Advocate Days & Other Stories by Mark Thompson
What does it mean to be an advocate? To become a person who speaks out and defends a cause? In this collection of moving essays, longtime journalist Mark Thompson charts his own journey of becoming both a witness and participant in the gay liberation movement. He then goes on to describe other advocates of personal and political freedom he has known and how these friendships further informed his activism.
His story begins in 1968 when, as a curious teenager in the throes of coming out, he accidentally discovers one of the first issues of The Advocate, a tiny Los Angeles newsletter that would grow into the gay movement’s most important national journal of record. Little did he know that only in a few more years he’d be working for the publication ~ first as an enterprising young writer and then, after nearly two decades, as its Senior and Cultural Editor.
Filled with historic eye-witness accounts of a movement and its primary chronicle always in flux, as well as profiles of artists and activists who have made a difference, "Advocate Days and Other Stories" is more than the sum of its parts. Taken together, these keenly observed tales offer a stirring testament to the significance of living a life graced with meaning and purpose.
This book is a stirring set of memories, interviews, recollections, and personal experiences of the author, Mark Thompson. Above all though, this is a tribute to gay history through the eyes of one man, intimately involved in so many ways. The first part of the book is early recollections and memories from Thompson’s 20-year career at The Advocate. Thompson’s dedication and hard work is shown through the history of the publication as he went through it, ending such an illustrious career with a whimper. From that end, Thompson went onto new beginnings which litter the second half of the book with memories, personal experiences, and introductions to influential men in gay history. The collection is beautifully written with stirring prose and an emotional content that is also educational. Thompson walks the literary tight rope of entertaining a reader while also educating about important people and events in gay history.
The early memories of The Advocate begin with a fevered first look to an indelible mark upon the publication. From elation and success to heartbreak, frustration, and betrayal, the telling never rants or shows bitterness. Instead, the publication is laid bare in all its faults and glory. The heyday is remembered alongside the missteps. Meanwhile, the importance of advocacy is shown through the actions of others and their impact. Influential men, journalists, and activists drift through the author’s life, each showing the importance of belief and action. Well known advocates and speakers exist alongside lesser known, but no less important friends. Both shaping the life and work of what was to become a renowned journalist and advocate.
The second part of the book offering memories, friendships, relationships, and events is slightly more mixed. The personal dedications are beautiful tributes to friends, mentors, and loved ones that show a rich, textured history in Thompson’s eloquent voice. From well known gay advocates to religious figures, the advances through the years for the Gay community are both staggering and minuscule. The massive progress is offset by the continual backsliding of culture. However, through the birth and horror of AIDS, riots, and hatred, the theme of hope for today and the future shines brightly. The memoirs of men who have lived their entire lives with dignity, respect, and charisma are nothing less than inspirational for a new generation that could learn so much from the past.
The only slight negative within this brilliant collection is that sometimes the memories of important men felt more like a biography and recitation of their many and varied accomplishments. Some of these lost their personal touch which helps make the writing so engaging and moving. However, there is no question why Mark Thompson is such a celebrated voice and writer of this time. This book is an eloquent voice and memory that speaks from the heart and offers an “earnest” authenticity that everyone can learn from.
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*Originally reviewed for Rainbow Reviews.