Author Tags: Biography, Essentials 2010, First Nations, Politics, Publishing, Sex
QUICK REFERENCE ENTRY:
Books about B.C. politics and politicians have become a weak spot in B.C. publishing. The more publishers must worry about getting their books into Chapters and retaining precarious funding, the less we see critical works about our society and its managers. A flood has turned into a trickle.
When Stan Persky was full of vigour, he led the way with a populist critique of the Social Credit government of Premier Bill Bennett, Son of Socred (1979). In this first volume in a series of lively paperbacks about B.C. politics, sold in supermarkets, Persky suggested that academics should “spend more of their time and skills addressing the general public rather than just talking to each other.” A long-time sociology professor at Capilano College/University, Perksy co-founded the Georgia Straight Writing Supplement in the late 1960s, which led to the formation of New Star Books by Lanny Beckman. Politically and philosophically, Persky was influenced by Bob Rowan, one of the founders of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and the Arts One curriculum at UBC. His literary mentor was his lover Robin Blaser. Since the release of Buddy’s: Meditations on Desire (1989), Persky has leaned more towards self-referential writing and personal essays.
Stan Persky was named recipient of the 7th annual Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence in 2010, cited by jury member Terry Glavin for his "bravery as a philosopher, a polemicist and a storyteller." [SEE PRESS RELEASE BELOW]
Persky was one of the most significant figures in the rise of British Columbian writing and publishing during the 1970s and 1980s. Born in Chicago in 1941, he had served in the U.S. Navy prior to his arrival in Vancouver. In the late 1960s, he co-founded the Georgia Straight Writing Supplements which led to the formation of New Star Books by Lanny Beckman. A well-known leftist media commentator and a former Globe & Mail columnist, Persky has long taught Sociology at Capilano College. Politically and philosophically, he was influenced by Bob Rowan, one of the founders of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and the Arts One curriculum at UBC. His literary influences are legion. "I notice that over the years my writing has become increasingly a tangled skein of bits and pieces of other authors' writing," Persky has observed, "a Talmudic interweaving of my own and others' commentaries, a text filled with quotes from and references to other texts. My books, like late-medieval chrestomathies, are a patchwork of books."
Persky first gained wide attention for his popular political books, Son of Socred (1979), The House That Jack Built (1980) and Bennett II (1983). In the first volume of this series he voiced his opinion that academics were obliged "to spend more of their time and skills addressing the general public rather than just talking to each other." At the Lenin Shipyard (1981) explored Polish politics; America: The Last Domino (1983) examined U.S. foreign policy. His autobiographical meditations on homosexuality, Buddy's (1989), received a Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize nomination and marked a return to Persky's literary roots. Fantasy Government (1989) scrutinized Bill Vander Zalm's premiership. Stan Persky was a leading light in an attempt to establish a series of literary/philosophical gatherings in Vancouver cafes during the 1990s. He has been increasingly attracted to the culture of Berlin, in particular, and the societies and writers of Europe, in general. The legal, moral and philosophical issues surrounding the case of accused porn collector Robin Sharpe were explored by Stan Persky and John Dixon in On Kiddie Porn (2001).
Much of Stan Persky's diffuse memoir, The Short Version: An ABC Book (2005), first appeared in his friend Brian Fawcett's electronic newsletter Dooneyscafe.com. It contains Persky's casual ode, in prose, to one of his literary icons Robin Blaser, the SFU-based English professor who was Persky's lover in the 1960s. Previously a student of Jack Spicer in California, Persky first read poetry by Blaser when Persky was a 19-year-old sailor stationed in southern Italy. Blaser had been classmates at the University of California at Berkeley with Jack Spicer and Robert Duncan. He met Blaser in a San Francisco bar in January of 1962, in the company of Spicer, and he proceeded to live with Blaser for about five years afterwards, moving to Vancouver in 1966. They have remained friends. Persky was also inspired to pursue a literary career when he received a letter from Jack Kerouac. Persky was in Berlin when this book was awarded the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize in 2006, accepted on his behalf by publisher Rolf Maurer. [See review below] This volume was followed by another collection of critical thinking, meanderings and reworked material, Topic Sentence, with an introduction by Brian Fawcett.
For Reading the 21st Century, Persky republished a variety of essays and book reviews evaluating works by established authors such as Philip Roth, Orhan Pamuk, J.M. Coetzee, and José Saramago, as well as emerging writers like Naomi Klein, Javier Cercas, and Chimamanda Adichie. He also highlighted reporters - Steve Coll, Dexter Filkins, and Rajiv Chandrasekaran - who have written essential books about global issues. “My qualifications for an overview of the books of the decade go back to my first brush with literary criticism as a ten-year-old fifth grader, when I wrote a critical essay about Herman Melville’s Moby Dick under the sensationalist title of “Bloated Whale Beached” (I found the sea-going masterpiece a bit long). Since that precocious debut, it’s been mostly downhill.”
[For other political books by non-politicians, see abcbookworld entries for Adam, Heribet; Antliff, Allan; Avakumovic, Ivan; Baldrey, Keith; Birney, Earle; Blake, Donald E.; Block, Walter; Boyle, Patrick T.; Brière, Elaine; Brunet-Jailly, Emmanuel; Bryden, P.E.; Byers, Michael; Cairns, Alan; Cameron, Stevie; Carr, Paul; Carty, Kenneth; Clearwater, John; Clements, Alan; Coats, R.H.; Cohen, Lenard; Conway, Robert; Covell, Caroline; Cross, William; Day, J.C.; Ditmars, Hadani; Dobbin, Murray; Doyle, Charles; Eisenberg, Avigail; Engler, Allan; Engler, Yves; Enomoto, Randy; Evans, Elwood; Fenton, Anthony; Finlay, K.A.; Foster, Leslie; Friedrichs, Christopher; Garr, Allen; Gawthrop, Daniel; Gerolymatos, André; Godfrey, Sima; Grey, Deborah; Harding, Jim; Haskett, Michael J.; Head, Ivan; Herath, R.B.; Howlett, Michael; Jefferess, David; Johnson, Genevieve Fuji; Julian, Terry; Kavic, Lorne J.; Kay, William; Keene, R.; Knox, Paul; Leslie, Graham; Lewis, S.P.; Lund, Darren; MacMinn, George; MacPherson, Donald; Magnusson, Warren; Marchak, Patricia; Mathews, Robin; Mauzy, Diane K.; McClung, Nellie Letitia; Mgbeoji, Ikechi; Millard, Gregory; Moens, Alexander; Morley, Terry; Morton, James; Mugridge, Ian; Munro, John; Murray, Peter; Nadir, Leilah; Nixon, Bob; Onstad, Gary; Ore, Kenneth; Palmer, Bryan D.; Parker, Gilbert; Plant, Geoff; Plecas, Bob; Prentice, Roger; Prince, Michael J.; Resnick, Philip; Robin, Martin; Rodney, William; Rose, William; Rothenburger, Mel; Sajoo, Amyn B.; Sakolsky, Ron; Scott, Jack; Sharifad, Yadi; Shelton, George W.; Sherman, Paddy; Spector, Norman; Stankiewicz, W.J.; Steeves, Dorothy; Stephen, A.M.; Stevenson, Michael; Swankey, Ben; Townsend-Gault, Ian; Twigg, Alan; Varzeliotis, Tom; Walker, Len; Walker, Michael; Walker, Russell Robert; Webster, Daisy; Wharf, Brian; Wild, Roland; Williams, David Ricardo; Wilson, Donna; Woodsworth, Glenn; Ykelchyk, Serhy; Young, Lisa; Young, Walter D.]
Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Bennett II: The Decline and Stumbling of Social Credit Government in British Columbia, 1979-83
The House (Convention Centre, Stadium, Rapid Transit System, Etc.) That Jack Built: Jack Volrich and Vancouver Politics
On Kiddie Porn: Sexual Representation, Free Speech and the Robin Sharpe Case
Son of Socred: Has Bill Bennett's Government Gotten B.C. Moving Again?
Reading the 21st Century (McGill-Queens 2011). 9780773539099 $34.95
Robin Blaser (New Star, 2010) 978-1-55420-052-8 $ 16.00
Topic Sentence: A Writer's Education (New Star, 2007).
The Short Version: An ABC Book (New Star, 2005)
On Kiddie Porn: Sexual Representation, Free Speech And The Robin Sharpe Case, by Stan Persky and John Dixon (New Star, 2001)
Delgamuukw; The Supreme Court of Canada Decision on Aboriginal Title (Vancouver: Greystone Books, 1999)
Supreme Court of Canada Decision on Abortion (New Star, 1998)
Autobiography of a Tattoo (New Star, 1997)
Boyopolis: Sex And Politics In Gay Eastern Europe (Overlook Press, 1996)
Then We Take Berlin: Stories from the Other Side of Europe (Knopf, 1995)
Buddy's: Meditations on Desire (New Star Press, 1989)
Mixed Media, Mixed Messages (New Star Press, 1991)
Fantasy Government: Bill Vander Zalm and the Future of Social Credit (New Star Press, 1989)
The Supreme Court Decision on Alberta, co-editor Shelagh Day (New Star, 1988)
The Holy Forest, introduction by Robin Blaser and Robert Creeley (Coach House, 1998)
The Solidarity Sourcebook, edited by Stan Persky and Henry Flam (New Star, 1985)
America, The Last Domino: U.S. Foreign Policy In Central America Under Reagan
Bennett II (New Star, 1983)
Flaunting It: A Decade Of Gay Journalism From The Body Politic, edited by Ed Jackson and Stan Persky (New Star, 1982)
The Solidarity Sourcebook (New Star, 1982). With Henry Flam.
At the Lenin Shipyard: Poland and the Rise of the Solidarity Trade Union (New Star, 1981)
The House That Jack Built (New Star, 1980)
Son of Socred (New Star, 1979)
On Kiddie Porn: Sexual Representation, Free Speech and the Robin Sharpe Case (New Star)
On Kiddie Porn: Sexual Representation, Free Speech and the Robin Sharpe Case (New Star) by B.C. civil libertarians Stan Persky and John Dixon was a finalist for the 2002 Donner Prize, awarded to the best book on Canadian public policy, along with Most Favored Nation: Building a Framework for Smart Economic Policy (UBC) by Jack M. Mintz.
[BCBW SUMMER 2002]
Autobiography of a Tattoo (New Star $19)
Autobiography of a Tattoo (New Star $19) chronicles Stan Persky's journey through the US Navy in the 1950s, post Wall Berlin and the Greece of Plato's Symposium woven together through tales and vignettes. The title story is about the young writer's education in love and art, while sequences explore education and life in post Communist Berlin, in the world of boy bars and among the author's friends.
0 921586 62 0
Autobiography of a Tattoo (New Star $19)
"It's a cult love story," Stan Persky jokes, describing his latest compilation of memoirs and investigations of desire, Autobiography of a Tattoo (New Star $19).
"It represents the other side of Bill Richardson's Bachelor Brothers Bed & Breakfast Pillow Book. It's Danielle Steel for the post-modern era."
Written in Berlin, Persky's new amalgam of fiction and sociology frankly portrays the world of boy bars in the spirit of his Vancouver-based reflections, Buddy's, and also recalls Persky's formative years in the US Navy.
"I write about homosexuality," he says. "In a sense I talk about the classic centre of homosexual desire which has to do with man's desire for young men. That in itself is almost a forbidden subject, even in the world of domesticated homosexuality."
Persky believes gay writing is largely at an impasse, particularly in North America, because it has become predictable. Within his field of belles lettres, he says is chiefly concerned with experimenting with literary forms rather than writing explicity about sex.
"I'm perfectly willing to cooperate with the censors," he says, "if only I know what the censors want! Meanwhile I keep writing what I want to say and so far there are people who are willing to publish it."
Stan Persky lives four months of each year in Berlin. He has written ten previous books, teaches philosophy at Capilano College and currently reviews books on Fridays for The Vancouver Sun.
Buddy's (New Star $16.95)
Veteran POLITICAL COMMENTATOR Stan Persky has written a literary study examining homo-erotic behaviour in the Lower Mainland. The book appears at a time when many homosexuals are retreating to the closet.
"The book is about understanding pleasure in the middle of a plague," says Persky, author of Buddy's (New Star $16.95), "It's about bars, hotel rooms and gyms. It's about desire and darkness. "On the one hand, if you're gay, you're often in the presence of death, dealing with friends who are living with AIDS. But on the other hand, life has to go on.
"Eros winks while Eros weeps: Buddy's, a recently demolished gay nightclub, was located at 1018 Burnaby Street in Vancouver's West End. As a frequenter of the club, Persky has recorded gay sexuality with an explicit frankness that is likely to disturb both gay and heterosexual readers. "It looks at porn in the milieu of the gay world. And it deals with the stereotype of hustlers. It sees them as ordinary human beings and it also sees them as the gods of Eros, Cupid and Amor.'
A combination of autobiography, fiction and social criticism, Buddy's represents a return for Persky to his literary roots, a return largely inspired by Persky's admiration for the works of French, author Roland Barthes.
"Parts of the book are poetic," he admits, "But I hope it's accessible. As far as I'm concerned I'm still continuing my career in advocacy journalism. I'm advocating, in the simplest sense, that any consensual sexuality is natural.
"There's no such thing as abnormality, except when you speak statistically.”I can foresee all sorts of adverse responses to Buddy's," he says, "But I'd always wanted to write a book about the big subjects -God, Death, Sex, Beauty -and that's what this one's about.' Currently a philosophy professor at Capilano College, Persky has written numerous political books such as Son of Sacred (1979), At the Lenin Shipyard (1981), Bennett II (1983) and America: The Last Domino (1984).
Mixed Media, Mixed Messages
IS IT OKAY FOR A MALE WRITER TO OGLE a waitress in print, but not a waiter? Is the word' ogle' itself an expression of sexism? To ogle or not to ogle. That is the question the Vancouver Sun considered when it temporarily refused to run a column by its newly-returned media columnist Stan Persky. In a column about 'outing,' the process whereby homosexuals in public life are being forced out of the closet, Persky referred to a brief and slightly flirtatious exchange he had while talking to a waiter in Berlin about outing. Having just ironically returned from Albania and East Berlin where freedom of the press is increasing, Persky was taken aback when a senior Sun editor refused to run the column. Persky said he would have to quit if the Sun didn't print his column with the word 'ogle' in it. Meeting to discuss the issue, Persky advised Sun editor-in chief Ian Haysom he should fire the senior editor and get on with the business of publishing a modern newspaper. "It appeared to me that everyone else on the paper was free to write colunms about their kids, cats and spouses," says Persky, "but as a homosexual I wasn't allowed to refer to my private life." The Sun backed down and Persky's column was to appear on August 31. "I would have had to put the column as an epilogue to the new book," says Persky, whose collection of newspaper writings, Mixed Media, Mixed Messages (New Star $13.95), will be out this fall, "but this means it'll just have to go in the next one." During the week-long impasse with the Sun, Persky was offered a media column with the Globe and Mail. Meanwhile former Globe columnist Brian Fawcett, a friend of Persky's, also has a collection of non-fiction, Unusual Circumstances/Interesting Times (New Star $14.95). "We're the terrible twosome from Vancouver," laughs Persky.
Persky ISBN: 0'-921586-23-X; Fawcett ISBN: 0-921586-26-4
[BCBW 1991] “Media”
The Short Version: An ABC Book (New Star)
Many reviewers of Stan Persky’s The Short Version: An ABC Book will begin by mentioning Persky’s new collection of memoirs and opinion pieces is supposed to be modeled on Czeslaw Milosz’s two-volume work Milosz’s ABCs in which the late Polish Nobel Prize winner, in his mid-eighties, provided a miscellany of literary profiles, reflections and recollections, in alphabetical order.
Some reviewers will also mention that many of Persky’s ruminations and ramblings have been initially posted on the Dooney’s Café website managed by his friend Brian Fawcett in Toronto. Or they’ll quote Persky’s own obtuse explanation for his A-to-C litany. “An ABC book is perforce the short version of another, conceptually amorphous entity, just as life itself is the short version of the dream of immortality. That entity is one that includes both a database—the sum of all my vocabularies—and the events of my life; together, they provide a locus in which I experience the world.”
All of which just gets in the way. Whether Stan Persky is writing about Athens, Woody Allen or AIDS; describing sex-acts in a Bangkok nightclub or providing a paean to his former mentor/lover Robin Blaser; or discussing Canada or Chicago, his amalgam of seemingly informal A-to-C chatter is mostly a lot of fun.
Clearly Stan Persky is not writing a book to change the world, or even an insightful self-portrait. He’s amusing himself. And the undeniable intelligence of his amusement is infectious. Reading The Short Version is like being in the presence of a confident joke-teller. Even though one suspects Persky’s easy-going style is an illusion, we want to believe the rabbit really does come out of the hat, as if he’s just making up his prose as he goes along, effortlessly and without artifice. It’s a clever act to follow. The Short Version is a one-man show in which Persky is free to be an enthusiast, indulging in the comfort of his memories and intellectual discoveries with all the zeal of a record-collector putting on tracks from his favourite albums. Spalding Gray-like, Persky could easily perform excerpts from this book as a one-man play at the Fringe Festival, and Balding Gray would be a hit.
Persky’s flirtations with the mainstream are apparently over. He won’t be writing any populist paperbacks about the Gordon Campbell government, as he did in the old days of Bill Bennett. That would take a lot of work. Instead The Short Version enables the now-venerable Capilano College professor and habitué of Berlin to explore the self-satisfaction of his accumulated riches. The Short Version: An ABC Book presents Persky the philosopher king, unplugged, unfettered, counting his chips, with the insouciance of Jabba the Hut. A is for Art and Auschwitz. “Theodor Adorno sternly declared in the wake of the Holocaust that lyric poetry is impossible after Auschwitz. I think that the best way to interpret that remark is not that good poetry can’t be written after Auschwitz, but that good writing now requires an understanding of the Holocaust.”
B is for Bald. “My father was bald, and I inherited, along with much else from him, his standard male pattern baldness. I fretted about it, mainly worried, I suppose, about its potential effects on my sex life. For years, I fought a losing battle by arranging my hair in a desperate ‘comb-over,’ attempting to disguise the obvious. What an extraordinary waste of time, of mirror gazing, of brilliantine and gels occasionally, walking around the streets, when a breeze comes up and riffles through my fringe, I forget that I’m bald, and like people who have lost an arm or a leg are said to experience a phantom limb, I experience some imaginary hair. Then I run my hand over my crystal-ball-shaped dome, and move on.”
C (at the end of the book) is for Continued. “I remember how thrilling it was as a child to come to the conclusion of something I was reading, a story or a book, and discover, at the end, it wasn’t ‘The End,’ but that there might be more to come. More Walter Farley Black Stallion stories, more Wizard of Oz books, more John R. Tunis sports novels or Amazing Adventures. Ever since I began to write, I’ve always wanted to end a book with the magical promissory words: to be continued.”
It adds up to a smorgasbord, not a five-star restaurant. You can go back and forth along the line-up, dismissing some dishes, finding delight in others. The spice of candour is Persky’s most consistent quality, whether he is hyping Chicago Cubs’ shortstop Ernie Banks or the influence of French heavy-hitter Roland Barthes. (Discovering the latter’s posthumous, alphabetically-ordered book entitled Roland Barthes, we learn, was “an indelibly liberating experience” that encouraged Persky to embrace himself as a subject, leading him from his breakthrough homosexual memoir Buddy’s, and now onto The Short Version.)
You don’t have to be previously committed Stan fan to appreciate someone who admits, “My books, like late-medieval chrestomathies, are a patchwork of books.” To emphasize his point, Persky proceeds to provide a six-and-a-half page bibliography of his favourite books and authors. He’s telling us everything he wants us to know, and very little otherwise. 1-55420-016-4
Lieutenant Governor’s Award
Press Release (2010)
Vancouver, BC – The West Coast Book Prize Society is proud to recognize Stan Persky as the recipient of the 7th annual Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence.
British Columbia’s Lieutenant Governor, the Honourable Steven Point, will present the award at the Lieutenant Governor’s BC Book Prizes Gala to be held at Government House in Victoria on April 24, 2010. The event will be hosted by broadcaster Shelagh Rogers.
“We have chosen Stan Persky as the recipient of the 2010 Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence because of the intellectual and moral integrity he brings to his work as a writer who engages with some of the most difficult questions facing society, and because of the great contributions he has made to the literary canon of Canada and British Columbia.
His numerous books and his trail-blazing efforts in creating literary journals and a forum for public engagement – not least New Star Books and the Georgia Straight – have helped develop British Columbia’s literary community into what it is today.
From his earliest days in the ‘New American Poetry’ community of San Francisco to his sojourn teaching philosophy at Capilano University in North Vancouver, Stan has cheerfully persisted in his role as literary colleague, mentor, guide, teacher and collaborator. From the real-world and digital versions of Toronto’s Dooney’s Cafe, and even from his part-time residence in Berlin, Stan has always taken British Columbia seriously. He has subjected British Columbia to thoughtful inquiry, and has held British Columbian literature to the highest standards.
Stan’s bravery as a philosopher, a polemicist and a storyteller leap from the pages of his twenty books, from Lives of the French Symbolist Poets and Topic Sentence: A Writer‘s Education, and from At The Lenin Shipyard: Poland and the Rise of the Solidarity Trade Union to Fantasy Government: Bill Vander Zalm and the Future of Social Credit and Buddy’s: Meditations on Desire. His grace as an essayist, his curiosity and independence of thought as a critic and newspaper columnist, and his exuberance as a civil rights activist and a leading voice of the gay community, have enriched us all.
Stan Persky is our Socrates. British Columbians can rightly boast that he is truly one of ours. We are enormously proud to offer him the recognition of the 2010 Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence.”
– Terry Glavin, jury member
The jury for this year’s Lieutenant Governor’s Award: Terry Glavin, author and journalist; Lynne van Luven, Associate Dean, University of Victoria; and Robert Wiersema, author.
This prize was established in 2003 by former Lieutenant Governor, the Honourable Iona Campagnolo, to recognize British Columbia writers who have contributed to the development of literary excellence in the province. The recipient receives a cash award of $5,000 and a commemorative certificate.