I was born at Doctors Hospital on East End Avenue in New York City on October 31, 1956. My father was Theodore Bawer, M.D. (1920-2000), a New York-born internist, writer, and medical editor whose Roman Catholic, Polish-speaking parents, Joseph Bawer (apparently born Bauer) and Josephine (Jozefa) Zawadzka, had immigrated to America during World War One from, respectively, the Galician villages of Brody and Krystynopol (now Chervonohrad) in what was then the Austrian Empire. My father, who put himself through medical school writing radio and TV plays, was the founding editor, and for over 20 years the editor-in-chief, of a magazine called Hospital Medicine, as well as consulting editor of Medical Aspects of Human Sexuality. My mother, Nell Carol Thomas (1927-2014), was born in Florence, South Carolina, to a Baptist father, Harry Everett Thomas, and Methodist mother, Ruth Elizabeth Hines. My mother’s ancestors were English, Welsh, Scots, Scots Irish, and French; through her I’m descended from men who fought in the American Revolution and on both sides of the American Civil War.
I spent my first couple of years in an apartment on East 89th Street in Manhattan between York and East End Avenues, then decided to follow my parents to a narrow brick house on 82nd Place in Middle Village, Queens, that can now be seen in the opening credits of some episodes of the TV show The King of Queens. I attended Public School 49 in Middle Village, Junior High School 119 in Glendale, and Newtown High School in Elmhurst. I was an undergraduate and then a graduate student at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, Long Island, where I earned a B.A, M.A., and Ph.D. in English and taught courses in literature and composition.
Between 1983 and 1993, I contributed literary criticism every month to The New Criterion. At various times during this period I also served as literary editor for Arrival, a short-lived Northern California magazine; as a writing tutor for honors students at Adelphi University on Long Island; as movie reviewer for The American Spectator in Washington, D.C.; and as a board member of the National Book Critics Circle (whose in-house publication, the NBCC Journal, I edited briefly).
My essays have appeared in The New Republic, The Nation, The New York Times Magazine, The American Scholar, Newsweek, The Wilson Quarterly, Standpoint, City Journal, and The Chronicle of Higher Education, among many other places. My poems have been published in such periodicals as Paris Review and Poetry; and I’ve reviewed books for The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post Book World, The Wall Street Journal, London Review of Books, and the (London) Times Literary Supplement. In recent years I’ve been a frequent contributor to the Hudson Review, Front Page Magazine, and PJ Media.
I’ve also written several books. The Middle Generation, a revised version of my dissertation, appeared in 1987 and was chosen by the American Library Association as an “Academic Book of the Year.” In the same year I published The Contemporary Stylist, an English grammar. My collections include Diminishing Fictions, a book of essays on American fiction; The Aspect of Eternity, which focuses on the modern novel; Prophets and Professors, a study of poetry; and The Screenplay’s the Thing, a gathering of my film reviews. Coast to Coast, a volume of poetry, came out in 1993 and was named by the Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook as the year’s best first book of poems.
Also published in 1993 was A Place at the Table: The Gay Individual in American Society. The book was widely discussed and written about, and was selected as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year; in 1999 columnist Dale Carpenter wrote that it had been the decade’s most important non-fiction book about homosexuality.
One of its many consequences was a five-year stint (1994-99) as columnist for the gay newsmagazine The Advocate. It also spawned two additional books on gay topics: Beyond Queer, an anthology of essays that I edited, and House and Home, in which I helped Congressman Steve Gunderson (R.-Wis.) and his then partner, Rob Morris, tell the story of their life together. In 1997 I published Stealing Jesus: How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity. All four of these books became #1 bestsellers in gay bookstores and three of them were nominated for the Lambda Book Award.
In 1998 I relocated with my partner from New York to Amsterdam in the Netherlands; in 1999 we moved on to Oslo, Norway, where we registered officially as partners on May 7 of that year. During these years in Europe I’ve translateda couple of dozen books from Norwegian to English and have also written the books While Europe Slept, Surrender, and The Victims’ Revolution, as well as an e-book, The New Quislings. Same-sex marriage became legal in Norway on January 1, 2009, and shortly thereafter my partner and I “upgraded” to full marriage.
We live in a time when many people feel obliged to affix ideological labels to the names of writers. Over the years, I’ve seen just about every possible label from across the political spectrum attached to my name. In fact I’ve always considered myself a centrist or classical liberal. In any case I’ve never sought to serve any ideological establishment in my writings, only to express my own sense of things – which includes reserving the right to criticize undemocratic tendencies on both the right and the left. From time to time this apparent want of ideological purity has caused confusion or even indignation among readers who expect one to fit into a neat right-or-left dichotomy. So be it. As far as I am concerned, the left-right dichotomy has become meaningless anyway. Read A Place at the Table and Stealing Jesus and While Europe Slept and Surrender one after the other and you will see that all four books are motivated by a dedication to individual identity and individual freedom and an opposition to groupthink, oppression, tyranny.