We spoke with Gary Peter about his book, below.
WHAT IS ORANGES ABOUT: Oranges is about the life of Michael, a gay man living in the Midwest. Michael is confronted with a number of challenges, including coming to terms with his sexuality in the age of AIDS, facing his family’s difficulties accepting him, dealing with the death of his mother and the aging of his father, and starting over after losing a partner. The book is not necessarily chronological in its structure, but I wanted to portray the “arc” of a life from childhood to adulthood and what leads to “personhood.”
It’s important to remember where we were to appreciate where we are now.
There is a strong autobiographical element to the book, with Michael in many ways my alter ego. I “came of age” as a gay man in the late 70s and early 80s, just as AIDS was starting to take its toll, and just as the fight for equal rights for LGBTQ individuals was starting to gather steam. Like a lot of writers I drew somewhat upon my own life, but at the same time used the elements of fiction (and a lot of imagination!) to create a more compelling overall story. I’d like to think that the themes of the book (grief and loss, aging, the challenge of finding and sustaining an intimate relationship, feeling like an “outsider”) are things that all readers, regardless of who they are, can relate to.
The themes of grief and loss, aging, the challenge of finding and sustaining an intimate relationship, feeling like an ‘outsider’ are things all readers can relate to.
The stories are set during a time when there was less acceptance legally, politically, and socially for LGBTQ people. Marriage equality as portrayed in the book is something in the future that seems possible, but we’re not quite there yet. In that way the book feels a bit “historical,” because I do think it’s important to remember where we were to appreciate where we are now, though I know there is still much work to do, especially given our current political environment.
UPCOMING READINGS OR TOURS: I’m finalizing dates for readings this October in the Twin Cities (where I live) to launch the book. I also hope to do some more readings around the region later this fall and early next year.
I am scheduled to read at the University of Minnesota, where I teach, on November 7 at 4 p.m. at the University bookstore on the Minneapolis campus. I’ll be reading with Maureen Aitken, a longtime friend and University of Minnesota colleague, whose collection of stories, The Patron Saint of Lost Girls, is coming out in October from Southeast Missouri State University Press.
DESCRIBE YOUR WRITING PROCESS: Because I’m a full-time academic and I teach courses that involve a lot of writing by my students, it’s hard for me to do much serious writing during the school year. It’s really difficult for me to do a good job teaching writing and providing useful feedback and direction and to then turn around and think about what my own writing needs.
Because of that I often apply for artist residencies during the summer, where I can have time and space to really focus on a project. I’ve been very grateful to places like the Ragdale Foundation, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Golden Apple Art Residency, the Millay Colony for the Arts, and other similar places where I’ve been lucky enough to go to, for the opportunities they’ve given me to focus on my writing.
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