Glad Day Bookshop Toronto 1970-1991-2000
Introduction for Glad Day Bookshop Toronto Gallery
These are photos either taken inside or outside the store at its three Yonge Street locations. A few pictures in ‘The Body Politic Gallery’ were taken in the unheated shed at 4 Kensington Ave. The store began as a combined mail order service (with a small catalog) and as a book seller’s table at various gay meetings. I simply carried the books around from one meeting space to the next … in a knapsack.
Glad Day’s Toronto first location was 65 Kendal Ave. which also served as the address for The Body Politic. From there, we moved to 4 Kensington Ave., where The Body Politic and Glad Day shared the shed connected to the back of the house. GATE also had its first meetings at this address. Following the media uproar over Gerald Hannon’s first article on intergenerational gay male relationships our (gay) landlords ejected us (along with the gay movement). John Scythes and I responded by purchasing an old house at 139 Seaton St. in Cabbagetown, south of Dundas.
The Seaton Street house was a unique phenomena: it was run as a gay male commune, a meeting space, office and layout area for The Body Politic and the next incarnation of Glad Day Bookshop. Display shelves were built in the long narrow hallways on the main floor and customers rang the doorbell to get in. In the basement, we built a work room for the newspaper. It was here we also began collecting the seed materials that gradually evolved into the Canadian and Lesbian Gay Archives. Things took a major turn when I left The Body Politic and made the decision to become a professional bookseller. There was still a long road ahead before the two Glad Day Bookshops (Toronto and Boston) could lay claim to being the serious literary institutions they evolved into during the 1980s and 90s.
Some writers and artists whose presence graced Glad Day Toronto: Edward Albee, William S. Burroughs, Quentin Crisp, John Rechy, Sir John Gielgud, Alan Hollinghurst, Christopher Isherwood, Yves Navarre, Jane Rule, David Sweetman, Colm Toibin, Michel Tremblay, Jeffrey Weeks, Edmund White, and Jeannette Winterson.
Glad Day Bookshop: Origins
After coming out in 1965, my sophomore year at Cornell University, the world as it had been up until that moment began to turn upside down. It took some time to develop an understanding of this new world I was entering, but natural curiosity drove me toward an ever greater investigation of the gay world and, ultimately, of my place within it. I reached a point where my attractions to other males my own age and a few years younger became irrepressible, while the realization of my own hypocrisy and repression became more and more intolerable.
I had allowed a heterosexual relationship to develop, driven more by the young woman’s interest in me than my interest in her. She and her family had immigrated to the United States from Germany after the war, and in retrospect I realize that I was fascinated by their cultural differences more than anything else. For years I had been studying German and this represented my first genuine exposure to this world.
The social pressures of that time pushed many into heterosexual relationships, as if this involvement might help me overcome what I had been unconsciously brainwashed into thinking, that homosexuality was everything that could possibly be bad. At the time it was criminal, sinful, considered a psychological abnormality, and of course was totally taboo socially and almost guaranteed career failure were it to become public. The very definition of a modern day taboo! As I later came to realize this also made homosexuality both quite challenging and very exciting.
For a short time I even sought out psychological counseling at the University Health clinic. A crusty old shrink was assigned to me and I suppose if anything, my experience with him pushed me down the path of activism with a radical analysis of what was wrong with the attitude towards homosexuality in my society.
The shrink just sat there, saying almost nothing at a time when I needed someone to engage with intellectually. His strategy worked, although I’ll never be sure if the results were what he anticipated. After only a month or so I abruptly stopped my sessions with the psychiatrist as well as my heterosexual involvement, and finally took control of my own life.
This final push toward genuine individuality likely wouldn’t have happened if I had not discovered various authors and was in the midst of carefully reading and thinking about their books. I was fortunate enough to have a friend who taught French; she led me to the works of Andre Gide, someone who had been far more open about his own coming out and take on human sexuality than anyone else in his time. As well, old Gide finally received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1947, probably the only known queer to have been so recognized, before or since.
I devoured his novels and found my way to Gide’s journals and autobiographical writings. I considered him something of an inspiration and a sort of gay father figure. At about the same time I read Donald Webster Cory’s (a pseudonym for Edward Sagarin) The Homosexual in America and other compilations, all of which gave me a better cultural context to understand the world I was entering.
As I recall it was the title and subtitle of Norman O. Brown’s Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytic Meaning of History that grabbed my attention while browsing in a bookshop. Brown’s work led me to Herbert Marcuse and both gave me the deep analysis of sexual repression and insights into the path to liberation that I had been searching for.
As my ‘gay consciousness’ developed I was interested in the larger picture, in understanding how things had come to be the way they are. Without that understanding any meaningful change is impossible. The more I read the more I appreciated the critical edge that being homosexual gave so many creative people throughout history. While gay rights seemed one logical strategy, I saw it primarily as a way of making more people comfortable with their own repressed homosexuality.
During the two decades from just before Stonewall (about 1967) until the full impact of AIDS (1987) there was a spirit of spontaneity and experimentation in the air that made gay life an exciting adventure. In the aftermath of the epidemic, the dullness that accompanied what I’ll call quasi-assimilation robbed gay life of almost everything that gave it promise.
Like so many young gay males I was drawn to New York City’s Village with its thriving gay culture. In 1966, three years before Stonewall, I began making trips down to Manhattan whenever there was a school break. In 1967 I visited Craig Rodwell’s recently opened Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop on Mercer Street, the world’s first dedicated gay and lesbian bookshop. Of course these visits helped plant the seeds of my own career. In those pre-Stonewall days the offerings were pretty slim, but later, in tangent with Stonewall and the enormous volume of literature that started to appear the very next year, Craig was certainly in the right place at the right time to make the most of it.
Unfortunately, the tiny spaces the store occupied (on Mercer Street and later on Christopher Street) and his shortness of vision failed to realize the potential that Glad Day, A Different Light, Giovanni’s Room, Lambda Rising, and Calamus Bookstore were to achieve.
The year after Stonewall an entirely new kind of literature about the experience of being gay emerged from New York. Gay activists, many of whom were experienced journalists, began writing accounts of the previous year. This phenomenon quickly snowballed in a place where there were sympathetic gay editors like Bill Whitehead and Michael Denneny. Novels, personal accounts, even the first pro gay psychological reinterpretations made it into print. In bookstores there was a new type of literature to display for customers hungry to keep abreast of the emerging culture. The New York Times’ Sunday Book Review and the Village Voice published reviews and ads for many new titles.
I had just returned to Toronto after a 9 month absence. After the University of Toronto fired me for starting the University of Toronto Homophile Association (UTHA), I saw the bright side and embarked on my first trip abroad. It lasted nearly 8 months. My new life in Berlin was cut short when my father died suddenly and I made the mistake of leaving Germany to be present at his funeral. With no money to return to Europe, I instead returned to Toronto where I had friends I could stay with until I found a job and apartment.
In the year I was absent not only had the new gay lit started to appear, but also meetings of the UTHA were overcrowded, mostly with townies anxious to plug into the new social movement. Soon after I returned George Hislop, one of the people who regularly attended UTHA meetings, made the decision to form a general community gay organization he called the Community Homophile Association of Toronto (CHAT). Almost at the same time a smaller group of young gay male activists formed the Toronto Gay Action (TGA). At York University Roger Wilkes organized a campus gay organization. Within a few short months where before Toronto had a single gay group there were now 4.
I needed to get back into the movement so I started by attending both UTHA and CHAT meetings, as well as becoming a founding member of TGA. Because of my reading habits I paid close attention to both the Village Voice and The New York Times, and therefore read reviews and saw ads for the first Post-Stonewall books.
Toronto being a serious book town, I scoured many shops looking for the new titles. Alas, no one had any of them in stock! This was hard to believe since Toronto is the equivalent of New York when it comes to Canada’s publishing world. Most American and British publishers had offices in Toronto, or were represented by Canadian publishers.
The new titles were therefore easily available to booksellers. Yet all I could find were the same dreadful anti-gay psychiatric tracts that littered shelves in the Pre-Stonewall days. Irving Bieber, Lawrence Hatterer, Charles Socarides. Even old post Freudian writers like Stekel and Kraft-Ebbing with their ‘case studies’ to attract readers were still kicking around. It was frustrating and exposed a dimension of English Canadian mentality I came to despise. And exactly whose fault was this — the publishers and distributors? Or the booksellers? I suspect it was both. But unless one examined the publisher’s catalogs from that time it would be impossible to know which was more responsible.
My reaction, after a month or so of thinking about it, was to consider setting up my own book service. After a few phone calls I realized it wouldn’t take much money at all to start up. In those days publishers offered generous credit terms so one actually had 60 to 90 days to try and sell the books. As I’ve explained elsewhere, hardcover books were very expensive items in Canada, so initially I shied away from purchasing any.
My own knowledge of gay literature both past and present was in its infancy, so I ordered many of the titles that had been important to my own coming out and philosophical development. When the new gay literature titles appeared in paperback editions those were added to my little inventory. And how did I sell the books?
In the very beginning it was out of a knapsack I carried from one gay meeting to another. To build the business I put together a small mimeographed catalog that I advertised in the Toronto sex newspaper, Tab. Tab was essentially heterosexual in character and very much a cheap sensationalist rag with a ridiculous cover story (and sleazy photos) to help sell the thing. At least they accepted my little ads, something I later learned would not be the case with either the Toronto Star or the Globe and Mail. I’m pretty sure I also advertised in Guerilla when it appeared on the scene in June 1970. Guerilla would later show solidarity by allowing TGA and The Body Politic to hold meetings in their space. If I remember correctly, Issue 1 of The Body Politic was designed on Guerilla’s layout boards.
I’d like to end this bit of history by talking about how and why I chose the name Glad Day. It’s a reference to the 1796 watercolour by British poet and painter William Blake. The watercolour depicts a naked man dancing in the spectral light of a rainbow with the colours spread out behind him, almost as if the naked man himself were the prism through which light passed.
I was introduced to Blake’s work in a number of ways, first through many visits to the Andrew White Art Museum at Cornell, which held an exhibition of many plates Blake himself created. Each is a unified work of art in watercolour, the poetic text surrounded by his imaginative artwork. I was so taken by the beauty of these creations that I returned to the Museum several times to take in both the artwork and poetry.
A year or so later Allen Ginsberg gave a week of free lectures on campus and I was delighted by the opportunity to hear his presentations. Blake loomed large in his own inspiration and philosophy, so the week deepened my appreciation of both men. My German professor at the time Jack Goldman was heavily involved in the anti-war movement and worked at a small Ithaca based press that was created to publish anti-war literature. That small Ithaca based press was named the Glad Day Press.
I have read that Blake’s painting may have been inspired by a prison break, symbolic of liberation from the shackles of oppression and repression. In 1970, on my long backpacker’s trip hitchhiking around Europe, I stopped for several weeks in London where I rented a bed sitting room while exploring the great city. This ‘residence’ allowed me to apply for a card to the Reading Room of the British Museum. There I was able to sit in the Rare Book Room and be handed, one by one, any of the original copies of Blake’s books I wished to see.
What I like about all of Blake’s work, including Glad Day, is the depth and breadth of his vision. He was not by any means a man of his time or of any time. I am always amazed that some of his work was not banned and the man destroyed by the Establishment forces of his time. How his radical perceptions of both religion and conformity failed to rile the Church and Monarchy to the point of denouncing his writings as heresy I have never quite understood. Perhaps his talent was so great and his ego so humble that he skirted the wrath of those who could have destroyed him.
When it came time to choose a name for my knapsack full of books, Glad Day struck all the right notes for the greater task at hand.
My vision of sexual liberation goes beyond the gay rights movement and Blake’s writings resonate far more in my imagination than a mainstream queer agenda that time has shown to be one of increasing conformity. The critical power that once came with Outsider status seems to have been traded for a dull mirror through which spectral light no longer shines.