Author Rick Karlin was recently interviewed about his 2019 memoir, Paper Cuts, in a online discussion sponsored by Gerber-Hart Library and Archive.
Karlin was interviewed by author and historian Owen Keehnen. They opened with a summary of the volatile and heady history of Chicago's gay newspapers since the '80s, ultimately touching on Karlin's own career as a writer and his experiences within the city's nightlife, which he regularly reported on.
The demographic gay press in the '80s and '90s was markedly different from how it is today, Karlin noted.
"Now we have a much more diverse set of voices, which I think is incredibly wonderful and helpful," he said. "It's still too dominated by white male voices, but it's getting better."
Karlin traced the roots of local LGBTQ publications that included Gay Life, Windy City Times, Outlines, Gay Chicago Magazine and Chicago Free Press. In the early days, he added, the publications were staffed by "anarchists who, between them, had nothing to lose."
Karlinwho now lives in Florida with his husband, entertainment journalist and poet Gregg Shapirosaid the LGBTQ press was once so profligate since Chicago has always been a "newspaper town." He added that the Windy City at one point had 45 daily newspapers: "New York does not even come close."
Writing his memoir was somewhat therapeutic, Karlin said. Organizing his story "caused me to let go of a lot of anger. I was fired from Gay Chicago, for example. I had a lot of anger about that. … It happened very suddenly and I was very surprised. It took me a while to get back on my feet after that. Writing about it allowed me to see a lot of the participants not as villains."
He also spoke at length about his founding role of the Night of 1,000 Drag Queens fundraiser at Sidetrack. He was often a performer himselfKarlin joked that he essentially functioned as the "dog act." Karlin said his favorite performance was when he and a friend dressed as nuns for a rendition of Irving Berlin's Sisters.
He added, "We got to the lyric, 'when a certain gentleman arrives from Rome,' and a picture of the pope dropped down."
Night of 1,000 Drag Queens "made some serious coin for charity," Karlin said. "For many people, it was their first time in drag. To see how people could blossom and change was fun."
Karlin was asked who inspired him and influenced his work. Among those he cited were musician Michael Bronski and author Armistead Maupin. He also recalled unexpectedly meeting one of his idols, Bette Midler, for the first time.
"All I could think to say was, 'Oh, you're good,'" he said.