As a scholar of queer theory, I had the privilege of studying under Dr. John D’Emilio while he was teaching at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Now a Professor Emeritus, I also had the pleasure of attending a symposium this September to honor his pioneering work in the field of gay history. Best known for his books Intimate Matters and Lost Prophet, a National Book Award Finalist, D’Emilio’s collection of essays does not disappoint.
His Newest Book
At the start of In a New Century: Essays on Queer History, Politics, and Community Life, D’Emilio grabs the reader’s attention by juxtaposing two newspaper articles: the first, printed in 1984, refers to him as “the fag doctor” and the second from 1999 as “a nationally known gay and lesbian scholar.” In this way, he underscores how societal ideologies began to shift toward the end of the millennia.
After his compelling introduction, D’Emilio divides his essays into four parts: “Strategizing Change,” “Doing History,” “Local History,” and “History’s Lessons.” Then, he contextualizes each essay by including an abstract at the start of each. By doing so, the reader can understand his motives for writing each piece and the social climate under which each was developed. This collection covers topics such as Bayard Rustin’s work, the Gay Movement, the Lavender Scare in Chicago, and the 1979 March on Washington among others. He also includes some personal anecdotes. “Why I Write” is a personal essay he crafts that helps readers understand more fully his motivations for writing as well as his underlying passion for it.
“Why I Write”
In this chapter, D’Emilio details his reasons for writing. One catalyst was that a “fellow graduate student” told him he “was good at it.” However, another reason resonated with me the most: “I write because reading history books saved my life, and I have been bold—or foolish—enough to think that maybe my writing could do the same for someone else”(84). As a pioneer in queering academia, his work has helped to shape a whole new school of thought, literally. By helping to legitimize queer theory, his work has definitely helped to save lives.
Throughout the book, D’Emilio’s engaging style makes for an entertaining and educational read. I certainly learned a lot more about our history and came away with ideas to help shape a more queer-friendly future.
For the past twelve years, Robin Petrovic has been teaching English Composition, Literature, and Gender & Women Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she infuses Queer Theory into all of her courses. In 2011, Petrovic co-founded Gay4Good: Chicago, an inclusive LGBT volunteer organization that donates its time to social welfare and environmental service projects. As the literature blogger for IntraSpectrum Counseling, she reviews a variety of LGBTQ texts, so readers can easily find materials that match their interests and needs.