Marian Miner Cook
Athenaeum

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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Tuesday, February 27, 2018 - Evening Program
The Complicated South
Garrard Conley

The son of a Baptist preacher, memoirist and author of Boy Erased, Garrard Conley grew up gay in rural Arkansas. His experience attending an “ex-gay” conversion therapy facility, followed by years of strained relationships with his family, led him to a unique and complicated understanding of the American South. Through interviews with family members, former “ex-gay” therapists, psychologists, and advocates, Conley will share new insights he has developed into what it means to be Southern in the 21st century.

Coming of age as the son of a Baptist pastor in rural Arkansas, Garrard Conley was terrified and conflicted by his sexuality; he had never even met another gay person. At age nineteen, his worst fear came true when he was outed to his parents. They gave him an ultimatum: he could either be shipped to a “conversion therapy” facility in a hope to “cure” him of his homosexuality, or he would lose his family, his friends, and his God. He chose the facility, a decision that would lead him through a brutally institutional Twelve-Step Program. He was supposed to emerge cleansed of impure urges, stronger in his Christian faith, and—most importantly—heterosexual. Instead, Conley developed the strength to search for his true identity and to forgive his family.

Conley’s bestselling memoir, Boy Erased, traces the complex relationships between identity, faith, and community. A humane, poetic glimpse at a world hidden to many, Conley shows all sides of his family—good and bad—with courage and compassion, even as he depicts his own story of survival.

Boy Erased thrust Conley onto the national stage as the public gained increasing awareness of conversion therapy facilities. It is currently being adapted as a film by Focus Features with Joel Edgerton directing. A popular speaker, he lectures at schools and venues across the country on radical compassion, writing through trauma, and what it means to grow up gay in the South. He has received scholarships from the Bread Loaf, Sewanee, and Elizabeth Kostova Foundation Writers’ Conferences and has facilitated classes for Catapult, Sackett Street Writers Workshop, and the Fine Arts Works Center in Provincetown. He is also currently the memoir instructor for GrubStreet’s Memoir Incubator program. His work can be found in TIME, VICE, CNN, BuzzFeed, Virginia Quarterly Review, and The Huffington Post, among other places, and he was recently named a Lambda Award Finalist for memoir/autobiography. 

Photo credit: Colin Boyd Shafer

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