July 13, 2007
V 35 Issue 28

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Michael Cunningham, Gay Pulitzer Prize Winning Author of "The Hours" and Screenwriter of the Beautiful, Star-Studded New Film, 'Evening', Shares His Thoughts with Seattle Gay News Readers
Michael Cunningham, Gay Pulitzer Prize Winning Author of "The Hours" and Screenwriter of the Beautiful, Star-Studded New Film, 'Evening', Shares His Thoughts with Seattle Gay News Readers
Michael Cunningham, Gay Pulitzer Prize Winning Author of "The Hours" and Screenwriter of the Beautiful, Star-Studded New Film, 'Evening', Shares His Thoughts with Seattle Gay News Readers By E. Joyce Glasgow - SGN Arts & Entertainment Writer

Michael Cunningham is the Pulitzer Prize winning author of the novel "The Hours", which was made into an Oscar winning film starring Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore. He recently was co- screenwriter with Susan Minot on the new film, "Evening", with a star-studded cast lead by Vanessa Redgrave. The film is based on Minot's novel, of the same name and was released nationally on June 29th. Cunningham spoke in New York City in a group interview about his connection to the film and in a private interview with SGN A&E writer, E. Joyce Glasgow, about his place as an openly Gay man and Gay author in American society.

Cunningham decided to co- write the screenplay for "Evening", when asked, because he was a big fan of Susan Minot's work. He was a bit nervous about it, he said, because he didn't want to mess up her book. He said that great novels, well written, lead to greater changes in writing a screenplay because you have to go in and disassemble it. The story is about a woman close to death, looking back, wondering if she made mistakes in the paths that she took, learning that her journey was just fine as it was and that the love that she regrets losing is never lost and never goes away. Cunningham received the call to work on the film at a time when his own mother was terminally ill and said that he felt that the universe works in mysterious ways.

The book has dozens of beautifully drawn characters; however, Cunningham said, a two hour movie in a theater cannot possibly accommodate a population that size. Instituting "population control" was a long and difficult process, deciding which characters would stay and which would go in order to keep balance in the drama. For example, "Buddy", a minor character in the book, became a major character in the movie. Cunningham was fascinated by his character as a romantic, wastrel son of semi-vast wealth and felt that something dramatically interesting might happen, so he "gave Buddy a big promotion".

Vanessa Redgrave and her daughter Natasha Richardson appear together as mother and daughter in the film and Cunningham said that while they spoke the lines that he wrote, that some of the biggest thrills on the set were the countless mother/daughter nuances that they brought into their performances.

When questioned about what he would think if "Evening" is labeled by some as a "chick-flick", Cunningham responded that he and many others bridle at that notion and the misogyny that it implies. He said that "they call every movie in which a woman has a brain and soul "chick-flick" .O.K. girls?"(laughter). He spoke about the film's premise of being happy and content with the life you're given, without having all the bells and fireworks or getting exactly what you want as a concept that is a rare subject and a bit "subversive" and "unconventional" for an American film. "It is not about waiting until the right guy comes along but understanding that various right guys come and go and wrong guys come and go and at the end you've had a life and if you insist on just sitting in that room until the perfect situation comes along, you may be waiting an awfully long time and if you refuse to forgive the situations that you find yourself in for being other than perfect, you may live a life of regret and why would you want to do that? It is a story about women and men living their lives, about being in love, about being a parent, about being a child and if it is impossible for you, as a movie goer, to imagine yourself into a life slightly different from your own in its externals but utterly like your own in its deeper particulars and its questions about love and loss and family, then you should just wait for "Spiderman IV."

There are mysteries which remain unsolved in the film and Cunningham said: "I hope that any good novel or movie ends with some mysteries solved and some mysteries wide open. I think that is one of the purposes of narrative, both to bring particular stories to a close and to open up other stories and to remind us that life is both knowable and unknowable."

In our private interview, Michael Cunningham told me that he loves Seattle and we talked about his life as a Gay man in American society. Cunningham was politically active with Act Up for many years and currently finds it gratifying to volunteer, working in the kitchen for "God's Love: We Deliver", an organization in N.Y.C., which delivers prepared meals to Gay AIDS patients and more recently, primarily to more I.V. drug users who have AIDS.

He has been with his partner, Kenny, for nearly twenty years. Their primary residence is New York City and they have a small getaway house in Provincetown, Mass., purchased with earnings from Cunningham's movie deal for "The Hours". Kenny is a psychologist and Cunningham said that he "doesn't get all 'shrinky' with me", leaving his work at the office. He does feel that he and his partner are doing kind of the same thing; Cunningham solving mysteries of invented people in his fiction writing and his partner solving mysteries of real people, helping them live fuller lives.

I asked Cunningham about his thoughts on Gay marriage. "Kenny and I don't want to get married. I have no interest personally in replicating a heterosexual institution I suspect if I was straight and had been with a woman for twenty years we wouldn't want to get married. However, I one- hundred- and- one percent support the right of Gay men and Lesbians to get married, and to be married in every sense of the word, no civil union, no separate but equal , married. I just don't want it for myself. Nor do I want to be in the military. I find that the two big issues that are in the air right now happen to be about things that I don't want for myself."

What was it like winning a Pulitzer Prize? "It was a huge surprise. I was thrilled for about three days and then depressed for about three months. There was a certain sense about& what do I do now? Now I have something to live up to., It was crazy on my part. But there I was and I was really unhappy for awhile until I finally said: o.k. just get back to work. Don't worry about the Pulitzer Prize. I was very happy and proud to be the first out Gay novelist to win the Pulitzer Prize and as far as I know the first Pulitzer Prize given to a novel in which Lesbians and Gay men appear prominently. That was great."

Cunningham is working on a new book which is still too early to talk about, so he referred to it as an "unspecified project with Gayness in it".

I asked Michael Cunningham if he had some thoughts and feelings that he'd like to share with Seattle Gay News readers. He said: "I feel like I am a gay man at a fascinating, but really difficult time in history, when, on one hand, innumerable heroes have helped us make huge strides in our ongoing insistence on full rights and full recognition. On the other hand, of course, that very success has produced this terrible backlash. These motherf***kers are talking about amending the constitution to deny us our rights. I feel like we are at an unprecedented point in queer history, in which things are better than they have ever been and worse than they have ever been. I feel like my obligations as a gay citizen are slightly different from my obligations as a gay novelist. As a citizen, I have unshakeable political convictions and a pretty clear sense of what I think is right and what I think is wrong. I feel that as a novelist, part of my job, part of any novelist's job, is to portray my characters, some of whom are gay, some of whom are straight, some of whom are undecided, in all their human complexity. I don't really think my very purpose of fiction is directly politically. It is subtly political. What you hope a novel will do is make it impossible for anyone who reads your novel to imagine that Gay people are some kind of separate species. It's the best tool we have for promoting Empathy. Do I think George Bush is going to read some novel of mine and change his mind? No." (laughter)

"Evening" is currently playing locally at the Guild 45th, Kirkland Parkplace, Bella Bottega, Alderwood 16, and Lincoln Square, as well as at movie theatres across the U.S.

For more information about "Evening" visit:


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