Barnett writes with a lyric sparseness in which emotional drama is both etched with a diamond-like sharpness and illuminated by a diamond-like brightness. One story in particular, "The Times As It Knows Us," has been repeatedly singled out for the depth of its mediation on what "it is humanly possible to do" in the face of the "unacceptable behavior" of others, and even of oneself, in a world that has itself been rendered "unacceptable" by the violent disruption of everyday life by AIDS.
Barnett was born on May 23, 1955, in a small town near Joliet, Illinois, the oldest of seven children. In an interview with Philip Gambone, Barnett records that his mother never married his father, and that his siblings were the products of her subsequent marriages to two other men. Barnett described his family as "dysfunctional." His mother temporarily put all seven children into a Roman Catholic orphanage when she found herself unable to care for them.
In 1973, Barnett enrolled in Chicago's Loyola University as a theater major, having earlier attended a thirteen-week summer drama workshop for high school students at the University of Iowa. He spent two of his undergraduate years in Rome, the site of his story "Succor."
Following graduation, Barnett moved to New York City, initially to seek work as an actor, but eventually enrolling in a Master's degree program in liberal studies at the New School. In 1979, he transferred to the Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing at Columbia University, where he studied with such literary notables as Elizabeth Hardwick, Daniel Halpern, and Manuel Puig, before graduating in 1981.
During the 1980s, Barnett was active in gay literary and social circles, summering on Fire Island, and making friends with and receiving professional advice from such diverse talents as Robert Ferro and Richard Howard. In 1985 he helped to found the Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation (GLAAD).
In the late 1980s Barnett worked for opera agent Herbert Breslin, who was impressed by Barnett's writing. Breslin asked a mutual friend, Sandra McCormack, to forward Barnett's stories to Michael Denneny, an influential editor at St. Martin's Press, where Denneny had founded the Stonewall Inn Editions, a groundbreaking series in gay and lesbian letters. Denneny not only contracted to publish The Body and Its Dangers and Other Stories, but placed one of the stories ("Philostorgy, Now Obscure") in the highly influential New Yorker magazine in advance of the book's publication.
Barnett had less than one year to enjoy the resulting acclaim. He died on August 14, 1991, of AIDS-related causes, having earlier been treated for Kaposi's Sarcoma in the lungs.
The most insightful comment on Barnett's writing is by fellow fiction writer Philip Gambone:
"Like the bird in Robert Frost's 'The Oven Bird,' Barnett's stories pose the question, What to make of a diminished thing? 'What do you make of the present, the condensed, the concentrated moment?' the cancer-ridden narrator asks in the title story ["The Body and Its Dangers"]. The pull of each story is toward some kind of 'unquestioning faith in the present tense,' toward some accommodation of 'This is you now,' even though the present world may be unacceptable, and past unhappiness and the dread of what's to come continue to haunt. In avoiding making AIDS a metaphor and, at the same time, finding in his stories a language to describe the dreadful urgency of every moment, Barnett made an enormous and beautiful contribution to contemporary gay literature."
Author: Frontain, Raymond-Jean
Entry Title: Barnett, Allen
General Editor: Claude J. Summers
Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture
Publication Date: 2006
Date Last Updated January 28, 2006
Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/barnett_a.html
Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL 60607
Today's Date August 11, 2011
Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.
Entry Copyright © 2006 glbtq, Inc.
Phylostorgy, Now Obscure in The Body and Its Dangers is a strange, crowded, slightly elusive story yet very beautiful. Allen's death has given it a weight it didn't have when I first read it. This farewell to friends and lovers was never sentimental or melodramatic, but it is now terribly real. Preston thinks about his dead and remembers desire before we're told:
Preston believed that he would survive, not the illness, but death itself. It was one of those things that one believes despite one's self, a tiny bubble of thought that hangs suspended somewhere between the heart and mind, fragile and thin as a Christmas tree ornament yet managing to last decades. He believed in his consciousness, that it would do more than last, but would have impact and consequence, that wherever it went there would be discourse and agitation; decisions would be made and adhered to.
Which Allen managed to achieve in his single, wonderful book. He can still affect how we think about our lives. His bubble of consciousness survives. --Christopher Bram, The Lost Library
Allen Barnett, 1988, by Robert Giard (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/dl_crosscollex/brbldl_getrec.asp?fld=img&id=1123724)
American photographer Robert Giard is renowned for his portraits of American poets and writers; his particular focus was on gay and lesbian writers. Some of his photographs of the American gay and lesbian literary community appear in his groundbreaking book Particular Voices: Portraits of Gay and Lesbian Writers, published by MIT Press in 1997. Giard’s stated mission was to define the literary history and cultural identity of gays and lesbians for the mainstream of American society, which perceived them as disparate, marginal individuals possessing neither. In all, he photographed more than 600 writers. (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/digitallibrary/giard.html)
The Body and Its Dangers and Other Stories (Stonewall Inn Editions) by Allen Barnett
Paperback: 181 pages
Publisher: St Martins Pr (June 1991)
Amazon: The Body and Its Dangers and Other Stories (Stonewall Inn Editions)
Barnett's first book is a skillful, sad and sometimes stoic look at gay and lesbian love in six short stories. Haunted by AIDS and by the difficulty of connecting romantically even under the best of circumstances, his characters are perplexed realists doing battle with unreasonable fears and towering problems. Often isolated or adrift, they seek to understand the incomprehensible. A young man's fractured family and dim past in "Snapshot" lead him to yearn for love without fully grasping the extent of his need, so that "to want and want and want, and not to know that you are wanting, means that you are never sure of anything." In "The Body and Its Seasons," a disillusioned student searches for solace in sex, concluding, " 'This intimacy thing is highly overrated.' " Barnett's willingness to venture into explosively emotional terrain with empathy, candor and balance is perhaps best revealed in his stunning "The Times As It Knows Us," where men sharing a summerhouse appear to have created family within the gay community--yet even this proves illusory. Though occasionally overcrowded with allusions to art, architecture and culture, the book incisively reveals that in our hearts and souls, as well as our bodies, lie the real dangers.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.
More Particular Voices at my website: http://www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Particular Voices
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