boston.com News your connection to The Boston Globe
ALEX BEAM

'Blue State' author has a blue past

Cambridge's David Slavitt is a man of many parts. A senior associate fellow of Harvard's Leverett House common room, he has written 86 books, including more than a dozen novels, many books of poems, and a boatload of academic translations from medieval French, Latin, Greek, Spanish, and Hebrew. He is currently working on two projects: a translation of Lucretius's "De Rerum Natura " for the University of California Press, and a translation of Sophocles's Theban plays for Yale.

Slavitt achieved about 7 1/2 minutes of Bay State fame in 2004 by running for state representative against incumbent Democrat Timothy Toomey in Cambridge. Slavitt ran as a "Schwarzenegger Republican without the groping," and got terminated by the voters with extreme prejudice. He whipped the experience into an amusing book, "Blue State Blues: How a Cranky Conservative Launched a Campaign and Found Himself the Liberal Candidate (And Still Lost)." When I noted that the Globe had ignored his campaign memoir, he cheerfully replied, "Well, they ignored the last 85 books as well."

Did I mention that Mr. Slavitt is also a pornographer?

Slavitt's blue past had long been rumored among local poets, but the full range of his talents came to light when he listed many of his creations, including his pseudonymous novels, in the front of his campaign memoir. Writing as "Henry Sutton," Slavitt grabbed the brass ring with his 1967 soft-porn best seller, "The Exhibitionist ," which sold 4 million copies. "It was every English major's dream," Slavitt recalls. "I put my children though college and could continue to write poems and translate Ausonius , whom nobody has ever heard of."

Why the pseudonym? "Because when General Motors makes a cheap car they call it a Chevy, and when they make a good car, they call it a Cadillac. 'The Exhibitionist' is not a book I would read had I not written it."

During his campaign against Toomey, Slavitt worried that his other works might come to light: e.g., his 1987 work "The -- Book: A Child's First Book of Pornography," which he calls "my porn version of Dr. Seuss's "One Fish, Two Fish."

In "Blue State Blues," Slavitt discusses with his lawyer son Evan how to respond if Toomey attacks him as a pornographer:

"About 'The Exhibitionist,' [Evan] said, 'You defy anyone to infringe your First Amendment rights.'

"But what about 'The -- Book?' I asked.

"Without a pause, he said, 'In Cambridge? There are no community standards.'"

Radio daze
James Hirsch , a Type 1 diabetic who with his wife is raising a diabetic son, had a bizarre experience while promoting his latest book, "Cheating Destiny: Living With Diabetes, America's Biggest Epidemic" in Des Moines this month.

The day after Hirsch had appeared on his WHO-AM (1040) radio program, conservative talk show host Jan Mickelson attacked the author and his wife for having children. "I know the desire to reproduce from your own gene pool is almost overwhelming," Mickelson said in a long tirade that invoked eugenic solutions to some health care issues. "But what if you know that you have the shallow end of your own pool? . . . If you are genetically flawed, just don't reproduce. That's just being a bad citizen."

Mickelson got plenty of feedback, including some e-mails addressed "Dear Hitler." He later admitted that he had confused the low inherited potential of Type 1, or juvenile diabetes, with the higher potential of Type 2, or adult-onset diabetes. He invited Hirsch back on his show, and apologized. Then he repeated his view that diabetes patients are "genetically flawed" and continued to questions whether they should have children. To be fair, even Elliott Joslin , regarded as America's premier diabetes researcher, urged his patients not to intermarry.

Hirsch remains outraged. "He was basically calling for sterilization of people with diabetes, and calling my son a genetically flawed individual," he says. "No one, for example, would describe a woman with breast cancer or a senior citizen with Alzheimer's as 'genetically flawed,' despite those diseases being genetically based."

I recommend going to Mickelson's website, mickelson.libsyn.com and listening to the Dec. 5 and Dec. 8 exchanges yourself. Hirsch is plenty articulate, and Mickelson can hold his own on the air.

Alex Beam is a Globe columnist. His e-dress is beam@globe.com.

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES
 
Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives