April 18, 2003 - Gay City: Mystery author and Ethiopia RPCV Richard Lipez comes out and leaves the pseudonym behind

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Ethiopia: Peace Corps Ethiopia : The Peace Corps in Ethiopia: April 18, 2003 - Gay City: Mystery author and Ethiopia RPCV Richard Lipez comes out and leaves the pseudonym behind

By Admin1 (admin) on Monday, May 26, 2003 - 1:19 pm: Edit Post

Mystery author and Ethiopia RPCV Richard Lipez comes out and leaves the pseudonym behind

Mystery author and Ethiopia RPCV Richard Lipez comes out and leaves the pseudonym behind

Clues from the Closet

Mystery author comes out and leaves the pseudonym behind

By Gerald Bartell

“I read all of the early Le Carre,” Richard Lipez recalls. “There is something satisfying about having another life that you can amble over into when your main life starts getting you down.”

While Lipez was ambling into the dark, foggy, fictional streets of Berlin, he was living his “real” life in rural Massachusetts. It was the 70s; he was married and the father of two children. He also knew he was attracted to men.

“It was not a secret,” Lipez says. “My wife knew about this. I was trying to deal with this and she was too. It was not sneaking around. It was complicated and difficult.”

Eventually, Lipez turned to writing his own mysteries to resolve his conflict. In the 1980s, still married, be began work on a novel about an out gay private eye in Albany.

The book, Lipez says, was “part of my process of coming out, of coming to terms with being gay.”

Many are the rewards of being open. In Lipez’ case, the book, Death Trick, was successfully published in 1981 and sparked a series. The New York Times hailed Lipez’s just published eighth installment, Tongue Tied, as a “smartly entertaining” case in a “sophisticated series.”Lipez’ journey to becoming an openly gay mystery writer (although he still uses a pseudyonym) provides its own clues to gay life in rural America before Stonewall.

Born in 1938, Lipez grew up in the central Pennsylvania town of Lock Haven. For the most part, he did not find small town life stifling.

“That part of the country has its charms,” Lipez says. “I loved the outdoors and the streams. People are easygoing and down to earth. They can be rigid and narrow. Since I was so repressed, but it didn’t bother me. I must have been working overtime to deny my sexuality.”

“The only gay person I knew was the town queer, this wretched character who was the object of ridicule and scorn,” Lipez recalls. “I thought… Why would I want to be like that?”

In 1960, Lipez enrolled at Penn State.

“I was terrified,” Lipez says. “I had kind of figured out that I was sexually attracted to men. But there was absolutely nothing to encourage you to even think at all about being a gay person. The books on psychoanalytic theory saw homosexuality as arrested development.”

Then the activism of the Kennedy era engaged Lipez. He signed up for the Peace Corps and served as an English teacher in Ethiopia. The experience was liberating, Lipez says, in every way.

“I became more and more aware of my sexual attractions at that time, but I didn’t do anything,” he says. “[Being gay] was disapproved of in the culture there.”

In the mid-60s, when Lipez returned to the States, he settled in Washington, D.C., which he found more open. There he took a job as a Peace Corps program evaluator.

“An uncle who lived there took me around town,” Lipez says. “He said, ‘How do you get from one side of Lafayette Park to another? You take a ferry!’ I made a mental note of that and it didn’t take me long to discover the gay netherworld of Washington.”

Still, Lipez says, he kept the gay part of his life separate from his personal and professional lives. He married and in 1968 moved to rural Massachusetts.

Lipez says that as he read mysteries during that time, he noticed that few of them offered gay characters or any sense of gay lives. So he set about to fashion his own mystery series featuring a private investigator, Don Strachey, and his lover, Timothy Callahan. The men lived in Albany, a city where Lipez had actually come to know the gay community.

“This couple has a good relationship,” Lipez says. “They drive each other nuts in a couple ways, but basically it’s a healthy relationship.”

When St. Martins Press published Strachey’s first case, Lipez used a pseudonym, Richard Stevenson, since his two children were then in grade school.

“Their father was writing a series with a gay private eye,” Lipez says. “I thought it would be wise to not complicate their lives.” But then Lipez was stuck with a pseudonym.

Over the next 22 years, seven more Don Strachey cases followed. They offered mysteries laced with topical issues such as outing, church hypocrisy, and, in Tongue Tied, homophobic radio shock jocks. The stories also charted the progress of Strachey and Callahan’s life together. A critic on the Thrilling Detective website wrote that their partnership is “the most intelligent, believable, and entertaining in gay mysteries.”

As his fictional couple moved on with their lives, so did Lipez. Escape through literature was something Lipez says he “just didn’t want anymore.” He and his wife divorced, and in 1990 he began a long-term relationship with sculptor Joe Wheaton. Now, it seems, when his “main life,” as Lipez calls it, gets him down, he can amble over to his partner.

“You have the satisfaction of knowing that someone is always there that you like being with,” Lipez says.

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Story Source: Gay City

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Ethiopia; Gay Rights; Writing; Mysteries



By Daniel G. reinhold (c-68-63-111-124.hsd1.pa.comcast.net - on Tuesday, April 08, 2008 - 3:58 pm: Edit Post

This is for Dick. It sure has been a long time since we saw each other and talked (almost forever). You brought me many small scupltors from Ethiopia. What is the name of the tribe that made them?

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