Andrew Holleran and the Everlasting Legacy of “Dancer From the Dance”
If you have been part of a queer book club then there’s a strong chance that you have read Dancer From the Dance, Andrew Holleran’s acclaimed 1978 novel about New York gay nightlife, considered a cornerstone of gay literature.
After Dancer From the Dance‘s success Holleran continued with other beautiful books like Grief, Nights in Aruba, and the short story collection, In September, the Light Changes. It has been 16 years since his last novel, but earlier this month Holleran released his latest work, The Kingdom of Sand, about the friendship between two older gay men in a small Florida town.
Holleran spoke with Logo about his new book, the unwritten sequel for Dancer From the Dance, the long-rumored film adaptation, and his memories of Fire Island.
Earlier this year when I read that you were releasing a new book, I was surprised. Were you surprised that you were releasing a new book?
That’s a wonderful way to put it. Yes, I was. It was a shock when I found out that I hadn’t published in 16 years. It happened really because my editor simply contacted me and asked for a book and I don’t know how long ago that was. Maybe a year and a half, two years ago, so it’s all gone very quickly. It is like coming back from the dead. People grow silent, and then you think they’re not there anymore.
The book is about older gay men, which there aren’t too many stories about. Was that something that when you set out to write the book, that you wanted to show and depict older gay men?
Yes, it really was. The assignment my editor gave me really was he wanted a book on Florida. So I looked at what I had written on Florida and it contained that central novella about the relationship between the narrator and Earl, and that’s really the spine of the book. So it’s about friendship, but as I wrote, I kept putting in my own aging process. I left out a lot of the good stuff about old age, which is perfectly fine and agreeable because somehow the writing was going in that direction. That’s the worry when you’re a gay writer or when you’re a writer who writes on gay subjects, you’re always worried that you’re going to be criticized for giving a false portrayal because it’s only a partial portrayal, but that was the story I wanted to tell.
People can’t expect it to tell the story of an entire community.
Right. And there’s a point in the book in which the narrator‘s friend is trying to get him to enter into assisted living and he just wants to do anything but that. And then he keeps in the back of his mind that when the time comes, he can always go to Fort Lauderdale. Because when I go to Fort Lauderdale, it seems to me that’s where another version of old age is being lived.
What are your thoughts on Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill and everything that’s happening in the state?
You know, it’s like just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water. I can’t tell you how many years now I thought that all of these issues were settled. In a nice way, I’ve noticed in my little town however, one of the new neighbors came over and introduced himself. And as we were talking he said, “You know, I’ve worked with gay people up north, and I have no trouble with gays.” It was one of those nice gestures that makes you think, “They have to say this?” Anyway, but he was letting me know that he knew I was gay and it was fine with him. And I thought, “How times change. That’s a result of all this political change, really.” It trickles down to personal life in a small town and I thought this was wonderful. And now, because of all the shit that’s going on, the unsettled nature of American life right now, and everything that’s been written about what we’re going through, I worry that gays are going to be picked up again as the bogeyman. As I’m sure you do too. I thought all that was behind us and I don’t know what’s going to happen now. [Governor Ron] DeSantis is obviously on some kind of presidential kick and they’re all using this shit to activate the base.
So what was the decision behind keeping the narrator nameless in Kingdom of Sand?
I don’t know. I never thought there was a need to name him practically. Nobody ever was addressing him by his name and I could have given him a name, but I didn’t. It’s funny about writing, you can control certain things and you learn certain things about what to do and what not to do. So much in writing is unconscious and you don’t really know what you’re doing. And something kept me from even thinking, “This person needs a name.” At the end of the book he begins to flash on that movie Rebecca, which opens with Joan Fountaine going back to Manderley. And the narrator of Rebecca, which is one of my favorite books, has no name either. Maybe I was pinging off that? I don’t know.
I have to ask about Dancer From the Dance, one of my favorite books. It’s a staple in gay book clubs, and now I see younger generations posting about it on social media. What are your thoughts on gay men still discovering the book after all these years?
Just that I’m a very lucky person and that it’s rather amazing to me because it’s rare that happens and it’s very heartening. The idea that a book is still being read at all is wonderful in itself. But given that I hear things like that from different generations, I’m extremely grateful. I don’t know what else to say. It’s weird because in a way, it was a curse for a while. I thought, “I’m never going to write anything that will have the popularity of Dancer.” And I think that was a burden for a while. And then I just said to myself, “You can’t write Dancer again, there’s no way.” And I resisted, in fact, my editor wanted a sequel and I just couldn’t. Anyway, so I had to just simply say to myself, “You’re never going to write that book again, write something else.” But listen though, the fact that what you just told me is still happening, is just wonderful today.
You mentioned the sequel, did you ever give any serious thought to what that would be?
You know, I did not and the question is why. I guess there’s a sense sometimes with books that you have shot your wad on that subject, that you really leave it alone there. There’s a wonderful novel by Colette called Cheri. Which is about an affair between an older woman and a gorgeous, gorgeous young man. The famous images, her putting her pearls around Cheri’s neck. And anyway, so years later she wrote a sequel, but it was after World War I, and it was about Cheri coming back from World War I. I read it and I thought, “I respect her for doing this, but I wish she hadn’t,” in a way. Some things you just have to leave as they are, they’re time bound and they don’t continue on. And in a strange way, what happened with Dancer and that generation with AIDS, was the sequel in a way. And that requires a completely different kind of writing, which we got lots of, like The Normal Heart and all of those books.
Every few years you hear rumors of a Dancer From the Dance movie, is there any news about that or have you heard anything?
You’re so right. I’ve got a very good agent who is really quit literary and moved out to Hollywood and just does movies. And he’s been doing a good job getting it optioned year, after year, after year. And the last one, it was taken by Alan Poul, who worked on Six Feet Under and then he did [the HBO series] Rome, and he just did the revival of Tales of the City. Anyway, so he’s commissioned a screenplay and my agent and I read the screenplay and made comments and I don’t know where it stands. I think it’s a hard book to film because so much of it is in the narrator‘s voice. He’s constantly describing everything and the book is not tremendously plotted. There’s not a lot of plot and I think film requires plot. I don’t know if I’m right. Of course you want them to do it, it would be wonderful to see someone bring those characters to life, but it is under option and it may still be made. There is a script out there, but so far I’ve heard nothing.
But I did see that <a href="https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250874788/ dancer-from-the- dance” rel=”noopener” target=”_blank”>an audiobook of Dancer From the Dance just came out. Where did that come from?
Again, my wonderful editor who got me to write about Florida. He’s the one that realized that nobody had done anything with that for 40 years and it’s time to do something and they got a wonderful reader.
Reading Andrew Holleran's elegiac dancer From the Dance – wonderful lightly fictionalised history of the early seventies' NY gay world – and as well as the book itself being great I'm finding a ton of proto-disco soul tunes that I didn't know. I'll post a couple in reply to this pic.twitter.com/LBpkWmejjv
– Mat Osman (@matosman) September 10, 2019
And then I also wanted to ask about e-books. The Kingdom of Sand is your only novel available as an e-book. Is that your decision or is that the publishers?
No, you’re very observant because I didn’t even know anything about this. Again, this is tied in with my editor. He found out that there were no e-books available of any of my books. And then we had to this enormous search for the original contracts because the Dancer contract for example, was 1979 or something. And were e-books even envisioned then? And so it took us a while to get the contract and they had to negotiate with William Morrow, the original publisher, to be allowed to go forward with the e-books and the audiobooks. And it ended up being very amicable but the weird thing was, that for 40 years that had just been left dormant and nobody was paying attention to the changes in publishing.
My last question is about Fire Island. My favorite time of year to go out is in September. And I always think of, In September, the Light Changes. I think it’s just so beautiful and it’s so true, the light is different out there in September. When you think about Fire Island, what are some memories that come to mind for you?
So many. I haven’t been back in years and years. And I understand from photographs and movies and things, that the harbor now looks completely different. It’s built up. My memory of Fire Island has to do with the harbor, late at night back when there was only a single streetlight. And I don’t know why I would’ve been out that late at night, but I loved walking down Fire Island Boulevard to the harbor and seeing the forlorn quality of it all, late at night when there was nobody out. So my image of Fire Island is more of a ramshackle, duney kind of place. But I’m sure it’s the same in other respects, I just haven’t been out there in a long time.
The Kingdom of Sand is available now from Macmillan Books.
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