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Template:Infobox Writer Richard Grayson (1951–) is a writer, political activist and performance artist, most noted for his books of short stories and his satiric runs for public office. Born in Brooklyn, he attended New York public schools and the City University of New York, receiving a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from Brooklyn College, where he was also an undergraduate. His first stories started appearing in literary magazines in the mid-1970s, and in 1979, his first book-length collection of short stories, With Hitler in New York, was published. In the same year Grayson, active in liberal politics since his teenage years, registered with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) as a candidate for Vice President of the United States, receiving coverage for his humorous "campaign" in The New York Times and various other media outlets.
Grayson's fiction is largely autobiographical, or pseudo-autobiographical, and his early work heavily influenced by the metafictionists of the 1970s, such as John Barth, Donald Barthelme, Ronald Sukenick, and his mentor, Jonathan Baumbach, who headed the Brooklyn College MFA program in fiction and was one of the founders of the publishing cooperative The Fiction Collective, for which Grayson worked as an editorial assistant in the 1970s.
He began a long career in higher education as an adjunct lecturer in English at Long Island University in 1975, and has taught English and other subjects at numerous colleges and high schools in New York, Florida, and Arizona. For a number of years Grayson divided his time between New York City and South Florida, where many of his stories are set.
By 1979, Grayson had over 125 stories published in magazines and anthologies. He remained a prolific writer in the early 1980s, when several short story collections came out in quick succession: Lincoln's Doctor's Dog (1982), Eating at Arby's (1982), and I Brake for Delmore Schwartz (1983). Grayson's stories from this period characterized by an extreme self-consciousness, an appreciation of wordplay and jokes, and confessions of ineptitude on the part of the author. Most of these stories originally appeared in journals such as Transatlantic Review, Texas Quarterly, California Quarterly, and Epoch.
In 1983, Grayson filed with the FEC to run for President of the United States as Democrat. Over the next year, the exploits in his humorous campaign to replace President Ronald Reagan were widely covered by newspapers, magazines, radio and television. Perhaps his best-known remark, quoted in Time, USA Today, and The Wall Street Journal, was his explanation of why he asked the actress Jane Wyman, star of the then-current nighttime soap opera Falcon Crest and the former wife of the incumbent President, to be his Vice Presidential running mate: "She already has experience in dumping Ronald Reagan." Other platform planks in the Grayson campaign included making El Salvador the 51st state and moving the U.S. capital to Davenport, Iowa.
For the next few years, Grayson spent less time on literary fiction and more on what he called "publicity art." In 1982, he received 26% of the vote in an election for a town council seat in Davie, Florida, where he worked as an English instructor at Broward Community College; his sole campaign promise was to give the town's many horses the right to vote. Over the years, Grayson created numerous political action committees, officially registered with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC); these included the Committee for Immediate Nuclear War, the Council of Armed Rabbis, and committees to draft actor Burt Reynolds, designer Gloria Vanderbilt, and socialite Claus Von Bulow as candidates for the U.S. Senate. Grayson also worked as a humor columnist for the Hollywood, Florida, newspaper The Sun-Tattler and published in People Magazine a satirical article alerting readers to the perils of a developing "celebrity shortage."
Return to academiaEdit
In 1991, Grayson left his homes in Manhattan and Fort Lauderdale for Gainesville, Florida, where he attended law school at the University of Florida. After graduating with high honors, Grayson joined the research faculty of the law school as a staff attorney in social policy at the Center for Governmental Responsibility. Grayson, who had also worked as a computer educator in the Miami-Dade public schools in the 1970s, concentrated his legal research on educational technology and the new field of cyberlaw, but his work in the think tank also dealt with other issues, including health care, drug legalization, and electoral reform.
Around this time, Grayson began contributing op-ed articles to Florida newspapers, expressing his opinions on issues before the state legislature. In 1994, he ran as a write-in candidate for the United States Congress in the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area against Republican Michael Bilirakis, who otherwise would have been unopposed. Although lacing his "campaign" with humorous sound bites, Grayson also stressed his support of abortion rights, universal health care, and a higher minimum wage.
Gay rights activismEdit
Grayson also worked in the unsuccessful 1994 campaign to defeat an anti-gay rights referendum in Alachua County, Florida, where Gainesville is located. Grayson was a member of the Board of Directors of the Human Rights Council of North Central Florida and its political action committee, which in subsequent years managed to help elect enough pro-gay candidates to the Gainesville city commission to pass local gay rights legislation.
Grayson's experience as a lawyer and gay activist informed some of the stories in his 1996 collection, I Survived Caracas Traffic, whose title story Kirkus Reviews called "a resonant meditation on the themes of relationships, AIDS, and mortality." Another story in the same volume is "Twelve Step Barbie," which, along with "With Hitler in New York" is probably the author's best-known work and the subject of academic criticism.
After leaving Gainesville and the University of Florida Law School in 1997, Grayson spent time in different parts of the country, writing what would become the stories in his 2000 book The Silicon Valley Diet, which featured gay protagonists living in the different places where Grayson had resided: his native New York City, northeast Wyoming, Silicon Valley, and various parts of Florida. Less experimental and more realistic, the new stories dealt with the impact of the computer culture, interracial friendships between gay men, and topics related to food and dieting. (In the early 1990s Grayson lost over forty pounds and became a vegetarian.)
Except for one year when he taught English at Arizona State University and other schools in the Phoenix area, Grayson spent most of his time after 1999 in South Florida, where he was a visiting professor of undergraduate legal studies at Nova Southeastern University and director of academic support at the university's law school. Grayson later returned to Phoenix to take a position as an English teacher at a private high school.
Although Grayson had originally published some of the stories in The Silicon Valley Diet on early internet sites that featured short fiction, in 2004 he began appearing widely in various literary webzines with his memoirs, satire, and stories. His "Diary of a Congressional Candidate in Florida's Fourth Congressional District," a recurring feature on the website of McSweeney's, covered his 2004 campaign as the sole opponent to Rep. Ander Crenshaw, a Jacksonville Republican, and brought him a new audience.
More recently, Grayson published two short story collections almost simultaneously. The more experimental book was Highly Irregular Stories (2006), which Kirkus Discoveries called "an eclectic anthology of intriguing short stories...Grayson’s stories here recall no one so much as Richard Brautigan, who walked a similar line between wit and warmth in his more eccentric novels." The second volume, And to Think That He Kissed Him on Lorimer Street, which Kirkus Discoveries termed "[a] funny, odd, somehow familiar and fully convincing fictional world," featured more representational and autobiographical stories, mostly set in the author's native Brooklyn.
While the literary reference volume Contemporary Literary Criticism has called Grayson "a marginal figure in contemporary American fiction," it also noted that "he and his fictional persona seem quite aware of this fact" and that "[t]aken as a body of work, Grayson's short fiction ultimately appears to be one ongoing, career-long writing project, focused always on the effects of contemporary culture on the self."