Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

THE RESURRECTION OF PETER MCGEHEE

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Recently I was made an ambassador. Not of a country, but of a cause. That cause is the revival of the voice of a writer who died of AIDS almost twenty years ago. A great many important artistic voices were extinguished by AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s, before drug cocktails stemmed the tide somewhat. Many of these were writers already in their prime; others had barely begun their journey. A few notable names in the latter grouping come to mind, including Allen Barnett, the Illinois-born/New York-transplanted author of The Body and Its Dangers, an extraordinarily eloquent collection of short stories on living and dying. Another is Toronto’s Gordon Stewart Anderson, who died in 1991, yet whose remarkable novel The Toronto You Are Leaving became a surprise bestseller in 2006, largely due to the efforts of his mother and sister.

In 1990, I founded The Church-Wellesley Review, Canada’s first print publication for LGBT Lit. An aspiring author myself, it seemed to me that GayLit had recently begun to come into its own in a big way. One of the more entertaining and unique voices to make an appearance around that time was Peter McGehee’s. Arkansas-born, but more recently a Canadian transplant, McGeHee was already widely known as a talented singer-songwriter. Then came his first full-length novel, the deftly comic Boys Like Us, which was an instant hit on its appearance in 1991. Sadly, that was also the year of McGeHee’s death, as it was for both Anderson and Barnett.

A short story collection, The IQ Zoo, followed later that same year. Sweetheart, McGeHee’s sequel to Boys Like Us, was published posthumously in 1992. These books were followed in 1993 by the final part of the trilogy, Labour of Love, completed by McGeHee’s partner, Douglas Wilson, from notes McGeHee had left for its composition.

My brush with McGeHee was brief. At the time, I was assistant editor for Xtra! Magazine, and was busy establishing an arts section for the bi-weekly paper, an area notably under-serviced till then. McGeHee frequently sent in media releases for his shows, which I duly posted. When I learned he was a writer as well as a singer, I urged him to submit something to the CWR. By then he was too ill to write, but he offered a previously published excerpt, entitled “An Invitation” (The Church-Wellesley Review, Vol II, May 24, 1991.) It’s an ironic piece chronicling an ominous visit to a doctor's office while offering the reader a cautiously hopeful invitation to the upcoming anniversary of the narrator and his partner.

If you remember Peter McGeHee, then you may also remember singer Fiji Robinson. Hers is the name behind the current campaign to resurrect McGeHee’s works and memory. She wasn’t always Fiji, however. Until she met McGeHee, she was simply Peggy Robinson. In 1981, after surviving what she calls a “gin and tonic audition,” she was christened Fiji Champagne Robinson and went on to star in McGeHee’s musical reviews, The Quinlan Sisters and The Fabulous Sirs.

This fall, on what would have been McGeHee’s fifty-fifth birthday, Robinson launched an ambitious 11-month campaign to revive and rediscover the legacy of “This Man of Many Voices.” It’s a timely project. Many of McGeHee’s publications are now out of print. Along with Robinson’s efforts, which include frequent email updates and YouTube videos, the University of Saskatchewan’s Neil Richardson recently undertook an extensive bibliography of McGeHee’s work as part of the library’s Special Collections Department. With luck, there will be more to come.

If you don’t know Peter McGeHee, then it’s definitely time to discover him. If you already know his work, then it’s a good time to get reacquainted. Here are some useful links to help out: there is a basic Wikipedia entry, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P..., as well as a longer biographical piece from the The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture at http://encyclopediaofarkansas.....

The prolific and dedicated GayLit critic, Amos Lassen, has devoted an entire page to Peter’s publications: http://amoslassen.wordpress.co.... As well, a number of McGeHee-related pieces can be found on YouTube, with more to follow: http://www.youtube.com/user/4M....

And finally, the Facebook page where it all began: http://www.facebook.com/pages/....

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Jeffrey Round

Jeffrey Round is an award-winning writer and director. His most recent novel is The Honey Locust.

Go to Jeffrey Round’s Author Page