Eugene Luther Gore Vidal is a prolific and versatile American writer of novels, stage plays, screenplays, and essays.
As a novelist, playwright, essayist, mystery writer (under the pseudonym Edgar Box), screenwriter, social critic, literary critic, congressional candidate, political activist, and actor, he has been a public and often controversial figure on both the American literary and political scenes for nearly sixty years.
He is important for the gay literary heritage because of the straightforwardness with which he has pursued gay themes and included gay characters in his work, beginning in his teens when he wrote his first novel, Williwaw (1946).
He has also steadily upped the ante about what sorts of gay material could be included in his mainstream works and as a result has made it easier for a wide range of other writers to find public acknowledgement of their material.
Although the grandson of a United States Senator, Vidal felt uncomfortable in America because of his sexuality and lived mostly in Italy from the mid-1960s, sharing his life with his partner Howard Austen. He decided to sell his villa in Ravello for health reasons in 2003. He spent most of his later living in Los Angeles. In November 2003, Howard Austen died. In February 2005, Vidal buried Austen's remains in a tomb maintained for the two of them at Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
Vidal died of complications from pneumonia on July 31, 2012.
The City and the Pillar (1948), Vidal's third novel, is the story of professional tennis player Jim Willard, a man who never outgrows a boyhood crush on his best friend Bob Ford. The idea that men who enjoy sex with other men circulate among ordinary people undetected is implicit everywhere in this novel and outraged some original readers.
Although Vidal argues here and in many places in his non-fiction that there is no homosexual identity and everyone is bisexual, the plot of the book proves the contrary. For The City and the Pillar is, despite itself, the first mainstream coming-out novel.
At the insistence of the publisher, the original book ended with a violent death. In 1968, in light of changed social values, Vidal was able to publish The City and the Pillar Revised, a substantially altered version of the book with a different, and possibly more shocking, ending.
Most of Vidal's works have more or less prominent gay characters, and he is important for the consistency with which he has continually expanded gay visibility in mainstream fiction and, to some extent, drama. He is , for example, largely responsible for the gay subtext in the film epic Ben-Hur (1959).
In addition to fiction and drama, Vidal has written a large number of essays, often disputatious ones. He has a broad range of insightful but usually not very comforting comments to make about American politics and the American character in general, but is always entertaining and provocative.