Born in Hartford, Connecticut, Thompson was educated at the Loomis School, and graduated from there in 1947. He attended Yale University, where he joined the Elizabethan Club and the literary magazine, and graduated with a B.A. in 1951. He also attended Columbia University for three summers. After Yale, he studied for a year in Rome on a Fulbright Scholarship from 1951 and 1952.
Selden is best known as the author of several books about the character Chester Cricket and his friends. The first book, The Cricket in Times Square, was a Newbery Honor Book in 1961. Selden explained the inspiration for that book as follows:
"One night I was coming home on the subway, and I did hear a cricket chirp in the Time Square subway station. The story formed in my mind within minutes. An author is very thankful for minutes like those, although they happen all too infrequently."
In 1974, under the pseudonym of Terry Andrews, Selden wrote the novel The Story of Harold, the story of a bisexual children's book author's various affairs, friendships, and mentoring of a lonely child. The book is very descriptive of the seventies, including the sexual revolution. Moderately graphic scenes of sado-masochism, orgies and other sexual acts, are narrated by Terry, the book's protagonist. It could be construed as somewhat autobiographical in the sense the author writes of a character who writes children's books. The relationship to the boy and also the author's own feelings regarding his own existence are the main keys in this novel.
Selden remained unmarried; a resident of Greenwich Village in New York City, he died there at age 60 from a gastrointestinal hemorrhage.
Excerpt from Art and Sex in Greenwich Village: A Memoir of Gay Literary Life After Stonewall by Felice Picano
Around this time, while going through my library, I found my copy of a book I'd read a decade before and had loved: The Story of Harold. I originally read - and loved - in the Avon/Bard paperback edition published by Bob Wyatt, the wunderkind editor who'd run the press for a decade. He and my friend there, Susan Moldow, had introduced sixties and seventies readers to works like Richard Farina's Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me, Steven Millhauser's Edwin Mullhouse, Julio Cortazar's Hopscotch, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, making instant classic out of them.
First published in hardcover in 1974 by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Terry Andrews's unusual and very good gay novel had come out of Avon/Bard several years later with cover and color illustration by the inimitable New Yorker cartoonist and Balanchine ballet addict Edward Gorey. I'd read and loved the book then, and a decade later, reread the hardcover and thought again what a fine book it was and how it ought to be returned to print. I contacted Avon, by then, alas, bereft of Wyatt, and I was redirected to Holt, where I was told the book was out of print. While they couldn't give me the real name of the author, they'd contact him and give him my name and phone number and my message. The managing editor told me that of course Terry Andrews was a nom de plume. But why it was, and why there was such complete secrecy about the author was a mystery the managing editor refused to address.
A few weeks later someone phoned and told me that he knew me, as an author, and as a neighbor. He'd seen me at the post office on Hudson Street, pointed out by an acquaintance as - in his words - "the famous gay writer". His name was Jerry - not Terry - and definitely not Terry Andrews, he assured me, but he wouldn't offer a last name either, did I mind too much? And he'd be happy to meet with me for lunch, say at the nearby Sazerac House on Hudson Street a block from where he lived.
I agreed to meet, not knowing what to expect from such espionage-like rules of behavior over a mere reprint. A few days later I sat in the third booth from the back as instructed and a jolly, heavyset, gray-haired, casually dressed man, his bright blue eyes twinkling behind granny glasses, came in, sat down, declared himself to be Jerry, and ordered lunch.
The Sazerac House was one of the oldest continuously public houses in Manhattan's West Village. The White Horse Tavern of literary fame - poet Dylan Thomas fell dead upon its black-and-white diamond-patterned floor after a night of boozing - had also been around during the Revolutionary War (and was right around the corner from where I lived). The Sazerac's narrow, all-brick back section; tiny, low-ceilinged kitchen; and wide, shallow fireplaces confirmed that it, too, was an eighteenth-century building, when "the Village" was actually the separate Village of Greenwich, several miles north of what was then New York City. I used to go there with friends for the Sazerac's wonderful and inexpensive bayou and creole cooking: deep fried oysters, gumbo, jambalaya, and catfish fillets with red rice and beans.
Jerry was charming and funny, and while a bit grandfatherly for a man only sixty-two years old, he was intelligent, smart, witty, and knowledgeable. He also flirted with me, a fact I used to my advantage. Little by little, and only after a great deal of circuitousness and irrelevant conversation, did I begin to comprehend what Jerry was more or less telling me, why he had written The Story of Harold under a pseudonym, and who he was - which explained all the mystery he cloaked himself in.
It appeared that Jerry was a successful children's book author, much like the protagonist of his novel. How successful? Well there was Dr. Seuss, there was Maurice Sendak, there was Saul Steinberg, and then there was Jerry. He never told me what name he wrote under. (Because of the connection of the names, I guessed - although with absolutely no proof - that he'd written Harold and the Purple Crayon and the other Harold books for young children). But he assured me he had been a successful and beloved children's book writer and lived off the substantial earnings from his books, although he claimed to have "retired". Ergo his perceived need for there being no connection in the reading public's mind between the adored grandaddy figure and the bisexual elder into worshipping working-class cock and allowing himself to be humiliated by dominant leather babes during S/M sex scenes.
I could live with that. For the purpose of our publishing venture he would be the pseudonymous Terry Andrews. If he wanted to do readings or signings for the book, for all I cared, he could dress up in leather with a black lace bustier and a riding crop. Or never go at all. I just wanted to get the book back out there. Jerry agreed.
"Is there any way we might get the Gorey art, too?" I asked. He said he knew Gorey, and would phone and ask him. But if not, he said, there were a few more of the drawings similar to the one he himself had done for the front cover of the hardback that we might include.
"Great", I said. "Let's do it".
That was pretty much the gist of four follow-up phone calls, each spaced a month apart. Actually the fourth call was maybe a month and half later, and Jerry apologized, saying he'd been ill a week: some kind of freak stomach thing.
I sent him the contracts, and phoned leaving a message saying that he could mail them back, or I could stop by and pick them up.
"Excellent", he replied.
No contracts were returned in the mail. Meanwhile, I budgeted the book and figured I could pay Gorey something. I asked around and through Bob Lowe's ex-lover, choreographer Rodney Griffith, then with the Pennsylvania Ballet, I finally got the artist's address, and I wrote to him - on a Gorey postcard - telling him how much I loved his work. (The Curious Sofa, The Gilded Bat, and The Blue Aspic remain among my all-time favorite books). I asked how SeaHorse Press could use the artwork he'd done when it reprinted The Story of Harold.
The summer arrived and I never heard back - not from Jerry, and not from Gorey, whom I was told third-hand was summering out of town near Woodstock. When I returned in the fall from the Pines, I had a phone message from Jerry's lover, who himself would be out of town for another month. Bob Lowe and I drove up to North Truro, on the Cape, renting the house Larry Mitchell co-owned with Ron Schreiber for two weeks, as we usually did. When I returned to Manhattan I phoned Jerry's number yet again.
This time I got Jerry's lover, whose voice I recognized from previous calls. He said that Jerry had died of stomach cancer three weeks before. It had come on that spring, and had run through Jerry during the summer.
I was shocked, and I let him go with my condolences. For months after, I tried reconnecting with him - trying not to be too morbidly commercial - to ask if Jerry had signed the contracts for the reprint of The Story of Harold, but to no avail. By the time I actually got someone to answer the doorbell of their apartment, it was the superintendent, sweeping out the empty rooms to show to prospective tenants. Jerry's lover, now presumably the heir of the royalties to Harold and umpteen other titles, had left New York and headed "somewhere south", according to the super. "I think maybe the Caribbean".
I never located him again. Gorey did write back - on the margins of the very same postcard I'd sent him - saying he would release the rights to the art for the novel back to Jerry but not directly to SeaHorse, but by then it meant nothing. Without a signed contract, I didn't dare republish the book, and to my knowledge it has remained out of print ever since.
I used the autographed Gorey postcard as a bookmark until it got lost, and once at the New York City Ballet, a few months before he died many years later, I got up the nerve to go speak to him. Gorey was drenched in lavender scent. His twenty-foot-long poison green wook scarf was wrapped and rewrapped about his reed-thin body, his fluffy, floor-length faux fur coat dragging along the parquet behind him. I wanted to thank Gorey and tell him what had happened with the book and why I'd never gotten back to him.
"It was all rather mysterious", Gorey told me. "No one could ever get a straight answer on the precise hows and whys of poor Jerry's sudden affliction". Gorey's bushy, white eyebrows danced at the last word, divided as it was in then syllables. "Nor his quite headlong and unprepared-for demise! One doesn't wish to appear suspicious", (come on now, one adores appearing suspicious when one is Edward Gorey), "but I'm afraid it's all rather more sub rosa than one would expect from such an apparently unexceptional personage".
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