Bryan R. Monte
The End of the Beginning
in memoriam Kevin Killian, 1952-2019
Most of Amsterdam Quarterly’s readers are probably unaware that AQ is not my first foray into literary publishing. That would be No Apologies, a magazine of gay writing, which I published from 1983 to 1985. No Apologies or NA was the result of my contact with a group of gay writers in San Francisco from the winter of 1982 to the summer of 1984. They met weekly at Small Press Traffic Bookstore (SPT) on 24th St. in Noe Valley. SPT was housed in a railroad style flat: all rooms to the right of a central hallway, the bookstore in the front parlour and bedroom, the toilet, kitchen, and living room, where the group met, in the back.
It was here that I first met Kevin Killian, who immediately stood out from the others. Instead of the usual, short, Castro-clone, haircut and moustache, Killian wore a curly mullet, similar to Brian May’s, and was clean shaven. In addition, he always had a cloth bag with him. It held several newspapers and/or magazines, usually about television and film stars, and two books. The first was usually a Hollywood star’s biography and the second, a volume of literary criticism. Killian was as conversant in French semioticians Derrida’s, Foucault’s, and Lacan’s literary theories as he was in the lives of celebrities such as Joan Collins, Lynda Evans, Debra Winger and especially Michael Jackson, who appeared frequently in Killian’s poetry, fiction, and essays. Furthermore, Killian was also no wallflower: a gifted conversationalist—charming, deft, and diplomatic with criticism—he was an active participant with helpful feedback. He was one of the few people who attended religiously as I did. And his output was prolific: he brought in something new almost every week.
After workshop the group would sometimes go out for a drink and a bite to eat. It wasn’t long before Killian invited me to his large, ground-floor flat in a green, four-story, Queen Anne Victorian frame house between 23rd and 24th on Guerrero (just the other side of the hill from where I lived). He shared this flat with a sister and her friend. I stopped by frequently, and I remember spending the night there once on the couch reading Killian’s copy of Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy. Killian’s first appearance in my journal is on 4 May 1983 after I unknowingly got high at a Channel Magazine reading on those infamous mushroom-laden brownies, (I had come straight from work, was very hungry, and didn’t know what was in them), at Newspace on Valencia Street. At the interval, Killian found me outside addressing a parking meter. When the reading ended, he delivered me safely to my partner Harry Britt, at our 20th and Guerrero St. flat.
At the gay writers’ workshop, I frequently heard many good stories and poems about gays. I wondered aloud why none of these pieces had been published. I was told by the writers in this group that their style and/or content was too radical for mainstream publishers at that time—a time in which you could put all the gay & lesbian books published by mainstream presses on one shelf and still have room left for many more.
I also noticed that Killian had typed up most of his pieces on continuous, green-and-white striped, computer paper, the kind used at the beginning of the personal computer revolution. I began to ask Killian questions about his computer’s and printer’s formatting and typesetting capabilities. Could they produce pages with right and left justified text columns? What was the highest quality they could print? Could they print in italic and bold? Killian confirmed they could. In addition, he told me about the printer’s NLQ (near letter quality) function. This took a bit longer to print, but it smoothed out the normally rougher-edged, rastered letters produced in the draft and normal modes.
With this information, I suggested to the group that we could use this technology to create our own literary journal, something like the Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney film trope of ‘put(ting) on a show in our backyard’. Initially, this idea didn’t receive much support from the group. Nevertheless, I continued to consult with Killian.
By mid-May 1983, I had gotten to know Killian so well he hosted my UC Berkeley graduation party that June at his flat. My mother was in town for the occasion, and she took photos of the party guests including Paul Melbostad, a friend from the Harvey Milk Gay Democratic Club, and Steve Abbott, Roberto Bedoya, Bruce Boone, and Bob Gluck, from the gay writers’ workshop.
Sometime thereafter, Killian introduced me to his future partner, Dodie Bellamy. She did paste up and art direction downtown for company publications and annual reports. Bellamy showed me how to use a waxer, blocks of typeset text, a lightbox, and an Exacto knife to paste up pages. Bellamy also put me in touch with a colleague, Mike Belt, who had heard of my gay literary magazine project and wished to contribute something. He created a low-cost, mesmerizing, minimalist cover composed of alternating, thin, white and dark straight lines. This easily recognizable cover could be reused to save money just by changing the darker colour and the headlines plate for each issue.
A page, half the size of a legal page, was chosen to save money. Four pages could be photocopied, instead of offset, on one, double-sided sheet. Collating the pages at home could also save more money. The biggest, unavoidable production cost, however, was the printing of the covers and the binding of the covers to the pages, which had to be sent out. The cover and binding costs were about $600 per issue, and copying the pages cost $400 for a total of $1,000 to produce one issue of 250 copies of approximately 60 to 90 pages.
According to my journal, by July interest in my proposed gay magazine among the workshop members was increasing. I wrote in my journal on 3 August my very idealistic reasons for publishing the magazine were ‘to show gay people how to cope with oppression’ and ‘to teach them how to recognize and it and how to deal with it.’ I also kept my college guard job after graduation at the weekends to save money to pay for the magazine.
By 18 August, I’d given the magazine a name, No Apologies, a phrase used by Britt in a speech after the White Night Riots when Dan White, who had assassinated Mayor George Moscone and the first gay City and County Supervisor, Harvey Milk, was convicted only of manslaughter and not murder. In response, a predominantly gay mob smashed some city hall windows and burned several police cars parked out front. Britt was asked to apologize for the damage. However, in his famous quote he said: ‘We will make no apologies for our rage until straight America apologizes for the history of oppression that enrages us.’
By September, I had assembled enough material for a first issue. In addition, Killian and I were scheduled to read together at Modern Times funky, leftist Mission District bookshop on Valencia. I made two reading posters from old magazine photo backgrounds that Killian had purchased at a thrift shop. I added newspaper headlines, No Apologies’s name, and our reading details.
We read on Monday, 12 September 1983 at Modern Times. I noted in my journal the weather was unusually warm that evening, so I bought cups, ‘a jug of white wine and a large bottle of 7-UP’ for refreshments. I read first to a very attentive audience of approximately 25. After the break, Killian began his reading with a porn excerpt, something I’d noted Abbott and Gluck had also been doing at their readings lately. The issue of how sexually-explicit gay writing should be was a perennial issue. Some people preferred the level of disclosure in most mainstream, straight publications, but others preferred including all the details.
During September, Killian delivered the final pages. To finance the magazine, I worked seven days a week, keeping my weekend security job I’d gotten whilst I studied at Berkeley and worked temp jobs during the week. In October, I photocopied NA’s pages at Krishna Copy in Berkeley because they had the cheapest rates. Then, I brought two large, legal paper boxes of ‘printed’ pages back to my flat via Bart. Here, the sets of pages were collated during a party.
Then I took the collated pages to West Coast Printing in Oakland, which printed the covers. Next, 150 sets of pages were bound to their covers. (I optimistically had 300 covers printed, planning to reprint more copies at a later date, and have them bound once some money from sales came in). I brought these bound copies back to San Francisco by cab since they were too heavy for me to carry alone.
On 10 November, I hosted a reception for Robin Blaser, No Apologies’ first issue’s headliner, at my flat after his reading at New College. My guests, in addition to Blaser, included Bedoya and Joanne Kyger, who arrived early to help me set up. Also present were Abbott, Angela and Tofa Beauregard, Sam Blaser, Boone, Don Ebbe, Ellingham, Gerald Fabian, Gluck, James Justin, Tobey Kaplan, Duncan McNaughton, Ed Mycue, Aaron Shurin, Sky (Mike Belt’s partner), Tom (Bedoya’s friend from Bolinas), and Jack Winkler.
The No Apologies #1 launch party and reading took place in December at the Intersection for the Arts in North Beach. Readers included L.R., a fellow student from Thom Gunn’s Berkeley writing class, Abbott, Boone, Ellingham, Gluck, Tobey Kaplan, Killian, Paul Shimasaki and myself among others. Jim Hart, the reading series organizer, was astounded at the turnout and NA’s popularity. He said it was the first time a literary magazine had sold out at an Intersection reading.
I was happy to be part of this hive of activity during the holiday season, which always got me down. Britt had left for Texas to be with his family. Luckily, due to an extended absence by Denise Kastan, I got extra shifts at SPT from November through December, which kept me busy. I also temped downtown to finance NA #2.
After this, I was switched with Paul Shimasaki, who had clerked at Charles Gilman’s Walt Whitman Bookstore on Market at 15th Street. The Whitman was much busier than SPT, so I wasn’t able to get much magazine work done, though this is what Gilman had promised. However, I did meet more gay authors and editors. My journal notes that Donald Allen took me to lunch on 11 January. He said he liked the poems in No Apologies and two days later he brought John Button’s essay on Jack Spicer over to my Guerrero Street flat for publication in the No Apologies #2 due out in May. This I would add to Killian’s Stazione Termini symposium and Abbott’s and Bellamy’s Judy Grahn interview to form the core of that issue.
In the meantime, two things happened which turned my life upside-down. First, on 28 March I received an acceptance letter with a fellowship to Brown University’s Graduate Writing Program. I rang Killian to come over and read the letter to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. I asked him: ‘What should I do?’ He said: ‘I’ll help you pack.’ The second was my appearance in The Advocate on 1 May, in Dick Habany’s article ‘New Writing and Erotica’ about the ‘Tensions of the Two Traditions’ in gay writing—literary and erotic/pornographic. Many people, including Killian, were happy I had won an Ivy League university writing fellowship and been mentioned in the gay press. Others in the writers’ group, however, were a little less supportive. According to my journal, one key member remarked to our circle that he didn’t understand ‘why anyone would give me $7,000 to study writing.’
Bryan R. Monte, No Apologies #2 reading poster, collage, 1984
NA #2 appeared on 11 May 1984. The publication party and reading was held that evening at Newspace, an art and theatre space across from New College and next door to The Valencia Rose, one of the first post-Stonewall, gay and lesbian comedy clubs in San Francisco. However, the reading was very tense and troubled from the very beginning. First, when I arrived to set up the chairs, I found a dance troupe with drums dancing in the space. Even though I told them they were occupying the space in my time slot, they kept dancing. The only way I got them to stop was to start putting out chairs in rows, taking up more of the space. (Killian said he’d also arrived early to help set up, but had seen the dancers and assumed he’s got the night wrong, so he’d gone for drink).
The next source of tension was that Norse had demanded a microphone in order to read and that no one be permitted to enter or leave whilst he read. I got the microphone set up and working, but just as Norse started to read, a homeless man started rattling the door handle. I went outside and tried to reason with him and several times turned him away before he circled back and walked up to the door again. Fortunately, I was able to keep him from entering Newspace whilst Norse read, but unfortunately, I didn’t hear a single word of what Norse said.
Moreover, NA #2’s print run, completed just that afternoon, had not yet arrived from West Coast Printing. In the emergency, Kaplan had volunteered to collect the magazines and to bring them over the Bay in her pickup truck. She arrived one reader before the interval. When I started to open up the box, however, a sudden flurry of hands descended like pigeons swooping down upon an accidental birdseed spill. I quickly resealed the box, put it under a table, and waited until the interval for the sale and distribution of the copies. We had soft drinks, beer, and wine to drink, and home-made treats such as cakes and brownies (but none with magic mushrooms or marihuana), and pretzels. Someone even brought a few pizzas.
Lastly, it was difficult MCing my first reading with seven readers, keeping track of the time, and trying to get everything packed, cleaned, and locked up so I wouldn’t lose my deposit. Afterwards we gathered at the Mirage, at 22nd and Guerrero, to celebrate.
Unfortunately, a fight broke out that night at the bar, and in the scrum, I didn’t realize until the next morning that I was missing No Apologies’ receipt book. Thank goodness Doug Murphy went dumpster diving for me in front of New College to retrieve the book, which had a big, red, tomato stain on it. I wondered why anyone would discard it.
Since I anticipated being very busy finding a flat and attending classes in a town and at a university I’d never visited, I asked Killian if he would finish No Apologies #3 as its guest editor. I gave Killian some seed money directly after from the second issue’s reading to begin production and also six poems and two very short stories I had already accepted before news of my fellowship. From August to October, we corresponded almost fortnightly and telephoned monthly. Killian wrote about the weather, readings he’d attended, books and magazines he’d read, and the men he was dating. He also complained he had no one to accompany him thrift shopping. During this time, we exchanged and commented on manuscripts.
Unfortunately, logistic as well as communication mistakes and strains soon appeared. On 8 September Killian wrote he’d held a benefit party for NA #3, in San Francisco, joking that this time, however, that there were ‘no conga dancers to break up’. However, it was a month to five weeks before I received any copies. During this time, Phil Willkie, editor of The James White Review, wrote me twice that he that was still waiting for copies he had requested from Killian. In addition, I had a 12 October reading in Providence. On 15 October Killian wrote that he hoped I’d received the copies in time. I can’t remember if I did, but I do remember the stress. Eventually, 47 copies arrived via book post, two of which were damaged.
Unfortunately, 45 copies, less than one fifth of the print run, weren’t enough to satisfy No Apologies standing orders with the East Coast gay bookstores, libraries, and subscribers. In an undated letter from mid-October, Killian apologized for having sent ‘so few copies’ even though he wrote later that he still ‘had $400 towards the next issue’. I immediately wondered why he hadn’t printed any extra covers as I had done with the NA#1 to meet any unexpected demand for #3. (Printing twice as many covers and holding half in reserve would have cost not twice but 20% more due to economies of scale). Killian could have used the $400 to photocopy more pages and bind these to the extra covers. Moreover, I was disappointed to discover that Killian had segregated the work I had accepted before I’d asked him to guest edit in a separate section at the back of NA #3 with bold cap headers across facing pages —SPECIAL SECTION— — EDITED BY BRYAN MONTE—. Lastly, Killian disagreed with my suggestion of a moratorium on pieces about the Spicer/Blaser/Duncan circle.
The reason for the final break came in December 1984 as I walked Dennis Cooper down College Hill after a reading I had organized for Brown’s Gay and Lesbian Union, which had also featured Olga Broumas. As we descended the steep hill on Waterman Street, past the large, white, wooden First Baptist Church in America, (which Cooper was amazed to discover dated from 1775), I asked him to send some work for the next issue to accompany his interview. There was an awkward silence as we walked a few steps further. Then Cooper said he’d already sent Killian work.
On New Year’s Eve, Killian or I telephoned and I told him how upset I was about the late delivery of too few copies of #3, the miscommunication about the work he had accepted and my displeasure at his placing the work I had chosen for #3 in a separate section at the back of the issue. Shortly after our conversation, I wrote Killian that we should go our separate ways. I sent him a list of work he could publish in his own magazine from the typeset pages he’d sent. I would retain the No Apologies name, the distinctive striped cover and logo, and the pieces I had accepted, including Norse’s second instalment of his ‘The Honeymoon’ memoir. Later, Killian did create a magazine called Mirage, named after his favourite San Francisco bar.
I typeset and edited issues #4 and #5 on Brown University’s VM/370 mainframe, and had the magazines printed in Providence. These issues featured interviews with Cooper and Picano respectively. Issue #4 included poetry by Broumas and Donald Vining’s WWII New York City memoir. Issue #5 included a short story, ‘Telesex’, by Stan Leventhal, which featured full-body condoms and Michael Jackson as US president.
Interest in No Apologies increased nationally and internationally. A Different Light Bookstore’s standing order went from 10 for issue #1 to 50 by issue #5. NA was ordered by bookstores and universities in the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, and the Netherlands. My writing also gained national prominence again when my essay, “Living with A Lover or How to Stay Together without Killing Each Other’, was published in the 1986 Doubleday/Dolphin anthology Gay Life. Unfortunately, due to my graduation, the loss of my university mainframe access, my student and car debts, and my first job as a New England high school writing instructor to begin to rebuild my finances, I was unable to continue NA’s publication. This scuttled plans for a sixth issue that would have included poetry by James Broughton.
When I returned to San Francisco in July 1987, I found it surprisingly difficult to re-establish myself. In three years, the rents had more than doubled and there were double pages of obituaries in the gay newspapers due to the AIDS epidemic. The job market, which had seemed healthy when I had visited in February, had dried up. So, as when I graduated from Berkeley, I dove back into the temp pool. Fortunately, one of my former bosses fished me out, offering an insurance job with health benefits. Around this time, I attended a reading, where Killian was seated in front of me. Just before the reading began, he turned around and asked if I was still angry with him. I didn’t respond, the only answer I felt I could give with everyone listening.
Ironically, my return to San Francisco with a graduate degree in writing meant the end of No Apologies. With every paycheque going towards paying the bills, I had no money left to resume publication. Moreover, I was required to attend after-work insurance classes for two years and take three, four-hour, weekend, written exams to become certified to keep my job. Thus, I had no time, money, or energy to spare on a magazine. During 1987, I visited Abbott and Gunn in the Haight, but I didn’t become re-involved in their writing circles. Instead, I worked on my own projects. The first was Neurotika: a tale of the AIDS epidemic, with vignettes from my life and the lives of those I had known who had died. My text was accompanied by a beach audio tape loop, a wave breaking for each name. I performed this at the Whitman Bookshop in November 1988.
The second was as a reporter, interviewer, and announcer for Lavender News on the weekly, gay Fruit Punch radio program on KPFA-FM in 1989/90. This way I spent what little time I had keeping the gay community informed of legislation, protests, new AIDS drugs, readings, films, openings, and events. Occasionally, Killian and I saw each other at gay events, such as The James White Review’s annual reading or the 1990 OutWrite Conference, but we didn’t converse.
When Abbott died in 1992, Killian selected my Berkeley honours essay: ‘Robert Duncan, Aaron Shurin, Steve Abbott and the Gay Poetic Tradition’ from Abbott’s papers for the San Francisco Library Archives.
My last contact with Killian was on 14 January 2014 at the AQ 2013 Yearbook reading in San Francisco at Smack Dab on 18th Street and Castro. Readers at this event included two former No Apologies writers, Mycue and Kaplan, who I had also published in AQ. Killian attended with Ellingham. I took their photo together and Ellingham took mine with Killian. I signed their yearbooks with something like ‘Good to see you again’ and ‘Enjoy’. Unfortunately, it was the last time I saw Killian. AQ