“I wanted to call this book ‘Paris Gossip,’ but my editor won’t let me,” Edmund White explains, smiling at a packed house before reading an exclusive preview of his soon to be published Paris memoirs. The renowned author, world traveler and one of the first to write about gay culture candidly and for a mainstream audience, White chose the perfect Lower East Side venue to launch his latest work. BGSQD (The Bureau of General Services Queer Division) is a pop-up bookstore, gallery and event space hosted by Strange Loop Gallery at 27 Orchard Street.
Artfully decorated, the venue quickly filled for White with standing room only by the time the author, now a creative writing professor at Princeton, rose to read from his work in progress. And though indeed, White’s memories of his times in Paris, where he lived for 16 years starting in the early ‘80s are gossipy (“Peggy Guggenheim was historic if tedious company”), there is a beauty and sadness in his writing, too.
The excerpts White shared centered mostly around his then Swiss boyfriend, who was fabulously wealthy, and their often disproportionate realities. White wrote for Vogue while in Paris, barely scraping by on a writer’s wages, while his boyfriend proclaimed, “artists should never pay for anything!” (an attitude he could easily afford).
Many names are dropped (Gore Vidal, Liz Taylor, Valentino, Rock Hudson, Andy Warhol, Gunther Sachs) and White’s journeys bring him to rather elitist locations: Gstaad, cruises down the Nile, Venice (“the least gay city)”. But darkness and insight lurk just beneath White’s famous façade. He openly talks about having over 3,000 sex partners, adding some of his friends have asked, “why so few?” He has been living with HIV for over 20 years. White’s Swiss boyfriend ends up leaving him shortly after the diagnosis and the old world European grandeur White describes inevitably falls to ruin.
Candid, comic, cleverly caustic, sometimes painful and full of longing, White’s writing and persona shine. The crowd of male, and a few female, admirers applauded and White sat at the front of BGSQD, receiving praise and autographing books with a twinkle yet in his eye.
BGSDQ also has queer art on display: overblown photos of colorful trannies hang from the walls, along with ceramic plates with penises as centerpieces surrounded by Greek key. Books, magazines and two passionate owners Donnie Jochum and Greg Newton make this a Lower East Side spot not to missed while it is here for both gays and straights interested in edgy and well curated art.
BGSDQ will be open and hosting numerous events through February 28, 2013.