Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: University Park, Centre County
Journalist and photographer Andrew Beierle won a Lambda Literary Award for the novel First Person Plural (2007).
Awards: Magazine of the Decade, Sigma Delta Chi, National Society for Medical Research, International Association of Business Communicators, Best Men's Fiction, Vanderbilt Magazine
Andrew W. M. Beierle was born in 1951 in New York City and reared in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. After graduating with BA degree in Journalism from the Pennsylvania State University, he began his career at the Orlando Sentinel and has been a journalist for more than thirty years. His work as an editor at Brown and Emory universities has been honored repeatedly by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. His debut novel, The Winter of Our Discotheque, received a 2002 Lambda Literary Award. His second novel, First Person Plural (2007), tells the story of conjoined twins (one gay, one straight) and finding love, and it also won a Lambda Literary Award in 2007.
Andrew William Michael Beierle was born Andrew Michael Beierle in Brooklyn, New York on August 5, 1951. Two years later, he and his family relocated to Levittown in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. His parents were Arthur W. Beierle, a foreman at US Steel, and Margaret Butkowsky, a housewife. Beierle was their third child, after Arthur J. (b. 1947) and Margaret (b. 1948). When Beierle was ten years old, his mother died. The children were then raised by their alcoholic father. At age 12, he was confirmed and took the name “William,” although he is now a nonobservant Catholic. After years of taking care of himself, along with the occasional help of his neighbors, he was placed in foster care from 1964 until 1965. Beierle then returned to a reformed father. Some of his experiences in foster care and the care of his father are mirrored in his novel, The Winter of Our Discotheque (2002).
He attended Woodrow Wilson High School (later renamed Harry S. Truman High School) in Bristol for high school. In 1968, he was lucky enough to have Susan Lowell Butler as a teacher in his junior year. She recommended him for a scholarship to the Blair Summer School for Journalism, a rigorous six-week pre-college program. Butler - a friend of his to this day - recalls, “He could write like nobody. He was, even then, very funny and very witty. He worked like a dog, and then went on to greater glory at Penn State.” Following graduation from high school in 1969, Beierle attended the Pennsylvania State University, where he studied journalism, and became managing editor of the student newspaper, The Daily Collegian. He was elected to Kappa Tau Alpha journalism honorary and Omicron Delta Kappa leadership honorary. He graduated with a BA degree in journalism in 1973.
After graduating from Penn State, he moved to Orlando where he began his career as a journalist. He worked for four years at The Orlando Sentinel, one of Florida’s major newspapers. Orlando would become one of the settings in The Winter of Our Discotheque. He then entered the world of campus publishing in 1977, serving as medical and science writer at the Brown University News Bureau for three years in Providence, RI. His job was to develop and distribute stories about research advances in medicine and the hard sciences to places like the New York Times, Time magazine, and CBS Sunday Morning. Beierle was also was the editor of a small publication for alumni of the School of Medicine at Brown University, Signs & Symptoms.
With the help of his experience at Brown University, he became the executive director of university periodicals at Emory University in Athens, GA, and editor of Emory Magazine. A reporter from Emory University said that the editor of Emory Magazine is “one of the most stable positions on this campus.” Beierle’s career can attest to that claim; he held this position for almost twenty six years from 1980 to 2006. With Beierle in charge, the magazine received more than seventy awards for its design and content by the University and College Designers Association, the International Association of Business Communicators, and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). CASE, the most prestigious reviewing body in the industry, honored it with a “Magazine of the Decade” award in 1987. In addition to CASE, his work as a journalist has been honored by Sigma Delta Chi, the National Society for Medical Research, and the International Association of Business Communicators.
Since the beginning of his writing career, Beierle has been inspired to write fiction, claiming to only have had two good ideas for short stories. He wrote his first short story in college, tinkered with it a little, and then put it aside after a couple of years. He later picked it up again and submitted his short story, “Gravity,” to the Lambda Literary Foundation-sponsored inaugural Richard Hall Memorial Short Story Contest. His story, “Gravity,” was awarded first-runner up and was published in Volume 3, Number 3 of the Harrington Gay Men’s Fiction Quarterly. The second short story was “La Vie Sexuelle des Monstres,” (“The Sex Life of Monsters”) one of ten unranked finalists. Beierele said, the short story, “initially simply the concept [of] ‘conjoined twins—one gay,’ began to take off when I learned about Abigail and Brittney Hensel, actual conjoined twins of the type dicephalus, from the Midwest,” in an interview with Chicago Pride. Out of more than one hundred entrants, Beierle was the only author to place two stories in the top thirteen honored by Lambda. Beierle stated, “A judge [Felice Picano] at the contest spoke to me afterwards and explained why it didn’t win. He said it was too complex, too rich for 25 pages.” Beierle took this advice to heart.
“Gravity” was about “an Internet mogul who brought a young man home from a bar and the next day the boy refused to leave,” Beierle said. Over the course of the next two years, Beierle elaborated on his story “Gravity,” writing daily for two hours before work and workshopping the story at both the 2001 Sewanee and Bread Loaf writers’ conferences. After another year of writing and revisions, Beierle had a novel whose main character Tony Alexamenos, the “young man,” has his life manipulated by Dallas Eden, “the mogul.” Dallas uses his money in hopes of making Tony a sexual conquest of his, but everything goes awry when Tony goes to college - paid for by Dallas - and falls in love with a professor.
Beierle came up with the term “camp noir” to describe the dark, comedic tone of the novel. It was published in April of 2002 by Kensington Books under a new title, The Winter of Our Discotheque. Publisher’s Weekly called it “high spirited [and] rousing,” and named it a “notable title” among April 2002 hardcover fiction. Also, it also spent several months in the top 20 (peaking at No. 3) of Amazon.com’s sales of gay fiction. The novel won a 2002 Lambda Literary Award, which recognizes excellence in the field of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender literature. It was also selected as an offering of the InsightOut Book Club, a gay and lesbian book club whose editors carefully review and select the books that are the best of the category. An excerpt from The Winter of Our Discothèque appears in the anthology Rebel Yell: Stories by Contemporary Southern Gay Authors as the short story “Pump Jockey.”
Even before the success of his first book, Beierle began turning his second story, “La Vie Sexuelle des Monstres,” into a novel. (La Vie Sexuelle des Monstres is the title of a book actually published by Dr. A. P. de Liptay in 1904 about real, historical conjoined twins Giovanni and Giacomo Tocci.) He researched many psychological profiles, case studies, and books of conjoined twins in preparation. Beierle says the title of his story, “The Sex Lives of Monsters” was also chosen “to show how gay people are marginalized as ‘monsters’ because they love members of their own gender.” He continues, “I hoped to point out how ridiculous and backward this was, by comparing it to the way people viewed the deformed, malformed, or crippled in the old days before they became enlightened (or ‘politically correct,’ if you will).” Over the course of the next five years, he workshopped his drafts at the Sewanee, Bread Loaf, Napa Valley, and Kenyon Review writers conferences, under the guidance of such literary personalities as Alice McDermott, Randall Kenan, Claire Messud, and Christopher Tilghman, respectively.
The finished novel was renamed First Person Plural (2007). It relates the intimate lives of an extremely rare set of conjoined twins of the type dicephalus (“two-headed”). Owen and Porter Jamison are individuals as clear as night and day, except for the fact they share a single body with control over their half of it. Told through the eyes of Owen, the intelligent, artistic one, First Person Plural becomes more of a believable memoir from a fictional character’s point of view. His brother Porter is more outgoing and charismatic, having been a typical high school football star (minus the extra head). The first half of the book tells the story of their childhood and upbringing, having surprisingly open-minded and proud parents. Their lives become even more complicated when they discover their sexuality, figuratively and then literally. After a series of ill-fated sexual encounters and relationships, Porter ultimately finds love with Faith, and Owen finds love with her brother, Chase. The dramatic tension rises in the second half of the book when the dynamic of these relationships brings more challenges with it.
In response to the novel, many readers claim to form a strong, emotional attachment with the novel’s characters. “I was involved, not just intellectually, the novel’s initial appeal, with the idea of it, but emotionally. I wanted to be there for them, not only as a fly on the wall, but as a friend. I wanted them to work things out, to learn to accept each other for who they truly were. I wanted to see them grow and be happy,” said Abram Bergen in a review of First Person Plural for Blog Critics Magazine, an “online magazine, a community of writers and readers from around the globe.”
Beierle said, “It didn’t start out as a metaphor, but it eventually becomes a metaphor for gay people in a mainstream society. Most gay people do feel alienated from the world and constantly aware of their differences. Many things resonated to me as a gay man.” Although maybe not intentionally, the book illustrates the hindrance society feels by homosexuals through the way Porter treats Owen; as if Owen’s wishes and happiness are second to his. In another interview, Beierle said, “Despite the progress gay people have made since I came out at the age of eighteen in 1969, I remained constantly aware of feeling different. And I felt that no matter how hard I tried to fit in (short of going back into the closet), I would always remain as obviously different as if I . . .well, had two heads.”
“In this stunning novel, Andrew W.M. Beierle brings to life characters at once unthinkably foreign and utterly real. Frank and fearless, sexy and witty, First Person Plural is a masterfully rendered, powerfully imaginative work, as complex and as extraordinary as the bonds of love,” says Amazon.com. “Its prose style is significantly different than that of his debut work—direct, spare, almost journalistic,” reports Encyclopedia of Contemporary LGBTQ Literature of the United States, was published later in 2009 by Greenwood Press. First Person Plural was short-listed for the Lambda Literary Award for Men’s Fiction of 2007. It was also a September 2007 Main Selection of the InsightOut Book Club, was named one of the ten best books of the year by Richard Labonté on the website Books To Watch Out For, and shared the title of best men’s fiction of 2007 with Sarah Schulman’s The Child on the website AfterElton.com.
Before his book was published, Beierle left his position at Emory in mid-2006 after twenty-six years because he longer no longer felt challenged. He then took a position in Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, as editor of Vanderbilt Magazine. At Vanderbilt Magazine, he developed a funding plan and editorial strategy to increase production of the magazine from three times annually to quarterly with no additional budget. Unhappy with the environment, Beierle decided to take some time to plan his next career move and returned to Centre County, Pennsylvania, to reconnect with his sister. Ultimately, he planned to move to the Washington metro area, but while there he relaxed, developed his web design skills, and rediscovered a lost passion of his, photography.
After fourteen months, he then moved to suburban Washington D.C. in May of 2008, which has changed his perspective and artistic expression. “I can feel my photographic sense changing. I am beginning to move from the purely abstract to highly graphic urban images and am beginning to incorporate people into my work, a new thing for me,” he says. He has also done volunteer work for the Washington D.C. LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) Center.
At the time of this writing, Andrew W.M. Beierle has moved on to become an independent communications consultant to higher education and nonprofit organizations, photographer, and web site developer. Since January of 2008, he has been principal and co-founder of A-Squared Marketing Communications, which provides writing, editing, photography, and web design to educational and nonprofit organizations.
Andrew W.M. Beierle has also written a novella under a pseudonym - a project he has chosen not to disclose, because he wrote it for a friend. His advice to young writers and anyone with aspirations of writing is: “Do it. Write every day, regardless of how you feel, regardless of if you’re hung over, sad or happy. Once you finish, believe in yourself. Believe in your writing. Don’t give up.”
Winter of Our Discotheque. New York: Kensington Books, 2002.
First Person Plural. New York: Kensington Books, 2007.