Prose & Power: Remembering Paul Monette ’63

Paul Monette ’63 was an outcast while at Andover, but on the 50th anniversary of his graduation, his classmates ensured that the gay writer and activist will not be forgotten. In memory of Monette, who died of AIDS in 1995, members of the class of 1963 donated ten pieces of art addressing issues faced by gay males to the Addison Gallery of American Art. According to a flier for the event, titled “Prose & Power,” the pieces “touch on themes that were central to [Monette’s] writing: AIDS, gay identity, loss and memory,” On Sunday afternoon, a group of students gathered to view the gallery and hear an account of Monette’s life from David Schorr, a current professor of Art at Wesleyan University and close friend of Monette’s, to complement the exhibition “Secrets, Loss, Memory and Courage: Works by Gay Male Artists.” Two of the most striking pieces in the exhibit were self portraits by artist Mark Morrisroe, who, according to the photo descriptions, was raised by drug addicts and worked as a prostitute by the time he was a teenager. One of Morrisroe’s self portraits is a photograph of two X-rays that show a bullet lodged in Morrisroe’s chest after he was shot by a client, while the other shows his face and upper body. The description read that the piece displayed a “taut balance between street-smart toughness and youthful vulnerability.” Another emotionally moving piece was a collage by Hunter Reynolds entitled “Gloves Required for All Patient Contact.” Composed of coverage of the AIDS epidemic by the “New York Times” and other publications, the collage contrasted these very factual accounts of the crisis with more personal connections such as photographs and even a splatter of Reynolds’ own HIV-positive blood. “I loved the powerful juxtaposition of personal experiences with the newspaper articles,” said Gabbi Fisher ’13. “When you look at the national media, you can kind of lose sight of the individuals.” Following the tour of the gallery, Schorr spoke with visible emotion about his friendship with Monette as well as his experiences as a gay man during the 1980s AIDS crisis. Schorr introduced his talk by addressing the difficulty of speaking about such a deeply tragic personal experience. “Growing up the in 50s, my parents didn’t speak of the war my father fought in or the Holocaust many of my mother’s relatives died in. When I learned about these things at school, I thought they were trying to protect me from knowing about them. Later, I realized they simply could not talk about it,” said Schorr. Schorr met Monette when they were both young teachers at Andover’s Summer Session. Though neither had accepted his sexuality yet, they felt an instant connection and shared an appreciation for all forms of art, especially literature. According to Schorr, while Monette initially struggled with his sexuality, he became more comfortable with it after meeting his partner, Roger Horwitz. When Schorr traveled to Los Angeles to pursue art, he and Monette communicated through frequent postcards and collaborated on “No Witnesses,” a book of dramatic monologues written by Monette and illustrated by Schorr. However, this happiness was fleeting. Just as Monette had settled into his life, the AIDS epidemic broke out. “Life became sheer terror,” said Schorr. Horwitz died of AIDS in 1986, and Monette was diagnosed shortly after. Schorr devoted his time to caring for his friends who fell ill and comforting their parents, some of whom were not even aware that their sons were gay. “For many gay men, there was a lot of anger—anger at the government, anger at the Catholic Church, anger at those of us who were HIV negative, anger at their parents, but mostly just anger that this happened,” said Schorr. “It’s really powerful when Andover students can see what photography, or painting or any form of visual arts means to the artist himself. To see [Schorr] come to the point of tears is not only incredibly moving but also enormously heartbreaking,” said Alexandra Barr ’15. “I think the exhibit itself is very interesting, and [Andover] students should take the time to see it. It takes students into a world we ourselves cannot and will never be able to fully comprehend.” The end of the event was devoted to screening portions of “Paul Monette: On the Brink of Summer’s End,” a 1996 documentary. Through interviews with Monette and his friends, the film depicts Monette’s struggles with accepting his sexuality and with the exclusion he faced as a result of his sexuality. In a particularly revealing scene, Monette describes the moment when keeping his sexuality a secret became too much. Taking a drive on a beautiful day, he was suddenly overcome with a strong sense of being trapped. He pulled over his car and wandered to a nearby river, where he took off his clothes and screamed, “Somebody help me!” over and over. The second portion of the film shown took place after Monette’s diagnosis with AIDS. While sick, he fought to stay optimistic and to continue writing. After he won the National Book Award for his memoir, “Becoming a Man,” Monette achieved national prominence that was rare among gay men at the time. “As an LGBT student at Andover, it was really fascinating to see the comparison between the experience a long time ago with the experience now,” said Harry Wright ’14. “It was also really humbling to see David Schorr speak about his experiences as a caregiver and a friend because it is an experience people in our generation probably won’t ever have to deal with.” The event was in part made possible by the Andover Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA). GSA will celebrate its 25th anniversary next year.