Friday, July 12, 2024

Honoring the queerness of author Anne Rice

Anne Rice, author of the best-selling novel “Interview with the Vampire,” has passed away at 80 years old, leaving behind a queer legacy.

Rice, who sold 150 million books throughout her career, making her one of the best-selling authors of all time, died from complications from a stroke. The author’s son Christopher revealed the news on Facebook.

Born in New Orleans in 1941, Rice became renowned as a writer of gothic fiction, although she also wrote religious fiction and erotica.

In the early 1970s, while grieving the death of her daughter Michelle, she began adapting one of her stories into what became her first novel, the gothic horror Interview with the Vampire, which was published in 1976. Michelle served as an inspiration for the child vampire Claudia. The novel struck a chord with gay readers who also delighted when 10 equally queer books in what is known as “The Vampire Chronicles” followed.

Interview was adapted by Neil Jordan as a 1994 film starring Tom Cruise as Lestat, and Brad Pitt as Louis, with Kirsten Dunst playing Claudia. Rice adapted the screenplay from her novel and the film gathered two Oscar nominations . When director Neil Jordan was asked if he had been restricted in depicting gay themes, and he responded:

“I mean, David Geffen was the producer. Come on! You think David would make me take homoerotic elements out of that script? No way. No way. There was a lot of reaction against casting Tom [Cruise, who plays the vampire Lestat] and Brad [Pitt, who plays the vampire Louis].

“And maybe that made the actors slightly paranoid because the entire world seemed to be saying, ‘You are the wrong people for these roles.’ And they played it more like master-slave, or dominance is more the fore of their relationship than sexuality. That is true. But I wasn’t told to take anything out of it. I wasn’t told to pull back on the homoerotic elements at all. And that is true,” continued Jordan.

Long before Twilight and Buffy, Rice had reclaimed and redefined the archetype of the vampire as a romantic, transgressive, and fluid figure for a postmodern, queer world.

In an essay on Medium, blogger and actor Phaylen Fairchild recalled how as a budding young writer, she fired off an unsolicited email to Rice — and received a reply:

At the time I was a navigating difficult territory of gender and sexuality, and she was the first person I came out to as gay. Anne, although I never heard her voice, felt like a safe place. It is difficult to describe how her words on the blindingly bright screen contrasted with black text exuded so much gentleness and a indescribable nurturing that we queer kids rarely received. She gave me confidence to live authentically, telling me “Your life is a story, every day is a new page. Live a story worthy of telling again and again.”

Years later, Phaylen messaged Rice through a Facebook group and again, Rice responded, remembering who Phaylen was. Phaylen then shared further developments on their LGBTQ+ journey:

I was entirely comfortable telling her I had, through my journey, discovered I was a trans woman. In typical Anne fashion, she thought it was fabulous. She told me at the time that she believed transgender people were sacred; That we possessed a unique gift of life experience that few ever would, which would allow us to see the world from “A view from the greatest height.” She shared with me stories of trans figures in history that she had learned about in her own extensive studies. “The most fascinating figures in mythology were always transgender or genderless” she once told me. “And in so many cultures reaching back thousands of years, transgender and intersex people were deified, perceived as wise and powerful.”
Anne Rice was the first person who made me feel that it was okay to be comfortable in my skin, and that my journey as a transgender woman was special- not because I was by any means odd, weird or different- but that I was worthy of celebrating because my very existence was “A remark on the magic of the complex human condition.”
Anne Rice

Academics and literary theorists have noted that since the 1970s, Rice had incorporated queer characters and feelings into her stories. Interview with the Vampire is particularly interested in male-male desire. All the male characters throughout the Chronicles books can be read as queer or gay.

In 2016, Rice, who was raised Catholic and studied religion extensively, told The Daily Beast she felt frequently that she was genderless, or that she could be gay.

“I’ve always been very much a champion of gay rights, and art produced by gay people,” Rice said in the interview. “People told me Interview with the Vampire was a gay allegory, and I was very honored by that. I think I have a gay sensibility and I feel like I’m gay, because I’ve always transcended gender, and I’ve always seen love as transcending gender.”

Rice added, “I get teased a lot by my gay friends because we have a rapport on things we find exciting or interesting. It’s very hard for me to remember that I have a gender…”

Rice lived and studied in California and from the early 1960s through late 1980s attended the University of San Francisco, San Francisco State and UC Berkeley. She experienced the Summer of Love in the Upper Haight, and lived in the Castro as it became a center for the gay rights movement.

She will be interred in the family mausoleum in New Orleans at Metairie Cemetery in a private ceremony.

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