LITERARY LOCATION: 1018 Burnaby Street, Vancouver, former location of Buddy's Bar.

Born in Chicago in 1941, Stan Persky was easily one of the most significant figures in the rise of British Columbian writing and publishing during the 1970s and 1980s. He was inspired to pursue a literary career as a 16-year-old in 1957 when he sent his writing to Jack Kerouac, and soon received replies from Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and other writers of the "Beat Generation." In the late 1960s, Persky co-founded the Georgia Straight Writing Supplement in Vancouver which led to the formation of New Star Books, a leftist imprint managed by Lanny Beckman. For many years Persky, as an author and political activist, was closely associated with New Star Books and wrote a series of books about B.C. and international politics for the press. He lived in the houses in which the press operated for many years, first at 2249, and then at 2504 York Avenue. (In 1990, Rolf Maurer took over as New Star publisher and its majority owner, moving the company to East Vancouver.) Persky, who taught philosophy at Capilano College, was also a leading light in a Philosopher Cafe initiative to stimulate philosophical and literary discussions around Vancouver, a program founded by Yosef Wosk of Simon Fraser University. As well, Persky was an early activist in the Vancouver gay movement, and wrote about gay life in his book "Buddy's: Meditations on Desire" (1991), which took its title from a gay bar that operated out of 1018 Burnaby Street.


In the 1990s, books about B.C. politics and politicians became much harder to find. The more that B.C. publishers had to worry about getting their books into Chapters and retaining precarious public funding, the less they produced critical works about B.C. society and its managers.

It wasn't always thus. When Stan Persky was full of vigour, having audaciously run for the Chancellorship of UBC as a student, he led the way for populist critiques of the Social Credit government of Premier Bill Bennett with Son of Socred (1979). His subsequent series of lively paperbacks about B.C. politics was available in supermarkets. Persky suggested that academics should "spend more of their time and skills addressing the general public rather than just talking to each other."

Son of Socred (1979) was followed by The House That Jack Built (1980) and Bennett II (1983)--both about B.C. politics. At the Lenin Shipyard (1981) explored Polish politics and America: The Last Domino (1983) examined U.S. foreign policy. Fantasy Government (1989), which scrutinized Bill Vander Zalm's premiership in B.C., marked the end of Persky's ten-year flirtation with populism.

Persky taught Sociology and Philosophy for many years at Capilano College and he had a stint as a columnist for the Globe & Mail. As a pundit and author, he had been influenced politically and philosophically by Bob Rowan, one of the founders of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and the force behind the unconventional Arts One curriculum at UBC, and by Robin Blaser, his older lover in the 1960s who taught for many years in the SFU English department.

If there was an overt turning point in his writing career, it was probably his autobiographical meditations on homosexuality, Buddy's (1989), which received a Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize nomination and marked a return to Persky's literary roots. Buddy's was a gay nightclub at 1018 Burnaby Street in Vancouver's West End. As a frequenter of the club, Persky recorded gay sexuality with an explicit frankness. "It looks at porn in the milieu of the gay world. And it deals with the stereotype of hustlers. It sees them as ordinary human beings and it also sees them as the gods of Eros, Cupid and Amor," he wrote.

Persky's examination of homo-erotic behaviour in the Lower Mainland appeared during the AIDS crisis when many homosexuals were retreating back to the closet. "The book is about understanding pleasure in the middle of a plague," said Persky. "It's about bars, hotel rooms and gyms. It's about desire and darkness. On the one hand, if you're gay, you're often in the presence of death, dealing with friends who are living with AIDS. But on the other hand, life has to go on. Eros winks while Eros weeps."

It was a brave book by a writer at a crossroads in his intellectual life. "Parts of the book are poetic," he said, "But I hope it's accessible. As far as I'm concerned I'm still continuing my career in advocacy journalism. I'm advocating, in the simplest sense, that any consensual sexuality is natural... There's no such thing as abnormality, except when you speak statistically... I can foresee all sorts of adverse responses to Buddy's, but I'd always wanted to write a book about the big subjects -- God, Death, Sex, Beauty -- and that's what this one's about."

Persky's detour towards self-referential writing and personal essays was partially motivated by his admiration for the works of French author Roland Barthes.

Autobiography of a Tattoo (New Star, 1997) chronicles Persky's journey through the U.S. Navy in the 1950s, post-Wall Berlin and his views of ancient Greece via Plato's Symposium. The title story is about the young writer's education in love and art, while sequences explore education and life in post Communist Berlin, in the world of boy bars and among the author's friends.

Increasingly attracted to the societies and writers of Europe, in general, and to the culture of Berlin, in particular, Persky became much less of a presence in B.C. in the 21st century.

With co-author John Dixon, he did examine the legal, moral and philosophical issues surrounding the case of accused porn collector Robin Sharpe in their book, On Kiddie Porn: Sexual Representation, Free Speech and the Robin Sharpe Case (2001) which was a finalist for the 2002 Donner Prize for the best book on Canadian public policy.

Persky was in Berlin when A Short Version: An ABC Book (2005) was awarded the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize in 2006, accepted on his behalf by its publisher Rolf Maurer. Much of this diffuse memoir, The Short Version, had first appeared in Brian Fawcett's electronic newsletter It contains Persky's casual ode, in prose, to Robin Blaser, who had been classmates at the University of California at Berkeley with Jack Spicer and Robert Duncan. Persky first met Blaser in a San Francisco bar in January of 1962, in the company of Jack Spicer. Persky proceeded to live with Blaser for about five years afterwards, moving to Vancouver in 1966. Having been a student of Jack Spicer in California, Persky first read poetry by Robin Blaser when Persky was a 19-year-old sailor stationed in southern Italy. Robin Blaser died in 2009, in Vancouver.

A Short Version was followed by another collection of critical thinking, meanderings and reworked material, Topic Sentence, with an introduction by his friend, Brian Fawcett.

For Persky's Reading the 21st Century, he republished a variety of essays and book reviews evaluating works by established authors such as Philip Roth, Orhan Pamuk, J.M. Coetzee, and Jose Saramago, as well as emerging writers like Naomi Klein, Javier Cercas, and Chimamanda Adichie. He also highlighted reporters - Steve Coll, Dexter Filkins, and Rajiv Chandrasekaran - who have written essential books about global issues. "My qualifications for an overview of the books of the decade go back to my first brush with literary criticism as a ten-year-old fifth grader, when I wrote a critical essay about Herman Melville's Moby Dick under the sensationalist title of "Bloated Whale Beached" (I found the sea-going masterpiece a bit long). Since that precocious debut, it's been mostly downhill. If this writing helps readers, even in a small way, to resist the forgetting of history and what philosopher Martin Heidegger called the 'forgetting of Being,' I will consider that the work has achieved its purpose."

Stan Persky was named the seventh recipient of the annual Lieutenant Governor's Award for Literary Excellence in 2010. He was cited by jury member Terry Glavin for his "bravery as a philosopher, a polemicist and a storyteller."

Post-Communist Stories: About Cities, Politics, Desires (2014) marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The stories commemorate Persky's early 1990s' travels through Tirana, Warsaw, Budapest and other post-Communist capitals as he recollects experiences and conversations held with those living in the shadow of the Iron Curtain. In a final essay reflecting on the end of communism, Persky ponders how recent events in Ukraine could represent a continuation of the hope that motivated the revolutions that felled the Iron Curtain.

Persky's literary influences are legion. "I notice that over the years my writing has become increasingly a tangled skein of bits and pieces of other authors' writing," he has observed, "a Talmudic interweaving of my own and others' commentaries, a text filled with quotes from and references to other texts. My books, like late-medieval chrestomathies, are a patchwork of books."

[For other political books by non-politicians, see abcbookworld entries for Adam, Heribet; Antliff, Allan; Avakumovic, Ivan; Baldrey, Keith; Birney, Earle; Blake, Donald E.; Block, Walter; Boyle, Patrick T.; Brière, Elaine; Brunet-Jailly, Emmanuel; Bryden, P.E.; Byers, Michael; Cairns, Alan; Cameron, Stevie; Carr, Paul; Carty, Kenneth; Clearwater, John; Clements, Alan; Coats, R.H.; Cohen, Lenard; Conway, Robert; Covell, Caroline; Cross, William; Day, J.C.; Ditmars, Hadani; Dobbin, Murray; Doyle, Charles; Eisenberg, Avigail; Engler, Allan; Engler, Yves; Enomoto, Randy; Evans, Elwood; Fenton, Anthony; Finlay, K.A.; Foster, Leslie; Friedrichs, Christopher; Garr, Allen; Gawthrop, Daniel; Gerolymatos, André; Godfrey, Sima; Grey, Deborah; Harding, Jim; Haskett, Michael J.; Head, Ivan; Herath, R.B.; Howlett, Michael; Jefferess, David; Johnson, Genevieve Fuji; Julian, Terry; Kavic, Lorne J.; Kay, William; Keene, R.; Knox, Paul; Leslie, Graham; Lewis, S.P.; Lund, Darren; MacMinn, George; MacPherson, Donald; Magnusson, Warren; Marchak, Patricia; Mathews, Robin; Mauzy, Diane K.; McClung, Nellie Letitia; Mgbeoji, Ikechi; Millard, Gregory; Moens, Alexander; Morley, Terry; Morton, James; Mugridge, Ian; Munro, John; Murray, Peter; Nadir, Leilah; Nixon, Bob; Onstad, Gary; Ore, Kenneth; Palmer, Bryan D.; Parker, Gilbert; Plant, Geoff; Plecas, Bob; Prentice, Roger; Prince, Michael J.; Resnick, Philip; Robin, Martin; Rodney, William; Rose, William; Rothenburger, Mel; Sajoo, Amyn B.; Sakolsky, Ron; Scott, Jack; Sharifad, Yadi; Shelton, George W.; Sherman, Paddy; Spector, Norman; Stankiewicz, W.J.; Steeves, Dorothy; Stephen, A.M.; Stevenson, Michael; Swankey, Ben; Townsend-Gault, Ian; Twigg, Alan; Varzeliotis, Tom; Walker, Len; Walker, Michael; Walker, Russell Robert; Webster, Daisy; Wharf, Brian; Wild, Roland; Williams, David Ricardo; Wilson, Donna; Woodsworth, Glenn; Ykelchyk, Serhy; Young, Lisa; Young, Walter D.]

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Bennett II: The Decline and Stumbling of Social Credit Government in British Columbia, 1979-83
The House (Convention Centre, Stadium, Rapid Transit System, Etc.) That Jack Built: Jack Volrich and Vancouver Politics
On Kiddie Porn: Sexual Representation, Free Speech and the Robin Sharpe Case
Son of Socred: Has Bill Bennett's Government Gotten B.C. Moving Again?


Post-Communist Stories: About Cities, Politics, Desires (Cormorant Books 2014) $24.95 978-1770864467
Reading the 21st Century (McGill-Queens 2011). 9780773539099 $34.95
Robin Blaser (New Star, 2010) 978-1-55420-052-8 $ 16.00
Topic Sentence: A Writer's Education (New Star, 2007).
The Short Version: An ABC Book (New Star, 2005)
On Kiddie Porn: Sexual Representation, Free Speech And The Robin Sharpe Case, by Stan Persky and John Dixon (New Star, 2001)
Delgamuukw; The Supreme Court of Canada Decision on Aboriginal Title (Vancouver: Greystone Books, 1999)
Supreme Court of Canada Decision on Abortion (New Star, 1998)
Autobiography of a Tattoo (New Star, 1997)
Boyopolis: Sex And Politics In Gay Eastern Europe (Overlook Press, 1996)
Then We Take Berlin: Stories from the Other Side of Europe (Knopf, 1995)
Buddy's: Meditations on Desire (New Star Press, 1989)
Mixed Media, Mixed Messages (New Star Press, 1991)
Fantasy Government: Bill Vander Zalm and the Future of Social Credit (New Star Press, 1989)
The Supreme Court Decision on Alberta, co-editor Shelagh Day (New Star, 1988)
The Holy Forest, introduction by Robin Blaser and Robert Creeley (Coach House, 1998)
The Solidarity Sourcebook, edited by Stan Persky and Henry Flam (New Star, 1985)
America, The Last Domino: U.S. Foreign Policy In Central America Under Reagan
Bennett II (New Star, 1983)
Flaunting It: A Decade Of Gay Journalism From The Body Politic, edited by Ed Jackson and Stan Persky (New Star, 1982)
The Solidarity Sourcebook (New Star, 1982). With Henry Flam.
At the Lenin Shipyard: Poland and the Rise of the Solidarity Trade Union (New Star, 1981)
The House That Jack Built (New Star, 1980)
Son of Socred (New Star, 1979)

[BCBW 2015]