kramer’s public demands that gay men start using condoms or stop having sex was met with outrage. His dogmatic refusal to make political compromises made him as many enemies as admirers. This clip from a town hall on AIDS in the late ’80s is quintessential Larry Kramer:
An inspiring leader? A bitter old queen? Both at once? Kramer’s been called all this and more, especially after his epic 2004 speech and subsequent book The Tragedy of Today’s Gays, but his play The Normal Heart has come to define the ’80s AIDS crisis and the huge success of last year’s TV movie version only proved that his voice is still heard, still necessary. The American People, released in April 2015, already sounds like vintage Kramer: overly long, hectoring, idea-driven, satirical and visionary.
“Be bold,” he tells today’s gays, “You’d be surprised how strong you are capable of being.”