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Wednesday, June 22, 2022

The Venice-Abbot Kinney branch of the Los Angeles Public Library was proud to present a panel on novelist, poet, and renown teacher Joseph Hansen today. As an invited panelist, I was delighted to join novelist Michael Nava and senior librarian John Frank in an hour-long discussion of Hansen’s many novels and poems as well as his influence on other writers. Best known for his ten-volume series featuring out-of-the-closest private insurance investigator David Brandstetter, Hansen also was widely praised for other, non-genre novels, including A SMILE IN HIS LIFETIME.

You can also find an article I wrote about Hansen that was published in the LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS at this link:


A long interview with Hansen, conducted by acclaimed poet Leland Hickman, can be found in issue number 18 of BACHY magazine. It is worth digging into the library stacks to find a copy.

Next year will be the centenary of Hansen’s birth. As Michael Nava suggested at the end of the panel, someone at UCLA should organize a full-scale celebration of Joe Hansen’s work. Given that his papers are at the Huntington Library and that he co-founded the Wednesday night poetry workshop at Beyond Baroque, it would be fitting that those two organizations collaborate in putting this event together.

You can watch the panel discussion at:


I had the honor of publishing two of Joseph Hansen’s books: THE DOG AND OTHER STORIES; and a collection of poems, ONE FOOT IN THE BOAT.

“Awareness of an interfering darkness is what most of these poems take as their subjects — poems about the shadow self and other worlds …. where the two are present together — where the beast is in the body (“Cargo”) or in the world (“The Shark in the Inlet”), or where the landscape contains and does not only have a loss imposed upon it, Hansen writes a terrifically poignant poem.” — Rudy Kikel, Contact II


ALTERNATE: The International Magazine of Sexual Politics
May/June 1980
Volume Two, Number 13


Most often gay fiction takes place in states of id, locations like the Mineshaft, Polk, Fire Isladn. These place exist for a large number of people quite apart from reality. They are the loci of the gay imagination. But many of us also live in unnamed places like most of the places in this book of short stories by Joseh Hansen. Those who have been complaining that gay literature is too urban or fabricates too much will be delighted with this.
Since no one can agree on what gay life actually is, perhaps we’ll stop waiting for the big gay novel that takes it all in – at least for a while – and enjoy. If so, the short story, of which these are wonderful examples, just might be the gay form of the 80s. In and out, quick and clean, just a glimpse of this world or that. How like gay life, which is still more fragmented than whole, still serendipitous.
In this book we confront imaginative possibilities, and the human solutions are as satisfying as the literary ones. Perhaps this comes from Hansen’s experience with plotting detective novels, but I tend to think it has more to do with the opportunities the story form allows. Nothing much has to happen, just that much. And I suppose this is what makes these stories more “real” than most gay novels are able to be. In s short story, it’s not really necessary to hype the actions.
These stories are swift and ironic, rather startling in their effects, though their aims seem modest. They contain hard facts and enigmas alike – like something you glimpse briefly out the window of a speeding bus, something odd sticking out of the landscape, and a little frightening. Although they take place in South Dakota, California, Wisconsin, in the South, there’s a remarkable consistency in the collection. Hansen captures the middle range of America (again, everyone complains gay writers never do this) and it’s seen very clearly, as if through a viewfinder. It looks very easy but these stories took a lot of hard work. They go by, however, smoothly. The problem is, there are so few of them and everyone will want to read more.


Inquiries about these books should be sent to William.BillMohr@gmail.com


“One of the peculiarities of Hansen’s career, strangely enough, is that he has only very recently begun to receive any acknowledgement of the development of this character from any gay critics. A middle-class role model must not be worthy in the eyes of our radical literary establishment. Or perhaps we’re all so focused on the long-awaited Messiah in the body of the Great Gay Book that we’ve disdained something as mundane as a detective novel. For whatever reason, only the recent publication of Skinflick has drawn any gay critical attention worthy of note. We’ve abandoned our best-selling novelist and our best character in contemporary American literature to the straight audience.
It will be interesting when someone can finally explain why the London Times lauds a book as the best to come out of America in the detective field since Dashell Hammett, and then gay men in the novel’s home country refuse to buy it. That was the fate of The Man Everybody was Afraid Of. There’s been a reprieve issued by Hansen’s publisher, though; three of Hansen’s detective series which are out of print will be reissued this fall in trade paperback. ..the five novels so far published…for those who want to look, we can also see just how completely a significant novelist can use California.
There is a breadth of character development in the entirety of the series that transcends the individual novels. Subplots that might seem inconsequential in isolation become obvious and extraordinarily rich in the whole. The most significant example of this is David Brandstetter’s love affair with Doug Sawyer. Every single exchange between the two is an insightful look at two men attempting love. But when the whole series is integrated, the reader is given one of the most sincere and painfully honest portraits of a gay male relationship that has existed so far in our literature. …California becomes a character in the novels, reflecting the mood and the temperaments of the two and the other men.

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