Friday, October 29, 2010

Grant Wood: A Life by R. Tripp Evans

"...Give a child a piece of paper and he will not ask questions. He will make drawings. This will not mean he is queer..." Grant Wood, 1930

You may not know the name Grant Wood , but chances are you do know his iconic painting American Gothic. The famous portrait of a man holding a pitchfork, standing next to a woman with perhaps one of the dourest faces around, is used over and over again to convey the very heartland of America. Wood was known as the “Artist in Overalls” and was hailed by many as one of America’s most famous regionalist artists. In an era where artists were subjected to questions as to their manliness, especially if they assumed European artistic characteristics, Wood was skillfully able to give the American art world just what they wanted, a truly Ameican painter.

The irony here is that the man the public thought they knew, and who was profiled as being rather plain and ordinary, was neither.  In truth, he was a rather complex man who skillfully hid his real self, not only from the world, but more often than not, from  those close to him. Wood, the son of a stern, larger than life Quaker father, was a also a closeted homosexual, and this "secret", and his reflections of life as he felt it, found a means of release in his paintings. Since Grant Wood: A Life (Knopf,2010) is truly the first biography of Woods to be accomplished without objections from his sister Nan, R.Tripp Evans is able to reveal things that heretofore had only been gossiped about. 

In this thoroughly engaging biography, Tripp Evans, an art historian and college professor, reveals Woods, the man, by referencing his life through his art. Starting with his first works as a child, conceived while in the family's cellar, Wood displayed a creative bent that would make otherwise mundane objects or common subjects the stuff of wild imaginative exploration. As he matured, his pictures often conveyed disquieting images that revealed fantastic stories,especially if you take the time to look more closely. It is by revealing these wonderful details and back stories that Evans makes this biography transcend the routine recounting of a life, and makes it a real page turner.

Although American Gothic might be the portal by which you can most readily enter Wood's world, it is through the many other works illustrated and discussed in this volume that you begin to know the man more completely.

For instance, take a look at the painting From Bohemia (1935) where all the figures are without eyes, or the portrait of his Mother, Woman With Plants (1929) wearing a broach that pops up elsewhere, or the extremely fascinating Parson Weems' Fable (1939) which depicts the young George Washington with the exact same head that appears in the famous Gilbert Stuart portrait. The book is filled with wonderful color and black and white illustrations of these and many more works, so the treat is truly yours. The only frustration you may have is wanting to see the paintings as they hang in a gallery. So, read the book, and make it a point to find them. I know you'll want to.

As you read this fascinating account of an often misunderstood man, you will also discover more of the real  Grant Wood by learning about his extremely close relationship with his mother and sister. This trio know as "we three"  not only protected Wood from life's cruelties, but always nourished his creativity.You will also learn a great deal about American culture at the turn of the century and into the 30s, and  I bet you'll respond like I did, and keep saying to yourself, "I never knew".

Whether you're an art aficionado or just plain curious, this book will truly open your eyes. Don't hesitate. Get yourself a copy of Grant Wood: A Life as soon as you can. Tripp Evans also has a web page you can visit for more information about the book. Go to .  Enjoy

If you want to hear my recent interview with R. Tripp Evans, follow this link: and scroll down to the show dated 10/21/10

Next week I 'll be reviewing Linda Morganstein's My Life With Stella Kane. Until then-keep reading, and when you've finished the book, pass it on.

Robert Jaquay, The Gay Book Guy, for

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Perfect Family by Kathryn Shay

"When we were little Mom read a book aloud to us. In it kids could be who they are. William could have a doll and you didn't have to marry a prince." from Free to Be You and Me, Jamie Davidson

As I write this review, we’ve just ended our annual celebration of  National Coming Out Day.  Unfortunately, we are also mourning the deaths of several gay teens who felt that being gay is harder than staying alive.

Little did I know as I was searching for the next good read, that I would find a book that seemed to be written for this particular moment in time. It is called The Perfect Family(Bold Stroke Books, 2010) and the author’s name is Kathryn Shay.

In the world of stressors, coming out to family and friends is monumental. If you've gone through it, it is one of the hardest things ever. Add to that the difficulties facing young people who are trying to find their place in the world, especially in a high school setting, and you have all the ingredients for something to go awry.

When you start to read The Perfect Family, you are introduced to a family whose life seems to be almost picture perfect. They are just ending a vacation together, and upon their return, they'll resume their lives as usual. Every member of this tightly knit group not only care for each other, but trust each other completely. There are no secrets, or at least everyone thinks that.

Jamie, the youngest son is extremely popular at school, and has lots of friends.  He finds himself attracted to other boys, and wants to believe it is ok. Although he wants to share this with others, he's not sure how.

Luke Crane is a jock, and plays on the football team with Jamie's brother Brian. Nothing about him says gay, but after a few times in each other’s presence, Luke indicates to Jamie that “we have more in common than you think.”  I mean, this was a daydream when I was in high school. Jamie has clearly found his opportunity to be who he is.

Love follows quickly, and the boys decide to go on a date. Because of the family's belief in telling the truth, when asked who Jamie is going on a date with, he tells his mother about Luke. Maggie, his mother, tells the father, but knows his religious beliefs will be in conflict with his son sexuality. Jamie eventually tells his brother, and although the news that he is gay is unexpected,, Brian is angry at him for not telling him first. And so it goes.

Kathy Shay takes her story and develops it smartly, building the tension, but never to the point of overload. This is Jamie’s story, to be sure, but this is also the story of a family in turmoil. Each member has issues of their own to reconcile, and although the process is painful and slow, the outcome, we hope, will be good. The story also depicts the intolerance and blindness created by religious dogma, the loss of friendship, and the way families can be torn apart by a misunderstanding. It's a full bag.

In talking with the author, I was told about the genesis of this book. Although it is a work of fiction, she has a gay son who came out to her in much the same way Jamie does. In writing this novel, Karthryn Shay not only pays tribute to the power of love and understanding we’d like to think everyone possesses, but to the importance of being yourself, regardless of the pressure to conform. I thank her for writing this book, as I know it will help change the way people feel.

You owe it to yourself to read this book, for its message is very powerful. If you know a parent, friend or a teen who is struggling with this issue, recommend or give this book to them.

Listen to my chat with Kathryn Shay by going to

Next up I will be reviewing Grant Wood by R. Tripp Evans. I will be chatting with him as well, so check for details.

Until next time-take a cue from the Gay Book Guy, and read a book then pass it on.

Robert Jaquay,