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In 'Blackouts,' one writer brings America's hidden queer history to the forefront

In <em>Blackouts, </em>Justin Torres plays with fact and fiction.
JJ Geiger
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
In Blackouts, Justin Torres plays with fact and fiction.

In his new book, Blackouts, Justin Torres plays with fact and fiction, and calls into question whose story gets told.

Who is he? Torres is a writer, novelist and associate professor at UCLA.

  • He rose to prominence after the breakout success of his award-winning 2011 novel, We The Animals.

What's he focusing on now? Torres' newest book, Blackouts, is a finalist for the National Book Awards, and explores the emotional and informational depths of the erasure of queer history.

  • The fictional story uses real queer history to tell the story of a dying man, Juan Gay, in his last days of care, intertwined with the true history and work of lesbian researcher and activist Jan Gay.
  • Jan Gay aspired to change public attitudes towards queerness in the 20th century, and as detailed in the book, eventually had her research co-opted and turned against her.

The cover of Torres' latest book.
/ Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
The cover of Torres' latest book.

What's he saying? Torres spoke with All Things Considered host Ari Shapiro to discuss the real life sources, situations and inspirations that went into writing this book.

On how he discovered the story of Jan Gay:

Want more on queer culture in the U.S.? Listen to Consider This speak to three trans Americans on the current state of trans rights.

And diving into the way Gay had her work co-opted:

An excerpt from the book.
/ Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
An excerpt from the book.

And the blackout poems that allude to the book's title:

So, what now?

  • Torres hopes that the line between fact and fiction pushes readers to learn more.
  • "I hope that there's this curiosity that gets sparked. And that, I think, is what fiction can do, right? It can give you this kind of sense of being deeply enmeshed in the narrative potential of the past and the way that the past is speaking to the present moment."
  • Blackouts is out now.

Learn more:

The interview with Justin Torres was conducted by Ari Shapiro, produced by Megan Lim and edited by Sarah Handel. contributed to this story

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Manuela López Restrepo
Manuela López Restrepo is a producer and writer at All Things Considered. She's been at NPR since graduating from The University of Maryland, and has worked at shows like Morning Edition and It's Been A Minute. She lives in Brooklyn with her cat Martin.