In March, April, and May, I will be traveling around the country in an El Monte RV with my dog, Casey, as I work on my book about dogs in America. I’ve created a Facebook page for my trip, which I hope you will “like.” The page is already packed with photographs and videos of the reporting I’ve done so far for the book, including a trip to Alaska to hang out with sled dog racers. In the coming weeks and months, I’ll be updating the page with my itinerary, as well as more videos of the traveling I’ve done so far. On that note, if you have any suggestions for interesting dogs (or interesting people) that I should meet along the way, please do let me know!
Below is some video of the week I spent with dog rescuer Randy Grim in East St. Louis. Check the Facebook page for many more videos!
My latest New York Times Magazine piece is about bulldogs. For some background on the piece, including some entertaining video I took of Handsome Dan (Yale’s bulldog mascot), click here.
My latest New York Times Magazine piece, about my old friend Michael Glatze, went online Thursday and was published in the magazine Sunday. It was the most difficult profile I’ve ever written.
When I was a teenager, my mother told me that my grandfather, a prominent French economist and writer who had struggled with manic depression, had died. “He was hit by a car,” she said. I suspected she was lying, and I was right. I learned the truth soon enough: My grandfather, Jean Denizet, had jumped out of the window of a mental hospital. My grandmother—concerned with appearances, and unwilling to have French high society think whatever they might about a suicide—had apparently concocted the alternate story and asked her children to pass it on.
It wasn’t the first time a Denizet had leaped out the window of a building. My mother’s younger brother, the only male among her eight siblings, had committed suicide that way in his early 30s (on the day before Christmas). Then, three years ago, one of my mother’s sisters intentionally overdosed on medications.
For another sister’s death, I traveled to Paris for the funeral. My grandmother and my mother’s six remaining sisters—most of whom have battled lifelong depression—attended. It was hard not to look around and wonder: Who would be next? And could it be me?
As the only one of my many cousins to be raised outside of France, I have in many ways been insulated against the difficulties of my aristocratic French family (more on that a bit further down). But I am connected by genetics, and, as I’ve grown older and struggled with addiction and depression, I’ve sometimes worried that the legacy of my mother’s family might enslave me, too.
After the ceremony, we traveled to the small French village of Crepy to bury my mother’s sister next to her brother and her father. My dozens of cousins and I—we range in age from 18 to 35, with most in our 20s—spent much of the trip huddled in conversation. What had really happened to our parents? How had they become so ill? And what would become of us? What had become of us? Were we genetically programmed to suffer as they had?
I was reminded of all of this recently when I listened to the latest CD from my talented, charming, and endlessly kind French cousin, Martin Mey. The best song is “Live,” which he sings in English and which is his plea to his mother, who has battled severe lifelong depression, to “get out of and live.” It’s a beautiful and haunting song, and I love him for writing it.
I had almost given up on a Publishers Weekly review of my book, American Voyeur: Dispatches From the Far Reaches of Modern Life, which came out in January, but the magazine finally posted its review.
Denizet-Lewis (America Anonymous) offers these stirring and sensitive portraits of individuals—frequently adolescents—struggling to articulate desire and identity while bearing the weight of societal taboos and marginalization. In the best sections—such as his groundbreaking investigation into a subculture of closeted gay African American men and his acutely observed piece on the ostracized organization NAMBLA—he combines sharp-eyed reportage, sensitive depiction, and happily, considering the sober subject matter, a wry wit. The pieces were previously published in such magazines as the New York Times magazine, and they have the expected celerity and readability—only a few (including a piece on lipstick lesbians) succumb to a more shallow treatment. But for the breadth of his inquiries, the real shoe-leather journalism, and his ability to balance sympathy and skepticism (his study of transient gay youth is one such an example) he admirably succeeds.
Tom Eubancs of Lambda Literary recently wrote a very kind review of American Voyeur. Below is a portion. For the complete review, click here.
My first encounter with the journalism of Benoit Denizet-Lewis just happened to be his first cover story for The New York Times Magazine. I’d say it was a good day for both of us. For him, because who doesn’t want to be the youngest to ever write a cover story for The New York Times Magazine? For me, because the article he wrote, “Double Lives on the Down Low,” held me in a catatonic daze. Anticipating his next piece, I took note of his name that late summer Sunday in 2003.
Alternately titillating and horrifying, “Double Lives on the Down Low” is a 27-year-old Midwestern “white boy” writer’s unflinching chronicle of a “black homosexual underground” that affects the entire country in disturbing and dangerous ways. More importantly, Denizet-Lewis’s story played a large part in exposing the culture of men “on the down low” to mainstream America. Since that time, he has been called upon by theTimes Magazine to write a succession of conversation-starting articles: the heartbreaking “About a Boy Who Isn’t,” the unexpectedly personal “The War on Frat Culture,” the bit-too-Boston-twee “The Newlywed Gays!” and “Whatever Happened to Teen Romance?” which introduced the expression “friends with benefits” into the adult vernacular. All of these expertly-crafted journalistic endeavors are now collected (in “a slightly different form”) in American Voyeur: Dispatches From the Far Reaches of Modern Life, alongside other pieces of various length and effectiveness, published elsewhere.
The book’s table of contents focuses on Benoit Denizet-Lewis’s strengths, breaking down his essays into two categories: YOUTH and SEX—although sex and sexuality play starring or pivotal roles in almost all of the pieces collected here. The exception—perhaps—is the deeply moving and more deeply troubling piece, “Brother’s Keeper,” which Denizet-Lewis wrote when he was a fellow at the Alicia Patterson Foundation. As a gay man familiar with the specter of suicide it was difficult for me not to read some sexual dissatisfaction or even shame into the sad story of the Kochman brothers, who killed themselves one year apart from one another. To Denizet-Lewis’s credit, he doesn’t dig too deeply into the sexual lives of a couple of high school boys he will never be able to interview. More recently, in September of 2009, Denizet-Lewis displayed his innate gift for conversing with kids when the Times Magazine published his riveting “Coming out in Middle School” (not collected here). Only someone with the experience of capturing spot-on quotes from the mouths of babes could successfully report on kids daring to be openly gay as young as 12.
The Margaret Mead of teenagers and gays, Benoit Denizet-Lewis is most successful when YOUTH and SEX intersect, as in “Trouble in Paradise,” (OUT, June, 2000) in which he spends some hard time with gay homeless youths in the Castro. Another example is “Boy Crazy” (Bostonmagazine, May 2001), a fascinating look at what remains of the notorious North American Man/Boy Love Association, aside from the all-too-easy NAMBLA punch line.
I so enjoyed my first time on The Quest of Life radio program that I went back to speak about addiction and my book, America Anonymous. I hope you will have a listen.
I was recently interviewed by Harry Fadiss on his radio show, The Quest of Life. It’s a long, in-depth interview, and we talk about writing, gay and lesbian culture, addiction, and “trying to find the humanity in everybody.” I hope you will have a listen.
I was on Anderson Cooper’s show Wednesday night to talk about sex addiction. I’ve been on his show before to discuss my New York Times Magazine cover pieces, and as usual Anderson asks smart questions and seems genuinely interested in an intelligent and nuanced discussion. Check out the six-minute segment here.
Today, I received an email from Ian Knowles, the director of RICARES (RI Communities for Addiction Recovery Efforts). I am printing it here in its entirety. Please support this cause!
We are collaborating with Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE) to introduce legislation that will remove from job application forms the question about prior criminal convictions or arrests. This is usually in the form of something like, “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” – then there are check boxes for ‘yes’ or ‘no.’
This national movement of this initiative is known as ‘Ban the Box.’
The background is this: The recent report that addresses substance abuse and America’s prison population, from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, begins:
“Of the 2.3 million inmates crowding our nations prisons and jails, 1.5 million meet the DSM IV medical criteria for substance abuse and addiction, and another 458,000, while not meeting the strict DSM IV criteria, had histories of substance abuse; were under the influence of alcohol or other drugs at the time of their crime; committed their offense to get money to buy drugs; were incarcerated for an alcohol or drug law violation; or shared some combination of these characteristics…”
We know that Rhode Island has over 100,000 residents with convictions.
We know that for ex-offenders with substance use disorder to have a sustained recovery there are three key needs: treatment and/or recovery support services, housing and employment.
We know that lack of a legitimate job fosters criminality and that, conversely, having a legitimate job diminishes criminal activity.
We know that many of us have been able to take advantage of the second chance that recovery has given us to become positive and productive members of society. Recovery is possible.
Too many potential employers will see the ‘yes’ checked and immediately discard the job application. The result is that a person who is qualified for the job and who is working hard to sustain recovery, doesn’t even get a chance.
One of the results of this, and we think that it is an unintended consequence, is that an underclass of folks continues to grow who end up re-cycling back through the criminal justice and corrections system, at great financial cost to Rhode Island, and at greater personal cost to so many who lose that second chance.
Our proposed bill would take the question off the initial job application.
This would not apply to jobs that: by law prohibit a person with a criminal record, that are professions such as law enforcement, that are professions that work with vulnerable populations, such as children, the disabled, and the elderly, etc.
The proposed bill does not prohibit a potential employer from asking the question at the job interview. But at that time, the applicant would have the opportunity to specify how far in the past the conviction occurred, the nature of the crime, one’s age at the time, evidence of rehabilitation and recovery, and other mitigating circumstances.
We know that people can and do change, and implementation of this bill would provide an important example of that.
Many cities have passed some variation of ‘Ban the Box’ legislation. They include: Boston, New Haven, Hartford, Baltimore, Chicago, Austin, and San Francisco. Also, it is state law in Minnesota, New Mexico and Hawaii.
Our bill requires that the State and all of the State vendors remove the question from their job applications.
Find out more about RICARES here. Find out more about Ban the Box here.
© 2009 Benoit Denizet-Lewis
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