Jim Grimsley reading causes controversy in Charlotte

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com October 23 2002 11:00 PM ET

A public library director has apologized to Charlotte, N.C., residents for a sexually explicit reading during a publicly funded reading festival. Out North Carolina native Jim Grimsley read a 15-page excerpt of his book Boulevard last Wednesday during the Novello Festival of Reading, shortly after a speech by a children's author.

The novel, Grimsley's fifth, tells the story of a young gay man who moves to late-1970s New Orleans and works in an adult bookstore. The excerpts read by the author included coarse language, references to gay sex, and descriptions of items in the store. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Library director Robert Cannon said the library should have warned the audience of 450 about the content beforehand. "We made a mistake," Cannon said. "We didn't know that he was going to read those particular passages."

Grimsley, who teaches at Emory University in Atlanta, said he wouldn't want to speak in a place so conservative that his work requires a warning label. "This is the world their children are going to grow up in," he said, adding that he didn't recall seeing children in the audience. "They're going to hear dirty language. They're going to hear about sex."

Grimsley, whom the library paid $1,000, read during the five-speaker Creative Loafing Carolina Writers Night, which was headlined by novelist Lee Smith. Grimsley's excerpt was mostly well-received, drawing laughs and applause from the predominantly adult audience. The $383,000 budget for the often-praised Novello festival comes from library funds that don't come directly from Mecklenburg County, Cannon said, including state grants, fees, and fines. About half comes from private sponsors, which include the Arts and Science Council and Bank of America.

But Creative Loafing newspaper editor John Grooms contended that Grimsley's critically acclaimed work, though graphic, reflects reality. "Our interest was pretty much in just giving some time to a writer who is a lot more well-known outside the Carolinas than he is in his own native state," he said.