Gary L. Atkins is an award-winning journalist whose works include the critically acclaimed Gay Seattle: Stories of Exile and Belonging and his new book, Imagining Gay Paradise: Bali, Bangkok and Cyber-Singapore. He specializes in creative non-fiction journalism, fusing an easy-to-read narrative style powered by strong characters with questions about history, geography, communication, and social justice. Gay Seattle follows the 100-year-long saga through which gay men and women imagined their “coming home” – rather than just their “coming out” -- in the context of the Pacific Northwest’s famously wet landscape and roguish history. Similarly, Imagining Gay Paradise journeys through a century of imaginings of paradise and manhood by gay men in the tropical geography of Southeast Asia. The story stretches from the end of the colonial empires to the present world of cyberspace, ranging across the development of the aesthetic paradise of Bali in the 1920s and 1930s to the erotic paradise of Bangkok fostered from the 1960s onward, and to the cyber-paradise promoted since the 1990s in Singapore. Gay Seattle was published by the University of Washington Press in 2003 and received numerous accolades for its fusion of journalism and scholarship, including a Washington State Book Award and a national Jesuit Book Award. The University of Hong Kong Press is publishing the hardback edition of Imagining Gay Paradise and is joined by Silkworm Press of Thailand as co-publishers of the paperback edition. Imagining Gay Paradise is also being made available as an e-book.
Gary first became interested in writing about age six when his parents gave him a rubber-type printing press. He immediately started producing a newspaper for his local neighborhood in New Orleans. In high school, he initially thought he might become a historian or a biologist – two other strong interests – but eventually he realized that if he entered journalism, he could write about all three of his interests: current political and legal events, history, and nature. He graduated from Loyola University and then Stanford University, served an internship on the Washington Post and joined the Pulitzer-winning Riverside Press-Enterprise in California -- where he won numerous awards for his narrative and environmental reporting and writing. Seattle University hired him to teach in and chair its Communication Department and, in 2005, named him a full professor. He teaches courses in narrative journalism, communication justice, media and sexual/gender justice, and international communication in Asia.
Nigel Collett,reviewer for the Asian Review of Books, the Tongzhi Literary Group in Hong Kong, and Fridae.asia, recently commented on Imagining Gay Paradise:
“Atkins does not make this book a chronological series of biographical tales, but intersperses them, one with the other, to bring out the way the history of such unconnected lives resonates with similar themes… His background has given him a racy, journalistic style of writing that strongly and clearly carries his narrative lines…You can read Atkins with pleasure and without having to lug a dictionary around with you.”
Collett is the author of The Butcher of Amritsar, the acclaimed biography of General Reginald Dyer who, in 1919, marched a squad of soldiers into the holy city of Amritsar, India, and shot more than 200 Indians who had gathered to hear political speeches. The incident would later propel Gandhi’s understanding of the inhuman brutality of colonialism.
You can read Nigel Collett’s entire review of Imagining Gay Paradise at fridae.asia.
The New Jersey Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J.,has recommended Imagining Gay Paradise as one of five books to buy to kick off Pride Month.
It’s a bit of an odd review in that it suggests that one theme of the book is that oppressed gay men in Europe and the U.S. who sought out paradises in Southeast Asia were often tragically disappointed. But that was not true of Walter Spies, the major European character who helped transform the image of Bali into that of an aesthetic paradise, nor of the major American character, Darrell Berrigan, who thoroughly enjoyed Bangkok. Both of their lives did end tragically — Spies died due to an unjust Dutch detention and a Japanese bomb during World War II; Berrigan died at the hands of a gay hustler.
But does that mean the men were tragically disappointed in the paradises they had imagined in Southeast Asia and would have preferred to stay at home? I don’t think so. Both in fact successfully re-imagined the meaning of “home” in Southeast Asia.