Going Too Far, For Everyone's Sake
A nice surprise! Someone pointed me to the P.E.N. Club of America Facebook page which put up an odd photo of me but with this quote "The main purpose of censorship is to promote ignorance, whether it is by lying and bowdlerized texts or by attacking individual books." The quote is from my blog at the Huffington Post's Banned Books issue and you can read the entire essay here: FelicePicano@HuffingtonPost
The envelope was from Her Majesty's Inland Revenue and Customs Service, located at a dock outside London, England, addressed to the publisher of Gay Presses of New York. I was one of the three owners of GPNy so I opened the envelope and read the letter. In the politest possible language I was informed that the 20 copies of my memoir, Ambidextrous: The Secret Lives of Children, intended for Gay Is the Word Bookstore at Russell Square, had been "seized by the signatory, declared obscene, and destroyed by immolation."
That was in 1989. Since my early twenties I had done as much as possible to protest and rebel against a society I had hopes for and wanted to reform. More than one person had told me, in no uncertain terms, "Some day you will go too far!"
That day had arrived: it was March 17, 1989.
I was astounded and at the same time I was very pleased. I'd never been censored before. Having a book censored means something. It means you have deeply offended one or more people who felt they needed to protect unsuspecting readers from your inflammatory words, thoughts, and images. Before this occurred, I'd been nominated for important literary awards, I'd had a few bestsellers, my books had been translated into many languages, but nothing before this had ever truly satisfied me that I was having any real effect as a writer.
Felice on 'The Reading Life'
When I was in New Orleans at the Saints & Sinners Conference in March I was interviewed by Susan Larson for her program The Reading Life at WWNO FM Radio. Susan was a long time book reviewer for the Times Picayune and a great fan of authors and readers.
Check out her conversation with me about my memoir Nights at Rizzoli and also with author Greg Iles. You can find it on wwno.org under Programs, The Reading Life.
"Nights At Rizzoli"
Review by Kevin Brannon
February 19, 2015
In his new memoir, Nights at Rizzoli, Felice Picano resists the temptation to think of late night Manhattan as an “elite city.” However, it is an apt phrase for the world he inhabited in the early and mid-’70s, when he worked nights at the old Rizzoli Bookstore, just south of the Plaza Hotel on Fifth Avenue. These were years in which a night on the job might involve a brush with haughty Mick Jagger or a sweetly unassuming Jackie Onassis, Greta Garbo or Salvador Dalí. Years that left him free to roam the city after hours, to explore the gay bars and the back rooms of the West Village, the dilapidated piers along the Hudson where gay men gathered for sex all night long. Nights at Rizzoli is a brief, sketchbook record of Picano’s encounters in both realms of a New York City that feels far more glamorous, dangerous and free, and somehow more fraught with history, than the one we know today.
See more at: Lambda Literary
The Bookstore That Bewitched Mick Jagger, John Lennon, and Greta Garbo
The Rizzoli in New York City was no ordinary bookstore in its ’70s heyday. Celebrities flocked to this glamorous and buzzy temple of literature and culture.
From The Daily Beast
December 16, 2014
When Rizzoli bookshop closed this past year on 57th Street, many people lamented its loss. It was the last really elegant shop of its kind left in Manhattan. But for some of us, while its closing was sad, it was a tempered sadness. After all it wasn’t the real Rizzoli bookstore that had opened at 712 Fifth Avenue in the 1960s. That particular shop, sold to Bendel a decade ago or so before, had been the ne plus ultra of American bookstores. Those of us who worked there during its glory years in the 1970s and early 1980s knew how absolutely unique it was, as I hope to show in my book, Nights at Rizzoli.
Italian media mogul Angelo Rizzoli had an empire of newspapers, magazines, and radio and television stations throughout Italy, and bought the building because his reporters and media staff needed a New York headquarters. The bookstore was opened as a way of presenting Italian books and culture to Manhattanites.
It was never intended to do anything as vulgar as actually earn money. If anything, it would lose money gently, elegantly, hopefully not very much at one time. Because the shop was emblematic of that peculiar Italian institution known as La Faccia, i.e. presenting the best face possible.
And did it ever! Situated between 55th and 56th streets on what real-estate brokers dubbed Millionaires Row, Rizzoli was next door to Harry Winston Jewelers, across the street from Tiffany’s and George Jensen Fine Glass.
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