Edmund White was born on January 19, 1940 in Cincinnati, Ohio. His parents
divorced when White was seven years old. He moved with his mother and sister
to Evanston. He has written of searching for books in the Evanston Public
Library about homosexuality and found only Thomas Mann's Death in Venice
and a biography of Nijinski. Neither book painted an attractive picture
of life as a homosexual and did not ease his desperation as he tried to
piece together his identity.
White was schooled at Cranbrook Academy and then studied at the University of Michigan (his major was Chinese). He moved to New York City and embarked on a five year relationship with another man. From 1962 - 1970, White worked for Time-Life Books. After a year in Rome, White came back to the U.S. and worked as an editor at The Saturday Review and Horizon. He and six other gay writers in New York formed the Violet Quill in the mid-1970's./ This group included Andrew Holleran, Robert Ferro, Felice Picano, George Whitmore, Christopher Cox, and Michael Grumley. The Violet Quill met in the apartments of its members where they read and offered critiques of each other's work. White has published several critically and commercially successful books: Forgetting Elena (1972) and Nocturnes for the King of Naples (1978) as well as two largely autobiographical novels -- A Boy's Own Story (1982) and The Beautiful Room is Empty (1988).
White moved to France from 1983 - 1990. Cox, Whitmore, Ferro and Grumley and many more of White's closest friends had all died from AIDS during the time White lived in France. White himself is HIV-positive.
White is also a cultural critic. He co-wrote The Joy of Gay Sex: An Intimate Guide for Gay Men to the Pleasures of a Gay Life with Dr. Charles Silverstein. His 1980 book States of Desire: Travels in Gay America was a travelogue which looked at gay life just before the devastation of the AIDS crisis. His 1991 anthology, Gay Short Fiction, was heavily criticized for its failure to include works by any men of color.
His most recent work is a monumental biography of Jean Genet, the French novelist and playwright. White wrote of the dilemma facing gay writers: "Some... think that it's unconscionable to deal with anything [besides AIDS]; others believe that since gay culture is in imminent danger of being reduced to a single issue, one that once again equates homosexuality with a dire medical condition, the true duty of gay writers is to remind readers of the wealth of gay accomplishments. Only in that way, they argue, will a gay heritage be passed down to a post-plague generation."