New York Times bestselling novelist Patricia Nell Warren whose 1974 iconic novel The Front Runner, which became the first work of contemporary gay fiction to make the New York Times Best Seller list passed away on February 9th. She was 82.
Patricia Nell Warren was born in Helena, Montana on June 15, 1936 and grew up in southwest Montana on the Grant-Kohrs Ranch.
In 1959 Warren went to work for Reader’s Digest and worked there for 21 years; she became an editor for both the magazine and the Condensed Book Club .
In 1974 Warren wrote and published, The Front Runner.[ Told from the point of view of a gay track coach, the story chronicled his struggle to get a talented openly gay runner on the U.S. Olympic team, and to quash his own growing love for his protegé. The book doesn’t treat the characters merely as “gay”, it treats them as human, which allowed readers of all genders and orientations to engage in and relate to them.
The then controversial book was the first contemporary gay fiction to make The New York Times Best Seller list. The book sold 10 million copies and was translated in to 10 different languages.Two decades later, Warren added two sequels, Harlan’s Race (1994) and Billy’s Boy (1996).
Warren also came out as a lesbian in 1974.
Soon after its publication, The Front Runner became a subject of interest for adaptation as a motion picture. The subsequent decades saw a series of producers and directors involved in adapting the film; most notably Paul Newman, as well as Frank Perry, Arthur Allan Seidelman, and Jeremy Larner. Because of the books content and Hollywood’s skittishness none of these efforts resulted in a motion picture.
In 1976, Warren published her third novel, The Fancy Dancer. The story was set in her native Montana, tracking the struggle with sexual orientation issues of a young Catholic parish priest in a small cow-country town.[c
In 1978 came Warren’s fourth novel, The Beauty Queen. Also published by Morrow, this book was set in the New York City world where she’d spent many years. The story focused on a socially prominent Manhattan businessman, a closeted gay father trying to get up the courage to come out to his daughter, who had become a fiercely anti-gay born-again Christian politician
Patricia Nell Warren wasn’t just an amazing contemporary gay author. She was an inspiration to an generation of gay men and lesbians who at the time were venturing out of the closet, and her books were both inspirational and a comfort to us all.