Jeff & Will kick off this episode discussing books that Jeff’s recently read including A Different Kind of Brave by Lee Wind, Mona of the Manor by Armistead Maupin, and Radiant: The Life and Line of Keith Haring by Brad Gooch.

Brad then joins Jeff to discuss Radiant, a biography that explores the life of artist Keith Haring from his earliest drawings through his death in 1990 at age 31. Brad talks about why he wanted to write this book, the fascinating research and interviews that he did, as well as the history he shares with Haring and 1980s New York City.

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Show Notes

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Will: Coming up on this episode, we discuss the new biography of Keith Haring with its author, Brad Gooch.

Jeff: Welcome to episode 449 of the Big Gay Fiction Podcast, the show for avid readers and passionate fans of queer romance fiction. I’m Jeff, and with me as always, is my co-host and husband, Will.

Will: Hello, Rainbow Romance Reader. We are so glad that you could join us for another episode of the show. Before we get to our interview with Brad, Jeff, I know you’ve got a couple of books that you want to tell us all about.

Book Reviews

A Different Kind of Brave by Lee Wind

Jeff: Yes, I do. I’ve had some great reading recently. First up I want to talk about a new YA novel from Lee Wind. Now I discovered Lee back in 2019 because of his incredible book, “Queer as a Five Dollar Bill,” which is a YA book about the backlash a teenager faces when he tells the world about evidence he’s uncovered that Abraham Lincoln was gay. And you can actually hear Lee talk about that book back in episode 194.

Lee is back now with a brand new book. This time it’s a thriller called “A Different Kind of Brave.” I am so thrilled to have had the chance to read an advanced copy of this and that I ended up having a blurb, on the book alongside two of my YA heroes, Alex Sanchez, who did the “Rainbow Boys” trilogy, and Brent Hartinger, who is probably best known for the “Geography Club.” Now, here’s what I said on that blurb about this book. “‘A Different Kind of Brave” is a thrilling adventure and romance that gripped me from the first page with a daring escape. Nico and Sam’s story is one of courage and self-discovery that Lee Wind has masterfully told while also paying tribute to James Bond. Readers are gonna love this tale of rebellion, standing up for what’s right, the struggle for identity, and young love. I already need the next installment.” And I so, so hope Lee is already at work on that book.

So, what exactly is “A Different Kind of Brave?” Well, you’ve got Nico, who is 16 when the story opens, and he’s escaping from a gay conversion camp. He takes on one identity after another to escape and get to a safe place where the evil Dr. H can’t find him. Meanwhile, Sam couldn’t be more different, living a privileged life on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He’s got good friends, an obsession with James Bond, and along with that he’s got a broken heart and parents who kind of leave him too much to his own devices for his own good.

In the early part of the book, we follow Nico as he’s looking for that safe place to be, including a great turn as a cruise ship porter. And then we’ve got Sam, who’s navigating his breakup and his desire to maybe live life more like James Bond. When they meet up in Mexico, where Nico’s gotten a job at a resort and Sam is spending his birthday alone because his parents decided he’d be fine while they went off and did something else, they actually have a bit of a bumpy go at first. But as they spend more time together, they find some sparks in there, but they can’t quite make the full connection. Ultimately, Sam heads back to New York just as Nico’s location is discovered and he’s no longer safe.

Now, I’m not gonna say any more about the plot here because this is a thriller, and you need to uncover those twists and turns for yourself. But I will say that Lee does an incredible job of keeping the tension up and the curve balls coming. I love what he puts these two regular teenagers through to keep Nico safe and to also, through it all, get Nico and Sam together to become a couple. He balances their romance and the thriller aspects so beautifully.

In particular, I like how much we see of these guys before they even have their first meeting, as they’re both just going about their lives with Nico on the run and Sam doing what he’s doing to like, try to put his life into some kind of order. We understand exactly who they are, which allows us to appreciate the growth that they experience as they realize what they’re truly capable of.

Lee’s given them some great support, too. Some wonderful people help Nico as he flees, including a man on the cruise ship and the resort owner. And those friends that Sam has, one of them happens to be a Q type who’s making some very cool gadgets for him to use, almost like a real-life James Bond. If you like YA thrillers, I really hope you’ll give “A Different Kind of Brave” a try. Like I said in my blurb, I am already so eager for that next adventure.

Mona of the Manor by Armistead Maupin

Jeff: And another book that has come out this month that I have to share is the tenth book in Armistead Maupin’s “Tales of the City” series. This one’s called “Mona of the Manor.” Now Mona, as you might remember, is Anna Madrigal’s daughter and also Michael Tolliver’s best friend. In “Mona of the Manor” we catch up with her in the early 1990s as she’s living in England and is now the owner of a grand country manor, which she’s kind of turned into a B and B sort of thing to help her make ends meet. Now, how’d she end up with that manor you might ask. Well, she married Lord Teddy Roughton to help Teddy get a visa so that he could stay in San Francisco and live out his dream life. But now that Teddy has passed, she’s got the manor house where she also lives with her twenty-something adopted son, Wilfred.

As we drop in on Mona, she’s preparing for some American tourists who are gonna be staying with her. Rhonda and Ernie Blaylock are gonna be staying at the manor for several days, and it quickly becomes apparent, however, that Rhonda might be in over her head and might need some help. And of course, Mona and Wilfred are gonna come to her aid. And at the same time all that’s happening, they’re getting ready to welcome Anna and Michael, who are gonna come for a visit. Oh, and one other thing, the midsummer ceremony is also right around the corner, and there’s a lot of preparation to do for that because it’s actually gonna be taking place on the grounds of the manor house. Through all this, Mona has a maybe girlfriend or maybe not a girlfriend, and is it somebody that she feels that she can actually have a commitment with? Mona’s romance in this book is so wonderful as she tries to figure out what exactly she wants, what it all might mean to open herself up to love again in that way. It’s just wonderful.

I loved so much being back in the world of “Tales of this City.” It’s so nice to be able to catch up with these characters and see what’s going on. And it was such a wonderful delight to discover how Mona deals with running this manor house between keeping the maintenance up, and taking care of the guests, and doing what’s kind of expected of the manor house owner within the community that she’s in. I have to say that it’s not that far away from what she was doing in some of the original trilogy when she was working back at the brothel in Winnemucca. And the relationships she’s got with Wilfred. It’s really not that unlike how Mona and Anna relate to each other. It’s really so brilliant.

As I mentioned, Mona’s romance here is just sublime and so very much her in the way that it happens when you think about the other relationships that she’s had throughout this series. And the resolution of what’s going on between Rhonda and Ernie is so much what you might expect from Maupin when you consider how he has resolved similar things in the past through these books. Yes, I’m being a little vague there because I don’t want to give too much away, but when you read it, I think you’ll go, hmm. I see exactly how we got to this point.

If you’re a fan of “Tales of the City” and of Armistead Maupin, I highly recommend you make the time in your reading schedule for “Mona of the Manor.” And if you’ve never read “Tales of the City,” well, this is a perfect time to just drop whatever you’re doing and start in with book one and just binge through the whole lot. They are perfection in giving a story with so many memorable characters telling a story that unfolds over decades about friendship, and love, and laughter, sadness, and loss. You really won’t find better in terms of an epic story.

Radiant: The Life and Line of Keith Haring by Brad Gooch

Jeff: And now I want to talk just a little bit about “Radiant: The Life and Line of Keith Haring” by Brad Gooch. You’re gonna hear a lot in the interview about what I liked as Brad, and I have our conversation. But I have to say it was this book that I ended my 2023 reading year with, and what I began 2024, and this was such a wonderful book to bridge into the new year with. The book had already been on my radar as something I wanted to get this year because I’m such a fan of Keith Haring’s art, along with his activism during the late eighties and early nineties around the AIDS epidemic. And even if you don’t know Haring’s name for some reason, you’re likely to know his art between some of the iconic images of the barking dog that he drew, and the radiant baby that shows up in a lot of his art, and iconic imagery that he’s created for things like the National Coming Out Day logo.

“Radiant “covers absolutely everything about Haring from some of his earliest drawings as a child, his street and subway art in New York City, his friendship with fellow artists like Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, the worldwide embracing of his art, his work with kids, all the way up through his untimely death in 1990, at the age of 31.

I’ve never read a biography that was such a page turner like this one is. I have to say that I was really annoyed every time I had to put it down because Brad tells Keith’s story in such a compelling fashion. It’s the history of an artist, activist, and philanthropist, the history of art and nightlife and queerness in New York City through the eighties. It all comes together so beautifully.

So, if you’re interested in a great biography of a really great artist, or if you’re a fan of Haring’s work overall, or maybe you want to read about what New York was like through this point of view, through that time in the eighties, you really cannot go wrong picking up, “Radiant: The Life and Line of Keith Haring.”

And now let’s get into my conversation with Brad Gooch. It’s not often that we talk about nonfiction books. We are a fiction podcast after all, but sometimes the book is so compelling, we have to bring you more about it, and that’s definitely the case with “Radiant.” As I said in the review just a moment ago, this was a page turner as it told the story of Keith Haring alongside so much queer history with gay rights, the AIDS epidemic, and the pop culture of the time, and we could not pass up the opportunity to discuss it with Brad.

I don’t think it’s much of a leap to say that the creative work that Haring and others at the time put out, and how it advocated for queer rights, is part of the numerous happenings from the eighties onward that together helped us to have the queer romance genre that we have today. The conversation with Brad is so good as he shares some of his personal connections with Haring, the interviews and research he did, the surprising things that he learned along the way, and how Haring was ahead of his time in thinking of his art, and how to sell it, and what his legacy is today.

Brad Gooch Interview

Brad, welcome to the podcast. It is wonderful to have you here to talk about this amazing biography.

Brad: Happy to be here.

Jeff: Tell everyone in your own words what “Radiant” is about.

Brad: Well, I’m looking at the subtitle, “The Life and Line of Keith Haring.” So, I mean, that’s the simple answer, right? It’s the life and art of Keith Haring and told Birth to Death in classic biography, fashion which hadn’t been done actually with him. I also wanted to capture the period of the eighties which he was such an important leader and spirit.

And so, for that, I also wanted to fill in things that people might have forgotten, like what the Mud Club was or what Club 57 was, or what AIDS was really like for our generation at that time. I mean, some of this is not, you can’t take for granted that it’s common knowledge. So, it’s his world and his mission that he was on with his art.

Jeff: The mission is really interesting, and we’ll probably dig in a little bit more about that as we go. But even as a fan of his art over time, I think the first time I saw one was about the time I was dating my husband and getting to know him in the middle nineties.

He had a National Coming Out Day shirt, which of course features Keith’s art of the guy breaking out of the closet door. And I think that was the first time I’d seen that. And from there it’s like, this is really amazing art that says a lot too, even in its simpleness.

Brad: Yeah, I mean, the “says a lot is” important. There’s an early journal of Keith’s when he first came to New York City, and he was at School of Visual Arts. And what you realize in these journals of Keith, even when he is in fourth grade, I mean there’s a consistency of person and tone there. He said in this, that the medium is the medium.

Marshall McLuhan said the medium is the message. He was basically saying, I am communicating. And he was trying to communicate something. He wasn’t ironic. He wasn’t an artist of surface of which there was a lot at that time, a lot of appropriation, and conceptual art.

And in his own language that he developed, his own original, visual language, was communicating his different passions and having fun. But certainly, in there was a lot of activism and so, and certainly from the beginning, gay liberation, gay activism just that he was drawing all these penises and SVA was a kiss of death at the time and a statement.

So, simply his casualness about being gay in the beginning and then the politics associated with it. And then towards the end of the decade, his AIDS activism was all sort of pouring out through this art and you can feel it. I mean, you can see it.

Jeff: And yet at the same time, he is doing a lot of art geared specifically for children too. He was very heavily influencing getting art into schools, getting art to where kids are, and trying to inspire them while he’s doing this major activism as well.

Brad: Right. Yeah. I mean, he had the kids part of his life was, one of the revelations to me, I think. I mean, that he sort of… a elementary school teacher writes to him from Iowa about that her class would like him to come. And he goes and teaches in art class, and stays in touch with these kids, and has these relationships with kids that are very real.

I mean, I loved some of my most interesting and fun interviews were with these now adults. Sean Lennon was one of them. I mean, he had a relationship as a 9-year-old kid with Keith Haring and was very marked by it. And those kinds of friendships are really, really fascinating because they weren’t made up. He would sit at the kids’ table at these dinners, and he liked kids because they would take out paper and start drawing. So, he had a big kid kind of aspect to him. And then that innocence is also something that registers in the work.

So, you get these kinds of combinations of kind of innocence, naivete yet serious subject matter at the same time, something cartoony about his work. That’s why people respond to it.

I mean also Sean Lennon in the interview was saying that he was very different than Andy Warhol, who was another friend of his mother, Yoko Ono’s, who was around. But he said, but Andy was kind of chic in a certain way and more blazers and things. And also his art. He didn’t really understand. His art wasn’t really made for nine-year-olds. There was a concept to it. Whereas with Keith, the way that he dressed in sneakers and t-shirts, it was a style that he got. He understood as a middle school child in New York City and all. And also, the work, I mean, these, those kinds of pop cartoony kind of images and energy and line also were communicated pretty directly.

Jeff: And I suppose before I kind of went and deep dove it a few places I should have maybe asked what was it about Keith that inspired you to write this comprehensive book about his life and his art?

Brad: Well, it began for me in the eighties. I mean, I was in New York at the same time that he was. And so. I was aware of him and crossed paths with his art and with him. I mean, you were talking about your first experience of Keith’s art. Mine was walking with my lover at the time from the West Village where I lived, to the East Village where Howard lived.

And on the sidewalks at each corner, stamped in graphite, said “clones go home.” And it was this fake organization Keith started “Fags Against Facial Hair” and it was like an inside gay joke because gays in the West Village were more stereotypically leather guys and had beards and chains, and a western cowboy thing. And the East village was younger and artier and more new wave punk. So, Howard said to me, I remember, you should go, you have to go home, you know, because that was my first.

And then I would see in Soho on a newsstand his radiant babies drawn in magic marker. We didn’t know who was doing this. And also personally, he supposedly came to a book party that Dennis Cooper and I gave for ourselves together at Limelight. I remember seeing him at the reopening of the Apollo Theater and a whole sort of aisle filled up with Keith and his fantastic posse, mostly Black and Latin men and women.

When Howard then was sick with AIDS, Keith kind of characteristically gave money for his care. And I remember, and he came to the funeral. I remember him in the back looking kind of spooked because he was within a year of his own death. At that time, I always developed, had carried with me this idea of wanting to write a novel about Keith Haring.

Especially in the nineties when those figures from the eighties we’re starting to fade, it seemed. I mean, they haven’t but briefly. And I kind of carried this with me, and finally when there was a moment where I had time and it would make sense to do such a book, I realized that I don’t really like books, novels about famous artists.

And Keith’s this kind of Guinness Book of Records, facts of his life. And this 10-year comet of a career is so amazing just in terms of the details and the facts of it that I thought it should be all told in one way.

And also, I think, at the time, when I finally began doing this, whenever that was around 2018, you could feel that Keith Haring was beginning to be taken seriously as an artist in a way that he maybe he hadn’t been. And I remember going to a show, and other people have different versions of this experience, going to a show at Tate Liverpool. And it was a retrospective of Keith Haring work. And there wasn’t eighties music playing. It wasn’t like trying to recreate a club.

And then you saw, I mean, 30 feet long drawings and things that were really powerful artworks and you realized that they endured and that he intended that in some way. So, all of this kind of came together for me to do the book.

Jeff: It’s interesting that you mentioned the idea of the novel because the storytelling in it is such that in some ways it feels like you could be reading fiction, just by the way it’s all structured because amongst all the facts and the figures and like the accolades that he got and how he lived his life, is this story of this person who was driven to create.

Brad: Yeah. I mean, I always thought of biography that way anyway. In some ways, like a 19th century novel with birth to death, there’s a kind of traditional form to it. But then you have all this information. We love information. I love information. So, streaming them together kind of made sense to me and Keith was such a forward moving kind of figure and person. I mean, he was in constant motion. And so, writing it, I got on that subway train, the express, and there’s always crowding around all this… other people, other events, other works of art that you wanted to include. And you can’t include everything. And that’s what his life was like. It was very crowded. And yet he had some sort of inner compass that he just worked his way through. It was very work positive and created 10,000 works of art in a decade, half of them subway drawings. And so that kind of tagging along with Keith Haring you have kind of forward momentum.

Jeff: As I was reading it, I was thinking about other biographies I’ve read and sometimes it’s like, okay, I’ve read a chapter or two and I’m good and I’m gonna move on. But for me, this was always like, I don’t want to stop. I need to see what’s next, what’s going to happen because I didn’t know the thread of his life. There were like certain things I knew, certain pieces that I’d seen. I’ve seen a couple documentaries, but this was everything. If ever there was like to be an A to Z of Keith Haring, I think this is it.

Brad: But also, I mean, how much thanks to him, I mean, just how, what happened to him or what he made happen in 10 years is so extraordinary. That’s what I sort of saying a minute ago. There’s a forward momentum to all this. And how did you get here? Keith had a show, his first show, Tony Shafrazi Gallery, when he was 24 years old, was a big enough event that it was carried on the “CBS Evening News with Dan Rather” and Charles Osgood was the reporter. It’s shown up recently because Osgood died. that’s one of the reports of his that they’ve been showing. And because it was an opening unlike any that had been seen. Keith’s boyfriend was a DJ and there were like all these street kids besides regular artists.

And he was creating a new, not only a new kind of art, but a new audience for art too. There’s a politics to what was going on. So, you’re sort of like, how did we get here? He was just in Kutztown six years ago. How did we get here?

And after he dies, there’s a memorial service at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, which is this kind of formal funeral of the type they gave to Fiorello La Guardia, James Baldwin, George Balanchine. There are thousands of people there. Jessye Norman sings. The New York City Ballet dances. And again, you’re like, how did we get here?

And so that, I think that question keeps going through. And he’s also discovering how to be an artist and how to work. His dealer, Tony Shafrazi, said to me that Keith was a sponge. And he really was. So, he is taking from everything that’s going on in the streets and in his life and putting it in all the time. So, you also feel his kind of discovery and his trying to top himself and his trying to change the world in some way. I think, I mean, I think he, he did think that way.

Jeff: That definitely comes through, I mean, just by the kind of art he wanted to do and the places he wanted it to be. But also having the forethought to set up the foundation at such a young age to go, “Oh, legacy, foundation. This work needs to have purpose and continue,” was just amazing because I don’t think in the midst of the eighties that a lot of people were thinking foundation.

Brad: No. Well there are many things they weren’t thinking. He was the only during his life, I mean the only art star of that period, I mean, who was doing all this stuff with CityKids and doing all this kind of political action and AIDS action. And then, and you’re right. When he is about 28, he just sets up the foundation. And sets up the board of directors. But he also sets it up so that it’s sort of half protecting his legacy, which is what artists do. But also, half then giving money to organizations having to do with young people, with AIDS, with pediatric AIDS. And that foundation has given away over $43 million since his death. So, all that, something he thought of and planned.

Jeff: What was the research experience like for you? You mentioned starting in 2018. So, this was obviously a multi-year experience.

Brad: It was about a six-year experience and went through Covid and all these things. But I mean, the main part, I had the agreement of the foundation that I could work on this. So, and the foundation is in Keith’s old studio on lower on Broadway. So going to Keith’s studio every day and looked through everything.

And Keith was very bio prepared. I mean, some people are, and some people aren’t probably. But he was pretty… he didn’t throw anything away. So, if you want to look at Keith Haring’s Con Ed bills from when he was 18 years old, you can, and I did. And there’s a lot of work to go through and a lot of books and he kept… he had his sneakers, and he had his glasses and his passports and his driver’s licenses and just all of this.

So that was one piece of it. The other was I interviewed over 200 people for the book and, again, because and this is true of this AIDS generation, which they died, right? But they’re young. So, their friends and the people who knew them or, like me, were still alive. So, there were all these people to talk to who knew Keith Haring, some of whom have been talked to a lot, some of whom have never been talked to.

And all types because he was very inclusive and social, and it was just kind of fascinating. So, there was also the interviewing. Both of those had to adapt to covid. So, the foundation at a certain point then had to set up a portal for me online where I could then go through video and photographs and Polaroids and things online because you couldn’t… no one was going into the office anymore. And similarly, then interviewing became a matter of Zoom, like we are now, or all these different FaceTime and phones and which, I actually didn’t mind. I thought it actually worked pretty well. People were kind of focused and it was all helpful.

I had more time to write because Covid was a quieter time. So, it worked out different ways. But it was a long process.

Jeff: You’ve also got your own, as you mentioned, experience at the time and you’ve written your own memoir about the eighties with “Smash Cut.” What was it like to kind of relive all of that as you put all this research together to then go forth in this book?

Brad: It was great. I mean, it was in a way, because I’ve written biographies before like about Frank O’Hara in the fifties and sixties, but to actually know these places and have been to them and it was very helpful in terms of, I think getting things right. And people respond to that in the book that, I mean, that’s kind of a change when I like wrote “City Poet” about Frank O’Hara whenever that was, years ago, 30 or something.

I remember someone said to me, oh, you never met him, did you? And I said, no, this, because if you’d even met him once, it wouldn’t be possible to do a biography of him. So, there’s this idea of like objectivity or something, you know. But we’re in a different, we’re in the era of the memoir and a kind of casual, a different kind of casualness. And I thought it was helpful to have known that world, to have known those people to help, to get it right, I think. And also, Keith lends himself towards that treatment because he was so casual, and he was not formal, and he pushed high and low together all the time.

Another aspect of that in terms of working on the book also is it was kind of the first, I mean, Keith loved video and it was kind of the first generation where things were really covered. Like there’s a lot of footage of Keith in action or of him doing things and all these photographs and Polaroids and television interviews and things.

So, it was a different kind of information that I was able to take in. I mean now we have like wall-to-wall carpeting of coverage. So, I don’t know what that will be like. We don’t need biographies and I would just have selfies. But he was just at that moment where it was interesting that way.

And the other thing that was interesting in terms of interviews is the different, you had to kind of meet everyone in their medium, which would be different. Keith had a girlfriend, Susie, for two years in Pittsburgh who no one’s ever interviewed or talked to. And I did. And it was interesting, but it turned out that she really liked Facebook DMs.

So, I mean, our interview was one thing, and then kind of over a year or two I get into these badminton games of conversations with her and became far more revealing, like a lot of more pieces of information came. And some people like Facebook and some people like to talk on the phone and some people like to email and text and you had to kind of find people where they… the medium in which they preferred to live.

Jeff: How did some of the people like Susie react to, “Oh, you want to talk about Keith? Sure.” When they’ve never been talked to before? Because I imagine there are people who are talked to for everything and then given the depth of the interviews, a lot of people who’ve never been talked to at all, as you mentioned, like again, with Susie.

Brad: Yeah, I mean, she has a different case in that she didn’t want to be talked to. Yeah. And so that. But she came around thanks to Facebook and had an important thing to tell. It was the seventies. They had a certain kind of relationship, and they hitchhiked across the country together and all this stuff. And it was slightly a mess. And then Keith started coming out in Pittsburgh. And so it was that kind of story. So, I don’t… there are aspects of it now that she’s married and a mother of three and a grandmother… and that no one’s really connected. That part of her life was kind of left behind and people don’t connect her with that really. So, it was being public about something in, in that way that was her own case.

But the other was, yeah, there were all kinds of people who had never been talked to and that was interesting to me because you get to a case of usual suspects and talking heads in, say, Keith Haring documentaries, and then you see the same people telling similar stories, but aging as you, as the, as the years go by.

But he went to School of Visual Arts. I talked to a dozen, two dozen other students who were there with him, and you get Keith Haring stories that have been never told and are completely in character. Someone was telling me about him. He would, like, he was into performance art and so he would like straddle the banister where the students are going up to go to class.

And he did a video, and this is how he met his friend Kenny Scharf, painting himself into a corner, that he was videotaping himself doing this with Devo music on the boombox. And so, all these little pieces. It’s like, oh, that’s Keith Haring and I didn’t really know that. So, so it was great.

I mean, especially from that time, I mean, people who knew him early. I mean, that was the magic hour coming to New York in 1978. I mean, I was here, and it I just remember at the time you would kind of say, this is great… entirely with something that was like, oh, it was horrible. Steve Rubell once told me about Studio 54. Oh, people remember it better than it was, but there was some aspect that you did realize, like, this is great. And so, it wasn’t just… they were giving it like a fake rosy appeal.

Jeff: It’s interesting, you mentioning Rubell made me think of this, that because of the timeframe you’re covering and all the places that Keith ran in circles with, we get these glimpses of other things that are almost of a broader cultural touchstone like Steve Rubell and 54. But then you get so much more because I think, at least for me, when I think of Studio 54 and Steve Rubell, his story kind of ends right after 54 and the tax thing and he goes to jail. But then there’s him and his wife who do so much more. That’s not really touched on, at least that I’ve seen.

And then these other things, like the rise of MTV, and Madonna shows up a lot through the book too, with her interaction with Keith. And for those of us who grew up in the time because I was in my teens and early twenties through the eighties. You put all these other pieces together of things that, depending on where you grew up, you may not know about some of them or just smaller pieces than the picture you’ve painted here.

Brad: Right. Well, I mean, another, a part of the idea was a history. I mean, I, in that way, I saw “City Poet,” the Frank O’Hara book, is kind of a history of the culture in downtown in Manhattan and Bohemian art of a certain period. And this is like a continuation of that into the eighties in the same way that generation came here because they wanted to be Andy Warhol at The Factory, or poets wanted to be Frank O’Hara. So, it’s interesting to me, like history of that culture. And what’s great about biography is then you get it from these different angles.

I mean, we know Madonna’s story. But then you see Keith’s Madonna and Madonna’s Keith, and it’s very interesting. And they’re kind of fighting over the same Spanish boys. And she’s sleeping on the couch. And the way she talks about it, that they’re kind of separated at birth. They both come out of this little downtown, “Desperately Seeking Susan” scene, and they take this, they take that aesthetic, and they go global with it.

And while they’re doing that, they get a certain amount of envy and pushback and flack because they’re like really growing fast. Then when that started to happen, they both suffered some pain from that and the stress of all that. But it was just interesting to see these figures.

Or Andy Warhol. One of the discoveries for me in the book, I think, was how close that relationship was between Keith Haring and Andy Warhol. And I mean, they really had a kind of personal relationship of sort of being on the phone every morning to download the gossip of the night before. But also, that obviously Warhol’s aesthetic of pop art was the major influence on Keith.

And at the same time, then Andy was benefiting in ways from being connected to the energy of this Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Keith Haring, and this whole party that was going on around them. So, all that was interesting. It was just like another way into all these pieces.

Keith Haring and Ronald Reagan, Keith Haring, I mean, so it’s all happening, the historical events are happening. And Keith is the kind of artist who treats them and makes art about a lot of this stuff. He’s a good person to tell history through, because he was also unusually… this is true of Frank O’Hara too. I mean, Frank O’Hara was not a poet who was in his garret and writing poems by himself, right? He was writing poems at parties, and he had a job at the Museum of Modern Art.

And Keith was also very social guy. He wasn’t a studio artist in that sense, and unusually generous. So, he was very interested in other people’s work. He was curating shows from the beginning at Club 57 and Mud Club and building community. That was an interest of his. So, he touched all these lives and therefore reflected history and made history.

Jeff: Reagan was one of my favorite sort of sequences in the book. I never imagined somebody with Keith’s advocacy in gay liberation and the AIDS crisis could possibly be invited to the Reagan White House for anything.

Brad: Another thing about biography is there are always facts every so often that don’t fit, and you just have to deal with it. So, I mean, when looking at Keith as a kid in high school, he was smoking pot and doing and taking acid and doing all this stuff.

And then there’s like this letter from the Nixon campaign thanking him for his contribution. And he was in a Republican, very Republican household. And then you realize, like it all doesn’t fit together. I mean, he in that. And so likewise, I mean, Reagan was the enemy for Keith. So, he is invited to the White House. What do they know about Keith Haring? I don’t know. And it’s to do a big mural for a children’s hospital and that’s why he does it. And on his way out he has Tseng Kwong Chi taking a picture of him doing this fist in the air kind of Black power salute in front of the White House.

But obviously he’s conflicted. I mean, he was invited to meet George Bush, who was the president, who was walking around, and he didn’t do it. So, he had his little protest. But at the same time, you’re like saying, what are you doing, like, how do you feel about this?

Jeff: The growing up in the Republican household, I have to say that I was glad to see how supportive his parents were through the whole thing. They would show up to his shows, they would be in these environments that I have to imagine for them, were like, I don’t know any of these people, there are a lot of people. But yet they were also taken care of by some people in the inner circle. And then were certainly there as he passed. Which is not story you always got back in the eighties as so many parents just disowned their children.

Brad: Yeah. I mean, again, in favor of biographies… it takes a really great novelist to capture inconsistencies, I think in a way. So, I understood it because I was from Pennsylvania, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. My parents were republicans. When I was doing this book, I spent a lot of time in Kutztown. I got along very well with Keith’s parents and family. because I understood the whole thing.

And it was a funny… everything was don’t ask, don’t tell, and not just about sexuality. Like everyone was kind of human and kind and, but the politics was something else. They were very decent, and they loved their son. And he tried to keep up with them. And you’re right, they were there at the end. In those AIDS situations, not every family was. And at that point it’s beyond politics and they were very…

So, I hear stereotypical kind of things and Keith’s family hears it… descriptions. What was Keith’s childhood like? Oh, he was in this repressive environment, evangelical Christian, Marines and all this stuff, and you get a certain kind of cartoony image of what it was. But it wasn’t that. I mean, they were Methodists. I mean, they were… it was like they were just a kind of small-town person that you kind of get, and they were thrown into something by their son.

And they went along with it. And they were proud. They didn’t understand what was going on. They didn’t really understand the art. Also, he takes his parents to Europe at the end. I mean, so they’re in all these places with these people and like the Princess of Monaco and Gabriele Henkel, one of the richest women in Germany and just that whole world for them to be in this sort of Forrest Gump-ian fashion, walk through it and he’s showing it to them. Just kind of interesting.

But it’s also interesting that it kind of went two ways. Don’t ask, don’t tell. Keith had a kind of reserve about him, and the passion came through in the work and we feel it. But then when he took his parents to Europe, this is when he knows that he’s likely to die, and then they get back to Kennedy and they’re going to go get a car or something. And Keith says, “well, now you know how to do it yourself to go to Europe.” Like the whole thing was just, he was gonna… like he was a tour guide, and he was gonna show them, and it was obviously about more than that.

So, there was a funny way. He never said the word gay to his parents. He never said the word AIDS to his parents, and yet everyone knew what was going on. And I had that exact kind of experience. So, I understand how that worked. It was a moment of kind of transition and artists could come out in their work almost more easily. than to their family.

Jeff: His high school experiences don’t all exactly lead you to believe that he will become the artist that he did.

Brad: Yeah. I mean, when you look back at them, they do because he was so single-minded about art and it didn’t change, right. But he wasn’t… it wasn’t a classic artist’s life. That’s why I loved writing about all that stuff. I mean, he was a Jesus freak, and he was a deadhead, and he’s taking acid, and it was just a certain kind of, again, life that I knew it didn’t indicate greatness particularly, and that’s why his parents were very worried about him. I mean, he wasn’t a shining light in that way.

But he was, you could see, I mean, he was putting it all together and he was in the art room all the time, and he had his art buddy Kermit Oswald. And then later in life he had his art buddy Kenny Scharf, his art buddy George Condo.

And he had a kind of consistent life in that way. And the through line was, I guess was, he didn’t take direction easily. So, if his seventh-grade art teacher told him “why don’t you try to draw a horse?” It didn’t really work. And when he went to SVA and his painting teacher told him, why don’t you paint on canvas? He just didn’t do it. I mean, he had some kind of, I don’t know where he, if he’s on the spectrum or what he was, but he had… it’s just his focus. Right. And he just tunneled through. And that through line is there from the beginning.
It’s the same way his actual line, I mean, his drawing line, was there from when basically his father was encouraging him to draw certainly when he was four years old. And they’re doing drawing games together that then Keith does later with all these school kids. He has a kind of line that you can recognize. It becomes a signature base line later on when you really, when everything snaps together for him. But the process, you could see Keith Haring in there.

Jeff: I really like how his father encourages him from a very young age, but also lets him, encourages him, but gives him room to go do whatever. And he had those couple of teachers too, who when they figured out. It’s like, well, he’s not gonna do what I tell him, but I need to let him do what he’s going to do. I think those are the best teachers.

Brad: Yeah. I mean he really was given space and part of it then becomes his parents don’t know what to do with him. And I talked to them about that. You can just see, and his father basically said we thought… we kind of clamped down at a certain point and Keith’s just like missing school and doing dope and they don’t know about acid, but he’s taking acid in his room and drawing, and all this kind of stuff and really getting in trouble.

And they tried to clamp down on him. And the dad said, now we know that was the wrong thing to do. You don’t do that with Keith. I mean, it just doesn’t… kind of backfires. because then he just left home for a summer as a junior in high school. So, he’s not so controllable, rebel with a cause, I guess.

But anyway, it does follow through. And also, this continues when he goes to… Pittsburgh was a really interesting time for me to learn about and because no one really pays much attention to it, including Keith who didn’t talk about it that much. But he’s really, besides the girlfriend and then he is at a kind of commercial art school that he drops out of.

He teaches himself… he puts to together who he is as an artist, kind of on his own by going to the Carnegie Museum of Art. He’s kind of falls in love with very particular painters, Dubuffet, Alechinsky, who were at the time were… of their influence, and Christo and all these… the basic ideas and look of his art he puts together without any kind of outside influence.

And then comes to New York in 78 and kinda walks into and our world, it’s changing in just that way, at that time towards more expression, more color, and more public and experimental. Someone told me I think it was Diego Cortez, who died during the course of this writing of this book, but he was a curator who did an important P.S. New York new age show, P.S. 1 show.

Anyway, he said galleries in the seventies were like, white rooms with white people drinking white wine. And there was this kind of minimalism and elitism that characterized a big part of that. And Keith came in with just a completely, a different aesthetic. But he picked up on all these other people who were on the street as well and started to match up.

Jeff: There’s a lot of material obviously in this book, 200 some interviews, all the stuff that you researched at the foundation. Is there anything that you left out that you wish could have gotten in that got cut through the editorial process?

Brad: Well, I’m sure everyone’s happy that it was probably, although supposedly it doesn’t feel that way. But it’s a 500-page book. It’s a solid treatment of Keith. I think it, I would say it had to do more with the art. As I said, there were 10,000 works of art that you want to kind of treat everything, but you also, you don’t want to just list otherwise… especially with Keith Haring, you just have a list of things, so you kind of dive into certain works at certain moments and describe the general flow of things.

But I find that reading artist biography, I was reading the Bacon biography and I just actually sat by my computer and googled all the paintings and things as I was reading it. So, people have ways to enhance. And it all doesn’t have to be on the page, but I would say mainly with that.

Jeff: You saying that makes me go, oh, I should have done that as I read this. Let me go see what that work looks like and what that work looks like. I may have to go back and do a reread now.

Brad: A hot tip for you.

Jeff: What do you hope people take from this book? I feel like there’s a lot of things they can take from this book. What do you hope that people who dive in here, who may come from any number of angles from it, pick up?

Brad: Keith’s like a great… it’s definitely not a how to book, but I mean, Keith’s a great life model. I mean, he is like a… there’s something heroic about him. And I think that the heroic part is just in terms of creativity. And one feels, living in New York in the present, certain qualities have been lost or are less available than they were, you know? And so Keith just has that.

And it wasn’t like his world was so perfect. In terms of repression, the Reagan administration was pretty brutal. And we’re talking now, we’re facing the Trump administration. I mean, all this stuff. Everyone has their own situation. But he really just like made the most out of wherever he was with whatever he had.

And I think just as an artist, when he was in Pittsburgh, he did this piece out of Post-its. So Post-its were like a new thing. And in art school he like put these like Post-its under steps for people to find and things. And it was just like, whatever medium was available, whatever surface was available, he used it.

And I just think that quality of taking… he really wanted to enhance life, it seems. I mean, he was accused of wanting to scribble over the entire world or something. because he had this kind of… just his shows were just so intense with so much going on. But it seemed like it was more like when he came into any situation that he wanted to like, take it up a notch.

If there’s a wall, he wanted to draw on it, or he wanted to sign somebody’s clothes or he wanted to paint their body, or he wanted to… he just kept trying to tune things up. And he, so he had a real sense of that. I think that quality of the main character in this book, Keith Haring, is kind of terrific.

I mean, it makes you feel that you can go out and do things. And it also shows a time and a place where people had great ambition in terms of art and life, right? So, all those artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Robert Mapplethorpe, they worked all the time. I mean, these were really hardworking people. And so, they had a great work ethic. And they’re also though, trying to have as much fun as they could have. And change… I mean gay liberation, I mean, trying to change the way that people lived and saw each other and all that was a lot. So, so I think it’s a kind of, that part’s an inspiration.

And that part was great. I mean, it was great to, to write this book because I kept getting to like, plug into Keith Haring energy, which was a good energy to have. And I also wanted it. We were talking about kids because I have two kids now, age five and nine with my partner. And kids relate to Keith Haring. In their playground at school, I look around and kids are wearing Keith Haring, t-shirts and pullovers. And across from the third-grade classroom, it’s this big hallway length piece of paper with kids who had, were learning to do art, drawing by imitating Keith Haring drawings. I can’t make that up and you can’t force it. So, the way in which there’s this, how he communicated to all these different types and was so inclusive, that’s a nice thing.

Jeff: And to realize that kids are wearing those shirts and learning to draw that way because certainly he has endured, I mean, we’re 40-ish years on from his death. He’s a Funko Pop. You can get his art on all manner of clothes from all manner of places. It’s like these drawings and his legacy, again, have endured all this time, which is what as an artist you hope for, but certainly not everybody from his era necessarily got it either.

Brad: No. I mean, one thing that happened, which you can’t force is a younger generation. I’m thinking of, Kaws, Banksy, Shepard Fairey, for whom Keith is this kind of role model in the way Andy Warhol was for Keith and Kenny Scharf. And so that, that is really helping keep him alive and also his aesthetic.

And he got, you’re talking about all these T-shirts and things. This is licensing and Keith got into so much flack, when he was alive, when he opened the Pop Shop for crossing these two wires of high art and commerce. No other artists at the time opened a store and Keith, he opened a store because the store was a work of art in itself, and he was making available T-shirts, which were actually prints, at price points that would be accessible to everyone. And this got into a lot of trouble. This concept is not so shocking to us now. And artists finding all kinds of things with Andy Warhol images or Basquiat images. All of that has been kind of erased.

At the end of the book, I talked to Ann Temkin, who’s the chief curator of painting and sculpture of MoMA. And she was talking about this. First of all, she was kind of apologizing to me for the institution because MoMA never showed Keith when he was alive, never bought a work of art. And they have one great 30-foot-long drawing that they brought out for the reopening of the museum a couple years ago that the foundation gave to them.

And she was saying part of this is that at that time there was just this distinction between high art and commercialism and the two could not cross over. And then also seriousness. I mean, art was like a serious, almost like an insider game. You had to kind of know what was going on to get it. And Keith didn’t, at least on the surface, didn’t seem to have that at all. I mean, he was, like you very legible in that way. So, a lot of things were working against him.

She also said though, that she thought with certain kinds of radical art, it takes about 30 years for the art, for people to be able to see it for what it is. She said that happened like with the Water Lilies, Monet’s Water Lilies. It happened with the AbEx painters. There was like an alarm clock went off. And she thought that Keith’s at about that 30-year mark where you start doing a kind of double take when you see the work and you see it on a wall in a museum and it makes a lot of sense there.

Jeff: And even, as we’re recording this in February, down in Southern California right now, Luna Luna is down there for the first time in decades that it’s, that theme park has all been reassembled with art from Keith Haring and some other contemporaries of the time. And it’s a big hit that we can all go see this art again and this interesting interpretation of the art being a theme park.

Brad: I mean, you should go because I’m supposed to do something there at some point, I think in March. And I went, I spoke at The Broad with Bill T. Jones last year. They had a big show. I went with Bill T. Jones and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s sister graciously allowed us to come along and we went and saw that. And it is amazing. I mean, to see carousel that Keith made, and the Ferris wheel that Jean-Michel made, and just the idea of it. And again, it’s something that, that now makes a lot of sense right. I know. I think Drake is who paid for this to happen, and I was thinking about, it will eventually move outside and then there’ll be young artists who make rides. You can actually go on, like that too.

And you have like an artist thing, and Keith always wanted to do a playground. That was one of the things that he didn’t really get to complete. So, this the idea of artists making amusement parks and playgrounds. And so, all this is a really big statement, I think about art. And Keith was very important in allowing big statements.

Jeff: You’ve written about such diverse people. We talked about Flannery O’Connor. We talked a little bit about Frank O’Hara. You’ve written about the poet Rumi. You’ve talked about relationships and spirituality through your work. What’s the connecting thread through all of that for you, within your body of work?

Brad: Me, but I… Well, people ask, especially in terms of biography, ask me that question. I mean, and to me, these four figures all make sense together. I actually think of them as like saints lives, if you ask me how I really think of them. And so, there are these like people who all just were these great artists who did something that was kind of larger than life and while it was happening wasn’t so clear that this was gonna work.

And so, I think that in a way is what draws me, not saints, like moral, virtuous people but just like trying to do something that someone else isn’t doing or isn’t doing on the scale that they are. So, I never had this idea of biography, or I wasn’t… I haven’t been drawn like to figures who I don’t like, and then I’m gonna expose and you have to live with them, and you learn to hate them and all of that stuff. I mean, there are always moments in the life of your figures, I guess, that are imperfect or something like that, but that’s not what I’m going for. So, I think that’s the through line that I see.

Jeff: We do love to get recommendations on this show, and I’d love to know what you might be reading or watching right now that our listeners should check out.

Brad: One is Michael Cunningham’s novel “Day.” I don’t know if you’ve read that, but it’s, very… It’s so beautiful and it’s like his early work to me. And so that was just kind of fantastic and this dispareness and poeticness of it. All that’s beautiful.

I just read a book that’s coming out next month, Cynthia Carr’s “Candy Darling,” which is a biography of Candy Darling, which at this moment is really interesting because we have this whole trans movement and then you have Candy Darling at that moment being the Warhol version of that and being kind of vamping 2D campy character. But living 24/7 pretty much as a woman. So, you get something new by thinking about Candy Darling at this moment. Not just the Celluloid Warhol silver thing but also what was going on in terms of her own issues of gender and how she was working all that out.

And I’m looking forward to reading Lucy Sante’s book. “I Heard Her Call My Name,” which is about former Luke Sante has become Lucy Sante and has gone through her own kind of transformation. So that’s a memoir. All those things I’ve been reading or wanting to read.

In terms of like looking at things, one is this great. “Merrily We Roll Along,” Stephen Sondheim’s first musical. I’m like a huge Stephen Sondheim person. So don’t get me started on him as like early Shakespeare. But the “Merrily We Roll Along,” on Broadway’s fantastic show, which had opened and closed after 16 performances when it was first done. And I don’t know if you know it, but it goes backwards in time. And so, you get something, not just that, that he pulls off, but then you have the same kind of songs that are that kind of repeat every so often, but they have a different meaning because they’re from a different time. I mean, it all was really like a special kind of night in that way.

And “Fellow Travelers,” I don’t know if you’ve seen that.

Jeff: I binged that. That was amazing.

Brad: Amazing, right? Because you really, as much as you knew about the McCarthy era, but also Joe McCarthy and gay Roy Cohn and gay, everybody. But then when you really saw how those lives were lived.

It’s nice to get to the, to 1978 when people were finally starting to… Keith Haring’s generation were starting to come out.

I also went to the Madonna’s Celebration concert and there I saw my life flash in front of my eyes. I mean, one part of it is this nostalgia really of that time that we’re also talking about here, or something even greater than nostalgia perhaps. But there’s a moment in it when she’s, talking about Martin Burgoyne, her friend who died of ADIS, who’s also a character in my book seen from Keith’s point of view. And this five-story high like kind of poster of Keith Haring comes down while she’s singing. And then this five-story high poster of Howard Brookner, who I wrote “Smash Cut” about, comes down behind it. And I had a kind of this actual shock from that. So, and that was very personal. But it’s interesting the looking I think to that period. I mean, Madonna’s looking at that time and she’s trying to keep it alive and she’s trying to pay tribute to those people. And I’m trying in some way in this book to do that also.

Jeff: It is interesting you brought up “Fellow Travelers” because I was watching that show while I was reading your book. I’ve just read Armistead Maupin’s latest installment in “Tales of the City,” and all of these things kind of lock together in their own way because “Fellow Travelers” crosses into the timeframe. Keith Haring’s not in that at all, but it crosses into that timeframe.

Brad: Right.

Jeff: Certainly, talking about Madonna and her latest tour, which is all about nostalgia feeds into that. I got to thinking about having seen “Angels in America” a few times and how all that kind of connects and builds. It’s an amazing body of work that now exists around that timeframe, which “Radiant” connects right into.

Brad: And also, the activism, I mean, in each of those cases, I think everyone was… all of this is rough. I mean, the McCarthy period was rough, and the Reagan years were rough, and the denial that AIDS was going on and that this actually cost lives. No, this is rough. And we have a lot of rough things going on again. But there was Madonna and Keith Haring were giving voice to a lot of things that inspired young women, inspired gays, and that was very important.

Checking in on history at this moment and seeing it as a mirror now in which we see ourselves and things are finally history. I mean, that’s its own moment. I mean, it takes 30 years, I guess, for a work of art to make sense. And it takes 30 years for history to make sense, I think, in our own stories and what happened. So that seems to be a little bit where we’re at.

Jeff: What is the best way for people to keep up with you? What’s going on with the tour and the promotion you’re gonna be doing around “Radiant” and everything?

Brad: I have, author’s site, so I’m gonna put up my tour dates and things. And so that’s the main updating place. And I’m on Instagram and Facebook and findable that way, so, so we’re in a big communicating society right now, so it’s easy. Maybe too easy.

Jeff: Maybe too easy.

Brad: But I’m doing It.

Jeff: Brad, thank you so much for this wonderful conversation. I’m so glad we got to have it. And I wish you all the success with “Radiant” and showing everybody more about the amazing Keith Haring.

Brad: Thank you. I mean, this was legitimately fun talking to you. Thanks.


Will: This episode’s transcript has been brought to you by our community on Patreon. If you’d like to read the conversation for yourself, head on over to the show notes page for this episode at We’ve got links to everything that we’ve talked about in this episode.

Jeff: Thanks so much to Brad for taking the time to come talk to us about “Radiant.” I hope you enjoyed listening to the conversation as much as I did having it. And even more, I hope you’ll pick up “Radiant” and dive into the world of Keith Haring, his art, his creative drive, and the history of the time that he lived and worked in. It’s certainly a book that I think you’ll see on my favorites list at the end of the year because of how much it resonated with me.

Will: All right. I think that’ll do it for now. Coming up next on Monday, March 25th, we’re going to hear all about “The Boyfriend Subscription” from its author, Steven Salvatore.

Jeff: There’s a trend happening right now of authors from the young adult genre coming out with their first adult romances. Remember, we talked to Kacen Callender about that earlier this year already, and now Steven is on that list with this wonderful fake dating romance.

Will: Jeff and I, we want to thank you so much for listening and hope that you’ll join us again soon for more discussions about the kinds of stories we all love, the big gay fiction kind. Until then, keep turning those pages and keep reading.

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