Partner James McCourt

Queer Places:
Yale University (Ivy League), 38 Hillhouse Ave, New Haven, CT 06520
145 E 22nd St, New York, NY 10010
101 North Carolina Ave SE, Washington, DC 20003
Errew, Garracloon, Co. Mayo, Ireland

I’m a native New Yorker born September 28, 1942.

That day, my orphaned mother was mistakenly told by her surrogate mother, Mamie O’Neill, that two tablespoons of bicarbonate of soda (instead of two teaspoons) would ease her discomforts. Soon, an ambulance rushed Frances to St. Vincent’s Hospital with me being propelled into the world. In shock, my mother asked a passing nun, “Where am I?” When another nun followed hard upon to ask for my name my mother announced, “Vincent!” Turns out, St. Vincent de Paul is the patron saint of orphans....

We moved into a large city project on the East River opposite the present site of the UN until my dad moved us to Lindenhurst, Long Island in 1952. I felt kidnapped. I loved the city, especially the local movie theater–The Beacon–where they showed reruns of the golden Hollywood movies. That is where my visual vocabulary, my acute visual literacy, was born and nurtured. I learned how to look at what I see from the movies and from picture books. I joke that I look therefore I am.

I’m also a compulsive reader. I cannot remember a time when I couldn’t read. Dizzy Gillespie said that when he found the trumpet he found the best part of himself. Well, when I found the word and the image I, too, entered a luminous realm of existence.

After Lindenhurst High School, I went to St. Bonaventure University, and then to Yale Graduate School where in 1964 I met my life-partner, the writer James McCourt who had a deep and abiding friendship with the musical genius Victoria de los Angeles. (Her love and her art became a cornerstone of our lives together.) Jimmy and I went to live in London for nearly 5 years before returning home to NYC for the publication of his story Mawrdew Czgowchwz and for the making of a life in the city of my dreams.

Photo by Robert Giard, Rights Notice: Copyright Jonathan G. Silin (

Errew, Garracloon, Co. Mayo, Ireland

Enniscoe House, Co. Mayo, Ireland

101 North Carolina Ave SE, Washington, DC 20003

I went through college with no sexual adventures. Several guys expressed their love for me, but I took it in stride. Never took it to heart or bed.

Enter Jimmy at Yale. When we met, I had never been to a gay bar. I had never tricked. When he told me late Spring 1965 that he was in love, I assumed it was with one of the other guys in our class. I can still see us crossing Chapel Street in New Haven going to my apartment after class having this conversation: Is it Bill? Is it Gary? Who is it?

”It’s you,” he said.

I was beyond stunned. There were no women in my life. There were no men in my life. All of that had been put on hold. I was a spiritual hooker, as I came to call myself. I was the center of the social life of my class at Yale. My apartment was the meeting place. Everyone loved me. Safety in numbers, no? I was offered a beginner’s place in Pearl Lang’s & Martha Graham’s dance companies. I came to hate Yale because the drama teacher was not a fan of my work and was pretty up-front with her rejections. I was contemplating transferring into the Director’s class where I knew I probably really belonged. But, then, Jimmy told me he loved me and I began to look at him in a different way. And then one Saturday morning when my roommate was away, Jimmy boldly slipped into my bed.

We left Yale and went to the London School of Drama. I was still not fully committed to having a love-life with Jimmy though you would never have known that from the way I behaved with him. We were lovers, passionately and relentlessly and shamelessly physical with one another whenever possible, which was all of the time. I was still not altogether convinced I was gay. Then in Paris–of all unoriginal places!?–I told him while we were walking by the Seine that I had decided I didn’t think a life with him was a good idea. He said okay. He also said goodbye and walked away leaving me standing by the Seine. I followed him back to the hotel and watched him pack his bags to go back to London alone. And then the bubble of denial burst. I began to cry hysterically. He took me in his arms. Boy, did I cry! And what did he say?

“We all have to come out in our own way.”

My first “real” job stateside was as the typesetter at The New York Review of Books. The true joy of that job was my friendship with Susan Sontag. During times of great happiness and times of crisis, Susan was there for both Jimmy and me. Both Victoria and Susan died within weeks of each other. The dedication of Cartographia is to the memory of them both: two gifted people who expanded my world in ways beyond measure. And the same can be said of the third dedicatee, James McCourt.

After leaving NYRB, I published my first novel, Gaywyck, the much-touted first gay gothic; it was followed by A Comfortable Corner, and Vadriel Vail.

My first picture-editing project was in 1973. I made a book from a John Wayne record America, Why I Love Her. Michael Korda, Editor-in-Chief at Simon & Schuster, hired me; he was pleased with my research for his own book Success. Wayne’s book was a success. Presto! I was a very happy picture editor. After complaining that art directors were moving “my” pictures around and screwing up my spreads, Michael told me to show them what I wanted. Presto! I was a designer of picture sections, one he eventually christened “the Michaelangelo of picture editors” and “my secret weapon” in a Washington Post interview.

On my last photo-editing project, adding pictures to Hillary Clinton’s It Takes A Village, I learned that most researchers now use only what’s online and don’t even know about the dusty boxes of negatives at the heart of photo agencies. As with all “my” over-150 authors,” Senator Clinton had been a hands-on colleague adjusting my Xerox collages into the picture sections for her memoir, Living History, as was her husband for his memoir, My Life. Over nearly thirty years I’ve created picture inserts for authors as diverse as John Wayne and Jane Fonda, Omar Bradley and Ethel Merman, Miles Davis and Walter Cronkite, Kitty Kelley and Wayne Barrett and Richard Rhodes. I’ve also done six picture books of my own.

My published books:

See my published books