THE IMPERFECT SHOW NOTES
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Jameson Currier 00:00
When I landed in New York City, I had no savings. I had sold my car to get to New York and my monthly rent of the apartment in Greenwich Village was more than what I made in the month at my day job. So I was always, to me in New York City was always an economic hurdle. It was a tough city, but you’re young and adventurous, and other young people who are young and adventurous. And that’s the the excitement of being in New York City.
Achim Nowak 00:36
Hey, this is Achim Nowak, executive coach and host of the MY FOURTH ACT podcast. If life is a five act play, how will you spend your FOURTH ACT? I have conversations with exceptional humans who have created bold and unexpected FOURTH ACT, listen, and to be inspired. And please rate us and subscribe on whatever platform you are listening on. Let’s get started. I am so delighted to welcome Jameson courier to the MY FOURTH ACT podcast and by the way, that’s his official name, but I’m going to call him Jim as we speak. Jamison is a celebrated gay writer, literary critic and publisher. He is the author of seven novels, five collections of short fiction and a memoir. His writing is also included in many literary collections. Jim’s novel The third Buddha about the aftermath of 911 in Manhattan and Afghanistan, was translated into French in 2021, and just recently awarded the Prix de Oman gay. In France. James reviews essays, interviews and articles on AIDS and gay culture have been published in many national and local publications such as the Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times lambda book report, Bay Area Reporter The New York blade out and Bosley positive and there are many more. In 2010. Gym founded Chelsea station editions and independent press devoted to gay literature. The Press also serves as the home for Jim’s own writings. And I gasped when I read this on your website, I’m going to read a gym, which now it’s banned a career of more than five decades. Just for our listeners seminar exactly the same age. The books he has published by the press have been honored by numerous literary awards. Jim divides his time between his studio apartment in New York City and a formless farmhouse in the Hudson Valley. In recent years, Jim has also emerged as a prolific painter. Hello, Jim.
Jameson Currier 02:55
Good morning, Achim. How are you?
Achim Nowak 02:57
I’m well, it’s so nice to have this conversation with you. We had a little pre chat, and I realize we’re very much the same age, we briefly crossed paths in the 90s. But we don’t
Jameson Currier 03:08
know we probably know a lot of the same people too. We know a lot of the same people.
Achim Nowak 03:13
What I’m curious about because you’ve had an extraordinary output as a writer. But when you were a young boy or teenager growing up in the South, who did you think you wanted to be at that time?
Jameson Currier 03:29
I don’t think it was so much who I wanted to be as what I wanted to be I had, as a boy, a great love of music in the theater. I grew up watching Peter Pan and the Wizard of Oz in black and white. And then going to see the sound of music and Mary Poppins and cabaret, all these wonderful musicals at the theaters. It was the MGM retrospectives were starting. So I had a great love of music in the theater. And that’s what I wanted to do. And high school in college, I did a lot of theater performances. And when I graduated from college, I wanted to work in the theater. I grew up in a suburb of Atlanta, but I couldn’t find theater work here. So it just came to be that I needed to move to New York City. That’s where I ended up. And of course, I found some work in the theater. But I kind of immediately knew that I didn’t have that kind of talent to be onstage and performing. And I just didn’t have those skills. And in the back of my mind, I always knew that. Well, I want to write and direct I want to be a writer, you know. So I started writing stories and the stories I started writing more about my friends who were in the theater, on their tours and their performances and backstage. That’s how I became brighter.
Achim Nowak 05:00
I appreciate the remark you just made. I also started as an actor, and I worked quite a bit. But deep down in my skin, I didn’t feel like I was skilled enough to have a career, you know, and there’s something powerful for all of us for anybody to say is, maybe this isn’t the right path for me, even though I thought this would be it. Ah, you just mentioned what you first wrote about. You initially got published a lot. And correct me if I’m wrong in the 1990s, which I think of as that was really a heyday of original queer publishing may have been 11 months beforehand. But suddenly, mainstream publishing houses were publishing it, there was a recognition of it as almost its own genre, right, the new voice, and you came of age as a writer, at that time, what stands out for you from about just being a gay boys, like I
Jameson Currier 06:03
said, I was writing a lot of these theater stories, then suddenly, the world changed. You know, we got to the mid 1980s, and the AIDS epidemic, and I realized that what I was writing, needed to change. My early stories were they were entertainments as friends became second dying and became a care partner for several of them. The emphasis changed, I was no longer writing to entertain myself or my friends, I was writing as therapy, I was writing to understand what was going on in the world and trying to make sense. And I was a member of several workshops. And I remember the such hesitation about bringing in stories about gay men and AIDS. I mean, people just weren’t writing about it. There were a few. But that’s how I found some successes, is going to these workshops with the stories about men who men and their families and friends who were impacted by the disease. And lo and behold, I got, I was lucky to find some champions in these workshops, and found my way into journals and literary magazines and eventually found a publisher. So that was my trajectory is suddenly what I was doing. The love of entertaining, suddenly became necessary as therapy.
Achim Nowak 07:32
Someone, I want to ask you a question that I think might be really annoying, but it’s forming in my mind, which is, as you describe, what how your writing changed? How close to memoir was the writing of the short stories versus fiction? Or, or how did you blend those two?
Jameson Currier 07:50
Well, it’s a fine line. And there were a couple of stories where the details are completely accurate, you know, the character, the character’s names are different, the situation’s have been changed. I think the success of gay fiction in the 1980s and 1990s was a lot of memoir stuff
Achim Nowak 08:11
I’m aware of as we’re speaking both about the content and the context of HIV AIDS, but also because I lived in New York at the time. New York has changed so much. Oh, yes, it has changed. And you’re gonna want to ask us a really pragmatic question. As somebody who was writing a lot like today, New York is ridiculously expensive. Like it’s, it’s hard to arrive as a young writer and imagine that you’re gonna live in downtown Manhattan, and if you can afford it, how did you manage just the mechanics of your life, like you have to pay the bills, you’re writing your stories, your your take your workshops,
Jameson Currier 08:52
everybody says New York is so expensive now. But New York was very expensive back in the 1970s, and 1980s. I remember that. When I landed in New York City, I had no savings. I had sold my car to get to New York, and my monthly rent of the apartment in Greenwich Village, was more than what I made in the month at my day job. So I was always, to me, New York City was always an economic hurdle. It was a tough city. But you’re young and adventurous, and, you know, young, other young people who are young and adventurous. And that’s the excitement of being in New York City. And that’s the desire and the drive. But it was always expensive, and I was lucky to have friends that helped. There was one year that I had to give up my apartment at the last minute unexpectedly because I couldn’t afford the rent. So I just told her called the landlord said, I can’t pay the rent. I’m gonna move out. I moved in with a friend and slept on her couch until I could get another job and finally, save enough money to get another apartment. And then I lived in another apartment where I had, I think six roommates, but those kinds of situations, don’t curb your drive, they just kind of fuel it, they me excited and they give you a purpose and a dream.
Achim Nowak 10:16
You gave us just a little hint of what the payoff is for being a Oregon, which is a sense of this, this microcosm of other amazing humans and other things going on that you can interact with. And so I’m curious, what nourished you as a person, as a soul around being in New York at that time, are on people that you met around experiences you had that maybe you couldn’t have an Atlanta, like, what happened there in terms of Well, I
Jameson Currier 10:45
mean, my first jobs in the city were theater jobs, I worked as a presentation for several theater companies and stuff like that. And my friends were theater friends, so I was always going to the theater, I was always seeing a play, I had a friend who was a theater critic. So I would go with him to see shows there. That’s a whole community and and, you know, there was a whole there’s a thing many years ago called Second acting, where you could go to the Broadway theaters and intermission, you know, sneak in and see the second act. And so there was a whole community of young gay men who were working in Backstage professions at the theater. And those were my friends. And I was also trying to be a writer. So was in a moment in the city where there were bookstores everywhere. I mean, you could go every block, there was like a bookstore, I remember, Saturday nights before I would go to a bar, I would do the bookstore tour and the village, you could go a different light, Oscar Wilde, to Barnes and Noble on Sixth Avenue, there was another bookstore in the East Village, you could do a whole tour of bookstores,
Achim Nowak 12:00
the notion of a walking bookstore tour is just fabulous.
Jameson Currier 12:07
And it doesn’t exist anymore. I mean, you don’t, that’s
Achim Nowak 12:10
my version of that we went over the same would be because I live downtown East Village, West Village, you know, I could just walk three, four blocks and stumble into some basement bars, whether it be some great old blues singers singing stuff, and there was no cover, you stumble and you have a good rank, you walk out again, that’s so unimaginable in South Florida where I live right now, that’s a whole other way of being that you described so beautifully with your illusion their night? Because you’ve been so prolific. And we’re going to have listeners who know your work, but listeners who don’t. So I’m going to ask you to shamelessly in just if you wanted to just talk about one. And let’s go with a novel one novel, that you go as I reflect on this novel, I’m proud of it. I’m proud of what I’ve said of it. And this is why I want to remind people of this book, since we’re talking about your creative spirit. Which one do you want to talk about?
Jameson Currier 13:15
Well, I’m proud of all my children. Of course, you have to say that. But but just pick one for now to talk about. Okay. Well, you know, my first novel was were the rainbow guns, which is a very deep dive into the AIDS epidemic and friends who lived and died and survived that epidemic. And it’s an epic look at going into it and coming out of it. I remember when I finished, it took me a long time to write. And it’s a very long book. I mean, it’s on the scale of a novel, it’s quite thick. And I remember when I finished it, it was around 1997, which was when the HIV cocktail was coming into prominence. And it was kind of like people were saying it was the end of the epidemic. And I remember when I finished it, I was going, Oh, my goodness, I’m out of sync with the world. No one’s going to publish this because it doesn’t exist anymore. But I realized that those stories never and you keep telling those stories. They’re set, and there’s still so many stories to tell. To me, that was a very proud achievement to finally finish that book.
Achim Nowak 14:33
In the 90s, what I remember around being a gay writer in New York, suddenly, some gay writers had access to mainstream publishing houses. You could make a splash, but not everybody had access to it. There was this pressure almost around what success could look like for a queer writer?
Jameson Currier 14:55
You what happened in the mid 90s? Was that stuff On Wall moment that where we reached the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall. So there was a great interest from publishers and editors to seize that moment and to find books and writers that would look at that and bring it into history. And we were also reaching the whole act up stuff had brought great attention. So there was a great amount of attention around gay and lesbian lives. And that 25th anniversary was such a moment that it was kind of like a swell up to bat. And then the interest continued up until the end of the decade. And then 911 changed everything. And you changed the whole landscape of republishing. So.
Achim Nowak 15:50
Because part of the Manhattan is the lots of other writers around and much did you or did you not feel like you’re part of a community of writers,
Jameson Currier 16:01
you always felt part of a community of queer writers, I remember, there was always a book signing or a book reading event, there was a tremendous amount of we had gay magazines, we had gay anthologies, there was always a sense of like, trying to fit into here trying to submit it this writing for this. At that moment, I was also doing book reviews as a book critic. I did non violent blog byline reviews for Publishers Weekly. So and I was given all the gay books. So I read books, like the violent will reader, and if there was a book that I really loved, I would try and champion it to newspapers, having articles published in and the Washington Post in the LA Times, and The Dallas Morning News and the St. Louis Post Dispatch, all because I was getting, you know, final these books, you know, anonymously, and love them and wanted to tell their stories and, and champion them. So there was a great sense of community and they were writing workshops and playwright workshops, and they were a lot of gay and lesbian writers it so it was a great sense of community, you yourself, were part of a community like that. The Cornelia Street,
Achim Nowak 17:24
we were called Three hots and a cot, events and Cornelia Street and all sorts of amazing writers, like you showed up and read with us, which was
Jameson Currier 17:33
right. And that went on for several years. Correct?
Achim Nowak 17:36
for about four years. Yeah, yeah. Yeah.
Jameson Currier 17:39
So I mean, the city was full of opportunities. It’s like that. Do they exist? Now? I don’t know.
Achim Nowak 17:46
So you made this, in my mind wonderfully instance, you from to actually start a press, you know, I believe the date is 2010. Right. And, and I miss I think of myself as a serial entrepreneur. So I start stuff all the time. But that for me would feel really daunting. My memory of the time you’re scrubbing, actually, because I was friends with a well known writer Jaime Enrique, and his ex partner, Jim Sullivan, has started a press and was also publishing a lot of my friends. So with that, yeah, that was my sense of, oh, somebody can just start a press and you you take the author’s you love and you promote the heck out of them, right? For our listeners, just describe, like, what happened in your brain where you said, Okay, I’m going to start a press.
Jameson Currier 18:37
Well, as I alluded before, 911, changed everything changed the economics. And it changed. publishers were cutting back, there was no longer the gay and lesbian sections of bookstores. What was also happening at the same time was the rise of the Internet, the first internet websites were coming in, and it was such a great opportunity. And so we saw this shrinking and expanding content. But somehow, gay and lesbian writers kind of moved to the edges again, and I found it very easy to get stories published, but more difficult to find a book publisher. So I was lucky to have a friend Steve Berman, who ran a print on demand press left a press, who kind of mentored me into the print on demand system where, you know, you only print the book that someone buys. In other words, you don’t you don’t carry the inventory. You don’t carry the back expenses. That’s something for me to pursue. And I was also looking at something that there was a writer Patricia Nell Warren, who wrote the front runner, she after many years of being published, she got all her rights back and started her own press. So she had control of all for works. And I and I was writing a lot of stuff. And that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to have a print on demand press where he had control of all my works. But I didn’t want to do it by myself. So I wanted to publish other writers and I wanted to publish writers who were having difficulty finding publishers, just like I was, over the years, I’ve been a judge for many literary competitions, whether they are new writers, unpublished books, the lambda literary awards, the publishing dragons, I do a lot of, you know, backstage judging, I saw a lot of books that should be published. And I remember saying to one writer, particularly going, you know, if I were a publisher, I would publish this book. And lo and behold, when I became a publisher, I published it. And that was our mutual friend, David practice book, Bob the book. Riddick had a love of that book, and I thought, that just needs to be out. So that’s the trajectory of how I became a publisher.
Achim Nowak 21:10
A word from your sponsor, that’s me, I invite you to go to the website associated with this podcast www.my, fourth active.com, you will find other equally inspiring conversation with great humans. And you will also learn more about the my fourth act mastermind groups where cool people figure out how to chart their own fourth acts. Please check it out. And now back to the conversation. I’ll use a little analogy to go deeper with the publishing. When I was 2425, I suddenly decided I wanted to write theater criticism, and I got a gig with the paper in Washington, DC. And suddenly I was a theater critic. And it changed how people saw me like people, I could do things for people, people sought me out, I could promote them. So I’m wondering, the moment Jamison courier became a publisher, when I’m making up in my mind did suddenly you could do things for other authors, you probably got some attention from aspiring writers, what was that like to be seen in that light?
Jameson Currier 22:20
It was, you know, it was a little daunting, because I realized my economic limitations and my editorial limitations. And I wasn’t, I never had a growth plan for the press. Everything I do myself, you know, I do. The book covers designs, I do the book interior designs, or you do the publishing and do the marketing. I do the accounting. So I wear all the hats. So I did get a lot of interest from other authors. And I had to turn down some that I knew that were good. And I also had to turn down some who I knew were good, but needed a lot of editorial work. And I could not. There were a couple of books that I did deep dives as as an editor, because I really, really loved them. But there were others that I just knew that I couldn’t spend that much time being an editor and then also be a publisher and a writer myself.
Achim Nowak 23:26
In many ways. The lifestyle you describe is almost like the New York fantasy, right? Right. You have the place of the city of the country bad. And as we get older, we just end up spending more plays in the country. Describe to us like how you found your place in the country. And what you Jim love about spending more time there.
Jameson Currier 23:50
Somewhere around 2015 I knew I was going I was reaching a retirement age I knew I didn’t want to spend. I have a very tiny apartment in the city and I knew that I didn’t want to retire and live in that tiny apartment. So I began looking around the metropolitan area, everywhere from the Poconos to Hudson Valley to the Berkshire’s to a Catskills. I’d looked at many places of where I want wanted to retire and I thought I was probably going to end up in the Poconos because my parents visited there every year and I would visit them. But I had a friend, a writer that I published William Sterling Walker, he and his partner bought a house in copake, which is lower Columbia County, and they invited me up for a weekend and also invited their realtor to come visit. And the realtor took me around a couple of houses. And I didn’t have a lot of money to spend on a property. So I saw this farmhouse and primalist farmhouse in a very A nice little hamlet in Upper Columbia County. And I knew that if I didn’t seize the moment, it was going to pass me by. So I made an offer and looked into it. And it was this was right before. This was 20, the fall of 2018. So I, you know, lucked out and to everybody else escaping the city during the pandemic years as
Achim Nowak 25:27
well how sneaky of your friends to invite the realtor for?
Jameson Currier 25:35
Well, they knew that I had been looking and I’m not sure if they knew a lot of people in the area, but they probably wanted their own community too. So it’s worked out wonderfully. I just I love, I love the area that I’m in and I, the house had been not abandoned for 35 years, but kind of like, not kept up for 35 years. So I had to do some work on it and became a project. This is actually how I became painting more is that I was inspired. I’ve always loved the work of Vanessa Bell and duck and Grant who are to Bloomsbury artist. And I became aware of them because I was a care partner for friend who had AIDS, who adored the Bloomsbury group. So I had some books and paintings and knowledge of what they had done with their farmhouse, and Charleston, which is south of London. And they did all the paintings of all the furniture and all the walls and stuff like that. So when I moved into this quite their farmhouse, I go, Oh, I want to get paintings for you know, but I don’t have that kind of budget. So out of necessity, and I decided that, okay, I’m going to teach myself how to paint. And I’m going to just paint things, you know, my backyard, I’m going to paint the brook and repaint the field friends. So that’s how I became more involved with painting. Wants to decorate my home.
Achim Nowak 27:10
Yeah. I follow you on social media, I’ve seen a lot of the paintings that you share. And I hope I don’t trivialize them by my description, but I what I received from them, there is a childlike pleasure and delight in the things that you see, in this scene almost from a place of innocence.
Jameson Currier 27:33
I’m also inspired a lot by folk artists, which is a very naive, very simplistic look, and flattering look. And they show the joy of the moment. So I’m inspired by that. And I don’t want a dark brooding painting on my wall mean that to look at every morning, I want to live in a nice, colorful space that inspires me to want to stay here. So
Achim Nowak 28:06
now you’re painting more and more, and I know your your paintings are being shown and some group shows. So they’re, they’re having a life beyond your farm was farmhouse of, how do you feel about that?
Jameson Currier 28:19
I post my paintings on Instagram and Facebook. And I’m thrilled by the reactions of our friends who liked them. But it makes me very nervous when when they go, Oh, it’s just for sale, because they were never painted for sale. So it’s hard for me to let go of them. I am doing an exhibit and a Art Gallery in the Berkshires in the first two weeks of June, of which I’m trying to determine which paintings I’m willing to show, and also let go, you know, if someone wanted to purchase them, but the intent of doing the show is not to sell the art is to I won’t I’d rather have people just look at it. I’d rather you know, if a museum were to come by and go oh, put it in these I be thrilled. But it’s just makes me nervous that someone wants to buy it.
Achim Nowak 29:19
But what I’m thinking of as you’re talking, it’s another form of artistic expression. You sell your books, why not sell the art right? Why not give it away and the creative source will just keep creating paintings, right?
Jameson Currier 29:31
I have had friends who have visited near the house and they go oh, I love that painting. And I will take it off the wall and come here. Take it with you because you know that way I know. I know where it is.
Achim Nowak 29:48
Yeah. As you’re describing your life right now and I in your art, I’m thinking Jim is sort of settling into a simpler, sweeter version of life compared to what Manhattan could be like? Am I? Am I hearing that correctly?
Jameson Currier 30:10
I do want a simpler life. I’m now 67. And I don’t want the anxiety. I don’t want the pressures. I don’t want to stress. Those are those will always be in your life. You know, you’ll you’ll find them for something. But I don’t see myself as Manhattanites so much anymore. I have, I guess in the mental space, I am a Manhattanite because I don’t think that ever leaves you wants to you’ve spent so many years in the city, you’ve you’ve got that knowledge of it, that kind of ingrained experience. I want something different now. I’ve had that. I mean, I’ve gone through that I don’t, I don’t need to revisit it. I do revisit it. I mean, I still write stories about Manhattan, I still write stories about the A’s years, I haven’t given that up, I just approach them differently. Because it’s my past, I’m not going to ignore it or regret it, I embrace it and incorporate it into what my life has become, which is something different.
Achim Nowak 31:21
I’m curious at 67 as a very accomplished writer in many forms. Do you think about the future? Are you aspirational about the future? Or is it more like, Oh, let me go moment by moment and see how life unfolds? Like, where are you around that?
Jameson Currier 31:39
Yes, I am aspirational. I mean, I always have a list of things I want to paint or painting ideas. And I have a list of stories I want to write. What I have found is I don’t want to do the same thing that I’ve done before. So I want to write, I’m doing illustrated stories. So I’ve done two illustrated tales, both of which are, you know, have relationships to AIDS, the AIDS epidemic, and gay man, but I’ve done illustrations for them, and publish them as small little books. And those have given me great pleasure to take this project from beginning to end do to do every single aspect of it from writing the story, to determine the illustrations to understanding how to design it as a book, and then publish it and market it as a book. So it’s kind of like building a bookcase and then putting the book here, you know, no, beautiful, yeah, so that’s my aspiration is i I’m enjoying that I’d love to do more illustrative works. I do want to write another novel. And I want to write a novel that revolves around a gay man of a certain age, because, as I said, we’d like to see ourselves reflected in, in the fiction that we write. And how many books are there about a gay man of a certain age? There are some that you know, I want to write my version of it.
Achim Nowak 33:19
So I will I wholeheartedly cheer you on around writing that. We’re releasing this episode, in the middle of what’s often Gay Pride month in June. And it’s such an unsettling time the country because we have so many more gay rights, but in some parts of the country, there are forces who try to dismantle those rights. And at the same time, I’m somebody I’m 67, like you a I spent lots of time marching and gay pride parades, and I no longer feel like doing that. And I wondering so what’s, what’s your feeling about Gay Pride Month and gay rights an elder in our literary community? How do you feel about all that?
Jameson Currier 34:05
It’s still important. I don’t know who said this. And I hope that I paraphrase it correctly, is that coming out as a process that never ends, you can come out to your family and friends, but then suddenly, you’re walking around the corner at the grocery store in an aisle, and you need to, you know, make sure that someone understands that you’re a gay man. I live in a very small hamlet in Upper Columbia County. I identify myself as a gay man when I purchased my home, but I am trying to be a very visible gay presence in my community. I am fortunate to have several gay and lesbian compatriots within the area. So coming out as never really ends. I think you can, by extension, look at it that gay activism never ends, you are always going to have to speak up and assert who you are and assert what right. I would like to think that we would get to a point where that’s not necessary. But we’ve been around for quite a bit and things change, and we still have to keep raising our voices. So it’s never a moment to be quiet, you have to keep asserting who you are. And it’s unfortunate that some of the conservative voices get louder and more strange as, as we age and, and move through this world, but we still have to keep fighting and asserting who we are and our rights.
Achim Nowak 35:48
I appreciate that call to action. Now, I’m sure our listeners want to know, where can I find more of Jameson couriers work? And obviously there are these days, the online bookstores, but do you have websites? You mentioned Facebook and Instagram? Where would you like send people to then people who are curious about learning more about you and what you do?
Jameson Currier 36:15
Well, I have a Facebook account Jemison, Courier and Instagram account at Jamison courier. I have a website, Jamison courier.com, which lists lots of the books and some of the art. I have Chelsea station editions.com, which is the publisher website, which has all the books that are currently in still in print. And then I have a new website called Chatham junction.com, which is the repository for the art.
Achim Nowak 36:48
That’s a wonderful way to end this conversation. Thank you so much for chatting with me. But also thank you for the incredible work that you’ve put out over the years and for being Thank you voice for our history and our community.
Jameson Currier 37:05
Thank you. Thank you.
Achim Nowak 37:07
Bye for now. Like what you heard, please go to my fourth act.com And subscribe to receive my updates on upcoming episodes. Please also subscribe to us on the platform of your choice. Rate us give us a review and let us all create some magical fourth acts together. Ciao