Read Philip A. Stephenson’s interview with Hilton Als in today’s Pittsburgh Post Gazette, “Essayist Als sifts through relationships“
Hilton Als has been a critic at the New Yorker for almost 20 years and a contributor to the magazine for more like a quarter century, since the Barbadian-American was barely 20, filing stories for the “Talk of the Town” feature. A New Yorker himself, he came of age (and, not incidentally, came out) in the midst of the churning ’70s arts scene of the city, and in his latest book, “White Girls,” he gamely explores novel resonances of identity between gay black men like himself and white women. The book also connects public figures such as Truman Capote, Richard Pryor and Eminem through their relationships with and playing the role of white girls. The book also looks at relationships among people who fantasize about and often seek out the people who are their opposites, their mirror-images and their imaginary long lost twins.
Mr. Als will read from the book Monday 8:30 p.m. at the University of Pittsburgh’s Frick Fine Arts Auditorium in Oakland as part of the Pittsburgh Contemporary Writers Series at the University of Pittsburgh.
Your parents are from Barbados. You grew up in New York. Do you consider yourself West Indian?
I think so. I think it’d be like people say, they come from the South or “my family comes from the South.” It’s like coming from I don’t know, Sweden or something, a different part of the world.
In terms of having a relationship to those places?
Yes it’s like coming from any other part of the world. So I think wasn’t it Toni Morrison who said … No, no, she didn’t say it, but I’m saying it: all the different parts of yourself, you can name them.
How did the West Indian heritage of you and your close friend “S.L.,” the two main characters in the book’s first piece, “Tristes Tropiques,” factor into the way you explore twins and mirroring?
I think it was germane to who I was and I think the characters are interested in most aspects of each other. So, sure it would be an element of his interest but not necessarily a spectacular element of the character. I think it was an element to it, that he would be interested in it, just as he would be interested in his sisters or whatever. That’s what made it germane to the person.