Gay-rights activist and award-winning author Larry Kramer is 79 and in failing health, but that won’t defuse the impact of his latest bombshell project: the first 800-page instalment of a two-part history of America that tells of the secret gay life of figures from Alexander Hamilton, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln to Mark Twain, Herman Melville and Richard Nixon.
The American People: Volume 1, subtitled Search for My Heart, has taken nearly 40 years to complete and may prove to be one of the most provocative historical, or pseudo-historical, accounts of American history.
Kramer, who is co-founder of Aids services group Gay Men’s Health Crisis and the Aids Coalition to Unleash Power (Act Up), as well as a chronicler of queer life with plays including The Normal Heart and The Destiny of Me, said the book is a labour of love designed to counter what he feels to be the exclusion of gays – or gay life – from history books.
“It may look like fiction, but to me, it’s not,” Kramer told the New York Times last week. “Most histories have been written by straight people. There has never been any history book written where the gay people have been in the history from the beginning.It’s ridiculous to think we haven’t been here for ever.”
The American People, Volume I: Search for My Heart is causing consternation among historians, who say there is little evidence to back Kramer’s claims.
Ron Chernow, author of an epic 2004 biography of Alexander Hamilton – the statesman Kramer claims was at least bisexual if not entirely gay – cautions against “ransacking history in service of a political agenda”.
Kramer also claims that John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln not because he was unhappy that the South was losing the civil war, but because Lincoln had spurned him.