I have been debating about whether I should post or not about the passing of gay literary legend Richard Labonte earlier this week. I didn’t know Richard as well as many other queer writers did; my career began only a few years before he retired from A Different Light and moved north to Bowen Island with his husband Asa (fun fact: Bowen Island is where Harper’s Island, a one-season “we’re trapped here on an island with a mad killer who’s picking us all off one by one and must be one of us!” thriller series that wasn’t very popular but I enjoyed tremendously).
I first met Richard when I worked for Lambda Literary back in the day (yes, the very same Lambda Literary that’s being draggedor defended on Twitter the last few days; those of you who’ve not been around for a long time might not know Paul and I both worked there from August 2000 to November 2001) and A Different Light was the bookseller for a Lambda Literary Awards nominee reading we were holding at the San Francisco Public Library in spring of 2000 (ADL was also the bookseller for the Lambda Literary Conference we were putting on in San Francisco later that same year). Richard was always very kind to me; he published several stories of mine in his Best Gay Erotica series for Cleis Press (and no, I don’t remember the years, the volume numbers, the guest editors, or the stories themselves) and often, when he was putting an anthology of some kind or another together, would often ask me to write something for him. I always tried to (I don’t think I always succeeded in writing something for him), primarily because he was so nice and supportive from my days as editor of Lambda Book Report. Since seeing the news of Richard’s passing, I’ve been remembering things from back then–things I’ve not thought about in years–and while some of the memories aren’t great…the majority of them are. (I really enjoyed the job, despite the challenges I sometimes faced doing it.) That Festival in San Francisco was the last time I saw Richard in person; I think I signed twice more at the store in San Francisco but many years later, long after Richard retired and left the city.
He was a very generous man and was committed to not only the queer community but to the queer publishing community. He was so incredibly kind to me when my first books came out; so supportive, always emailing me to let me know he’d read and enjoyed them, which meant a lot to me back in those days. I was, despite my years as a book reviewer and my time as editor of LBR, still remarkably naive about publishing and the business when Murder in the Rue Dauphine was released; we were also remarkably poor around that time and so making money was really my biggest priority at the time; one of the reasons I always tell new writers to enjoy their first book release and everything to do with getting a book published is because I wasn’t truly able to enjoy mine as completely as I would have liked; and the next thing I knew a year had passed and the second book was out and things were…different. I would periodically email Richard when I was down about something–a horrible review, another writer saying nasty things about me and my work publicly, what should I do in a certain situation–and he was always very generous with his time and kind in his replies to the newbie who didn’t know what he was doing (and let’s face it, I still don’t).
His retirement was a loss to the community; his passing an even greater one. He loved his community, he loved books, he loved writers–and he made such a difference, a positive one, in so many writer’s lives.
But I am glad I got the opportunity to know him. I was always grateful to him; I hope he knew that.