Distinguished historian and author Lillian Faderman reads from her most recent book, Harvey Milk: His Lives and Death at the Buena Vista Branch of the Burbank Public Library on Thursday evening, May 31.
“His impact and achievements seem so improbable from what was an inauspicious beginning (he actually worked on Wall Street in 1964 and got up early to hand out campaign literature for Barry Goldwater!),” commented Librarian Hubert Kozak. “This is a book in the Yale Jewish Lives series, and Faderman connects Milk’s Jewish upbringing to his ideals and activism.”
“But I guess for me what is most interesting about this story is not that, or even that he led a gay movement, but rather the details Faderman gives about how he created a constituency and organized a community to claim political power.”
“This portrait of grass roots American democracy in action I thought was timely and made me hopeful about the chance for marginalized people to have their voices heard, that it is possible,” added Kozak.
“I wrote about Harvey Milk in my 2015 book, The Gay Revolution-but I had room in that huge history, which spanned the years 1948-2015, to spend only about a dozen pages on what made Harvey Milk such an iconic figure,” explained Faderman.
“But in my research and interviews for The Gay Revolution I had discovered so many wonderful, important things about his life that no one had yet written about.”
“So I was thrilled when Yale University Press came to me to ask if I could write a biography of him for Yale’s “Jewish Lives” series. (It took me 10 seconds to say “I’d love to!”) I wanted to create for the reader the Harvey that I came to know through my research—a man who was quite flawed and yet so touching in his desire to do good.”
“I came to see him as genuinely lovable because he was so capable of love-not just on a personal level and not just for his own “tribe,” but love for all those who were in need because they were poor or lost or suffered from prejudice or discrimination.”
“I was constantly being surprised by his personal letters,” commented Faderman. “They showed a man of such tender, romantic feelings. I think he kept wanting to re-do the difficult relationship he had with his own father, and to make it ‘come out right’ with the young men who were his lovers.”
“Yet sadly, despite his determination to make it ‘come out right,’ to give them his attention and his deep love, he failed because he was so caught up in wanting to accomplish great things and serve the public. Inevitably, his partners never felt they were getting enough of him.”
Faderman sees the complexities of Milk’s life and his various “lives” as something the public in general does not know about the iconic figure.
“He was a man of vast contradictions. I subtitled my book The Lives and Death of Harvey Milk because there were many different ‘Harveys’ before he finally became the iconic leader that the public knows,” she says. “He was a passionate opera lover from the time he was eleven years old, but he was also a jock in high school and college. (He played football, baseball, basketball. He ran track and was on the wrestling team. He was the sports writer for his college paper. In the Navy he was a deep-sea diver and trained sailors in diving.)”
“At one point in his life he became a buttoned-down high school teacher. Then he became a securities analyst on Wall Street. Then he became a hippie, a gofer for a Broadway director and an actor. Then he became a small businessman.”
“Through all of these different iterations of Harvey Milk, he was learning new skills,” Faderman continues. “All those skills came together in the last five years of his life to create the Harvey Milk that the world knows best: he began running for office and finally succeeded in winning election to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, which made him the first out gay man to hold a significant political office.”
Milk was shot and murdered in 1978 by another, homophobic, Supervisor at the age of 48. He was included on Time‘s list of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century in 1999.
The author will sign books after the presentation, and copies of Harvey Milk: His Lives and Death will be available for purchase on site. The program begins at 7:00 p.m. The Buena Vista branch of the Burbank Public Library is located at 300 N. Buena Vista Street in Burbank. Plenty of free parking is available.