Callen Harty has for years been a fixture at Broom Street Theater, authoring plays like “Invisible Boy,” “Myth America” and “One Man/One Woman.” The former artistic director, who recovered from a heart attack suffered on stage at Broom Street in 2008, writes in the introduction to his new book, “My Queer Life,” that, since that episode, he is following his heart’s calling.
That calling, he writes, is to give a voice to anyone struggling with a fear of coming out. His book, which he self-published, is a collection of poems, essays and blog posts that he has written over a span of more than 30 years.
Harty writes that he realized “it might benefit others to collect these pieces together into one volume and not be afraid of what others might think, but rather to put it out there as a gift of love in the hope of helping others better understand my queer brothers and sisters ...”
Harty, 56, spoke with the State Journal about his journey and where his heart will take him next.
Q: Why publish this book now?
A: It’s actually something I’ve been thinking about for quite some time. This is the first year in about 20-some years that I’m not doing a play at Broom Street Theater. I took about a year off to focus on the book. I’ve had a fair number of essays published in various places, and I just thought, “I have so much material here, I want to get it out there.”
I presented the idea to the editor of Life After Hate, (a website that) had published several of my essays. They were also publishing some books and he said it sounded great. I sent him what I had and he agreed to publish it. And then he left and they decided not to publish books anymore. I already had the momentum for it so I just kept going.
Q: How did you choose what to include in the book?
A: I had a lot to choose from. I couldn’t include everything I wanted or it would be a 500- or 600-page book. I chose the poems and essays that had the most universal impact.
Q: Who are you hoping to reach?
A: I think there’s a market for folks in the queer community, particularly those who may be struggling with coming-out issues and who need to see that it’s OK to do that. I’ve been getting a lot of good response from straight folks who have no clue about what the queer community is like, saying that it’s been very moving for them to read about some people’s struggles. It’s given them a better understanding of their gay and lesbian neighbors.
Q: Can you define queer?
A: I’m not sure. It encompasses a lot of things. It encompasses gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, asexual — a whole rainbow of sexual and gender identities. I really don’t like using the term sexual identity, because for me, being gay isn’t just about my sexuality. It’s also about my emotional, physical, intellectual preferences as well.
Q: Do you ever write fiction?
A: I’m working on a novel right now that’s based on my coming-out years. It’s part of a planned trilogy. The first one is called “Out in the Country.” I’m also working on another book about surviving childhood sexual abuse.
Q: Will you continue to write plays?
A: I will, at some point, be submitting something to Broom Street Theater for next year. I’m not sure what that will be yet.
Q: You’re an outspoken activist for gay rights. What more can Madison do?
A: I think Madison overall is pretty supportive of gay and lesbian issues. I think Wisconsin as a whole needs to do a lot better. We have leadership in the state right now that is not exactly on board with where the rest of the state is as far as public opinion. I think we all need to contact our legislators and make some changes. It feels like right now Wisconsin might be the last state in the union to allow gay marriages. We have one of the most regressive amendments in the country and we’re one of the last ones to file a suit against that.
Folks who are already in support of lesbian, gay and transgender issues need to do more as far as contacting legislators and joining queer people in our struggle. It’s all one struggle. If I don’t have rights as a gay man, that affects everyone. If an African-American woman doesn’t have rights, that’s not good for any of us. If Latinos don’t have rights, we all suffer. For me, it’s part of a larger, prouder struggle.