David Levithan is a professor of literature at The New School MFA Writing Program as well as a New York Times bestselling author. His latest novel, Two Boys Kissing, was recently longlisted for the National Book Awards.
Two Boys Kissing tells the based-on-true-events story of Harry and Craig, two boys who set out to break the Guinness World Record for the longest kiss. As Harry and Craig begin their 32-hour-long kissing marathon, narration weaves in and out of the stories of gay teen boys dealing with languishing long-term relationships, coming out, and navigating gender identity – all of which is narrated by a Greek Chorus of the generation of gay men lost to AIDS. Two Boys Kissing serves as a perfect thematic bookend to David’s YA debut and breakthrough, Boy Meets Boy, which celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2013.
Kheryn Callender: Two Boys Kissing offers hope and a sense of power to its readers, but there are also emotionally brutal and painful scenes as characters face homophobia and self-hatred for being who they are. What do you feel is the importance in acknowledging pain and darkness in your writing and in children's literature? Conversely, what is the importance in giving readers a sense of hope?
David Levithan: What I set out to do with Two Boys Kissing is really give as close to a panorama as I can of gay teen life now—a look at the current younger generation as seen through the eyes of the gay generation that came before mine. Whereas my novel Boy Meets Boy ten years ago was meant to create reality, this was much more about reflecting reality. So I had to balance that experience—I absolutely believe in the "It Gets Better" message, but I also believe there are existences on either side of that—that is, that for some gay teens, it's already pretty damn good, and for others, being told it gets better isn't going to be enough. Although ultimately it will get better. So I think to be effective you have to acknowledge the dark and the light ... and at the same time show how lives can (and, most often, do) more from the first to the second.
KC: Two Boys Kissing is narrated by a Greek Chorus of gay men who died of AIDS. Why was it important to tell the Chorus’s story?
DL: I wanted the book to be narrated by the gay generation before mine, so many of whom died of AIDS, to give some dimensionality to the stories I was telling—to give the depth of history to the stories of today. And I think it's the grace (and sometimes anger) of the chorus that comes across in the book. They know more now than they did before, and that can make them empathetic to our foibles, but also make them vigilant about our mistakes.
KC: Throughout the novel, the Chorus gives important advice and remarks on the lessons they've learned as well as what they hope the characters will come to learn. Is what the Chorus wants characters to learn the same as what you hope readers will take away from Two Boys Kissing? What was the most important message you hoped to provide to readers?
DL: In many ways, I think the Chorus is much wiser than the author who created it. This may sound like a paradox, but I'm not really sure it is. But I think that, yes, I stand by their observations and their hopes. One of the most piercing realizations that came to me while writing the book was the realization that my gay generation was robbed of so many role models, so many mentors. I have to believe that they'd want my generation to take up the slack. So that's what I'm trying to do. And the resulting message is very simple: be who you are.