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James Polchin: Indecent Advances

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In Conversation with John Copenhaver

A skillful hybrid of true crime and social history that examines the relationship between the media and popular culture in the portrayal of crimes against gay men in the decades before Stonewall.

Stories of murder have never been just about killers and victims. Instead, crime stories take the shape of their times and reflect cultural notions and prejudices. In Indecent Advances: A Hidden History of True Crime and Prejudice Before Stonewall, James Polchin recovers and recounts queer stories from the crime pages—often lurid and euphemistic—that reveal the hidden history of violence against gay men.

What was left unsaid in the crime pages provides insight into the figure of the queer man as both criminal and victim, offering readers tales of vice and violence that aligned gender and sexual deviance with tragic, gruesome endings. Victims were often reported as having made "indecent advances," forcing the accused's hands in self-defense and reducing murder charges to manslaughter.

Published in time for the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall uprising on June 28, 1969, Indecent Advances investigates how queer men navigated a society that criminalized them and displayed little compassion for the violence they endured. Polchin shows, with masterful insight, how this discrimination was ultimately transformed by activists to help shape the burgeoning gay rights movement in the years leading up to Stonewall.

James Polchin, Ph.D., has taught at the Princeton Writing Program, the Parsons School of Design, the New School for Public Engagement, and the Creative Nonfiction foundation. His writing has appeared in several places, including The New InquiryLambda LiteraryBrevity, and the Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, where he is a contributing writer. A Clinical Professor at New York University, he lives in New York City with his husband, the photographer Greg Salvatori, and a Labrador named Albert.

John Copenhaver’s Barry Award-nominated historical crime novel Dodging and Burning received a Publishers Weekly starred review, and Library Journal starred review and Debut of the Month. The Associated Press called it “a riveting debut,” and BOLO Books: “A masterwork of tone and voice … a beacon for voices too often stifled.” Copenhaver writes a crime fiction review column for Lambda Literary called “Blacklight,” and he is the five-time recipient of Artist Fellowships from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. He’s a Lambda Fellow, and he has completed residencies at VCCA, VSC, and Ragdale. He’s a Larry Neal awardee, and his work has appeared in CrimeReads, Electric Lit, Glitterwolf, PANK, New York Journal of Books, Washington Independent Review of Books, and others. He chairs the 7-12 grade English department at Flint Hill School. He grew up in the mountains of southwestern Virginia and currently lives in DC with his husband, artist Jeffery Paul (Herrity).

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