Kramer, Larry

Kramer, Larry (Lawrence David), 1935-2020 American gay-rights activist and playwright, b. Bridgeport, Ct., Yale Univ. (B.A., 1957). After graduating college, Kramer served in the Army reserve and then was hired by Columbia Pictures. He was promoted to the story department, rewriting scripts and eventually writing his own screenplays, including Women in Love (1969; Oscar nominated for best screenplay). He turned to playwrighting in the early ‘70s, addressing contemporary gay life, first with Sissies’ Scrapbook (1973; retitled as Four Friends). His controversial novel Faggots (1978) was denounced by some in the gay community for its critical depiction of gay life. Nonetheless, the book was his first commercial success. When the AIDS crisis erupted in the late ‘70s, Kramer became among the most prominent voices calling for a cure. In 1982, he was one of the founders of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis. However, his confrontational nature continued to place him in opposition to both straight and gay activists who had different views as to how to influence public opinion about the disease. Kramer’s best-known work is his play, A Normal Heart (1985, The Public Theater), which openly addressed the AIDS crisis; it was later revived on Broadway (2011; Tony for Best Revival of a Play) and made into an HBO film (2014; Primetime Emmy Award); a sequel, The Destiny of Me, was produced in 1992 (Pulitzer Prize nominee, two Obie Awards, 1993). In 1987, Kramer was influential in the founding of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), a group that encouraged civil disobedience to draw attention to the government’s lack luster response to the continuing health crisis. Kramer continued to write polemical fiction and nonfiction works through the end of his life. Among his many honors, Kramer was named a Master American Dramatist by the Pen/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater (2013) and his name was added to the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor in the Stonewall National Monument (2020).

See his historical novels, The American People Volume 1: Search for My Heart (2015); and Volume 2: The Bruality of Fact (2020); nonfiction, Reports from the Holocaust: The Making of an AIDS Activist (1989, rev. 1994); The Tragedy of Today’s Gays (2005); biography by L.D. Mass (1997); study by R. Shilts, And the Band Played On (2007).

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