The Violet Quill was an informal group of gay authors of fiction, mostly resident in New York City, formed in 1980. Their purpose was to act as an interest and support group for each other, with the hope of reflecting the uniqueness of the LGBTQ community, and improving the profile and respect of the American community’s output of literature.
At the time, there were few role models for the average LGBTQ individual, to help with self-perception and confidence, so a group such as this had the opportunity to make an impact, by telling the stories of every-day gay men. Occurring after the Stonewall Riots, and before the AIDS epidemic devastated the community, the Violet Quill has been viewed retrospectively as the beginning of America’s organised gay literary culture.
Through their literary output, this group became a central focus for the views, criticisms, principles, and prejudices of their generation of gay men. In their early work, the members of the Violet Quill reflected the growing confidence of the gay liberation movement. They moved the portrayal of the gay man in literature, from that of a lonely outsider to that of a community participant, agitator, activist, and relevant member of society. In doing so, these writers indirectly altered LGBTQ life, by legitimising and motivating the community to be confident and active.
The onset of AIDS would alter this. This devastating disease became the central focus of the LGBTQ community, and this group of writers would portray the distress of many. Indeed, four of the original members of the Violet Quill would themselves die of the disease.
Several other notable authors can be considered ‘honorary’ members of the group, because their work also reflected some of this period of history, including Armistead Maupin, Larry Kramer, David Leavitt and Britain’s Alan Hollinghurst (the first gay author to win the prestigious Booker Prize for Literature).
Although it is challenging to attribute the maturation of the literary output of the LGBTQ community entirely to the Violet Quill, they remain fascinating as a group, and reflect a vibrant and prolific time in the community’s history, worthy of respect.