by Len Lear
A Mt. Airy novelist of several best-sellers is one of several writers on gay themes whom you can meet Saturday June 9, 7 p.m., at Big Blue Marble Bookstore, 551 Carpenter Lane in West Mt. Airy. The event is part of Gay Pride Month.
Mt. Airy resident Alex London, author of “Proxy” and “Guardian” and numerous other books, will be present along with Amanda Foody, author of “Ace of Shades,” and Saundra Mitchell, editor of “All Out: The No-Longer Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages.”
“It’s no secret who I am and what I write,” London, 38, told us last week. “Years ago, I made the decision to be ‘out’ as a children’s book author. I wrote an essay about it for buzzfeed.com, but in terms of what the publisher put on the marketing materials, I think in 2013, when ‘Proxy’ was first published, they didn’t want it shoved off into the ‘queer’ bookshelf.
“They marketed it like any other action thriller for teens, which allowed it to slip in ‘under the gaydar,’ as they say. Perhaps for kids who might never pick up a book that advertises itself as having ‘gay content,’ ‘Proxy’ is a safer read. They can read about a gay action hero without advertising to the world that that’s what they’re doing …
“At the same time, my new Young Adult novel, coming out in September, ‘Black Wings Beating,’ specifically notes that one of the two main characters is in love with another boy. Then again, there are giant killer birds threatening his world, so he’s got other concerns aside from romance.”
London was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and moved to New York to attend Columbia University. He graduated with a degree in philosophy and earned a Masters Degree in Library Science from Pratt Institute. At one time a journalist reporting from war zones and refugee camps, he moved two years ago from Brooklyn to Mt. Airy, where he can be found, according to his bio, “wandering the streets talking to his dog (a 12-year-old Boston terrier), who is the real brains of the operation.”
London moved from Brooklyn to Philly because “my husband got a good job at a wonderful school here (he’s a teacher), and we’re starting a family. It just seemed a lot easier to live well and raise a family in Philly than in New York … I love this community.”
The Mt. Airy author is certainly no armchair novelist who has spent most of his time in front of a computer screen. As a freelance writer, he put his life on the line in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2001-2002, at the Sudan/Kenya border in 2004, to Kosovo and Bosnia after the 1990s’ civil wars in those Balkan nations, to the Thai-Burma border and even in Iran, Israel and the West Bank in 2008.
What motivated London to want to go to those areas in which numerous journalists have been killed? “I wish I could say it was something noble,” London said modestly, “and I did use my research in advocacy for the organization Refugees International, for whom was a research associate, but mostly it was a young man’s curiosity and sense of adventure that made me want to go.
“Perhaps I had something I felt I had to prove, or perhaps I just wanted to see the world on someone else’s dime. Regardless, meeting the people I met, whose lives were as epic as anything Homer wrote, quickly disabused me of the notion that I was the center of the world.”
Raised in a non-religious Jewish family, London knew his heritage but had no strong desire to experience it personally. Then in the summer of 2004, while doing relief work in Bosnia, he stumbled upon a remarkable community, where Jews worked alongside Muslims and Christians to rebuild a city ravaged by war. This encounter gave him the idea for a journey that would take him around the world and back to his roots.
The result was his universally-praised, book, “Far from Zion,” the story of Jews in far-flung, often surprising places, for example, a shopkeeper selling Jewish trinkets in Iran, a caretaker keeping watch over an all-but-forgotten synagogue in Rangoon, revelers at a Hanukah celebration in an Arkansas bowling alley, a Cuban engineering professor, proud of his Jewish heritage and prouder still of his Communist ideals, even a group of Ugandan coffee farmers who adopted Judaism in the 20th century.
Another profound, compelling and unforgettable work by London is “One Day The Soldiers Came: Voices of Children in War,” which “takes us into the world of refugee children, celebrating their unique skills for survival and reflection.”
But London’s best-known book is probably “Proxy,” directed at a young adult audience. “I wanted to write the book I wished had actually existed for teenaged me,” he told us, “and for my straight friends, one where I didn’t have to invent a subtext about the gay characters, I could put it right there in the text …
“I’ve been touched to see all kinds of readers embrace ‘Proxy’ and root for its main character, even if they’d never rooted for an LGBTQ character before. It’s a real joy to see all types of readers embracing a diverse array of characters and to judge them on their kindness, their bravery, their cleverness, not their sexuality.”
For more information, visit www.calexanderlondon.com or call 215-844-1870.