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the Front Runner

"Click on image to go to Patricia Nell Warren site."

Book Description

First published in 1974, The Front Runner raced to international acclaim - the first novel about gay love to become popular with mainstream.

In 1975, coach Harlan Brown is hiding from his past at an obscure New York college, after he was fired from Penn State University on suspicion of being gay. A tough, lonely ex-Marine of 39, Harlan has never allowed himself to love another man.

Then Billy Sive, a brilliant young runner, shows up on his doorstep. He and his two comrades, Vince Matti and Jacques LaFont, were just thrown off a major team for admitting they are gay. Harlan knows that, with proper training, Billy could go to the '76 Olympics in Montreal. He agrees to coach the three boys under strict conditions that thwart Billy's growing attraction for his mature but compelling mentor. The lean, graceful frontrunner with gold-rim glasses sees directly into Harlan's heart. Billy's gentle and open acceptance of his sexuality makes Harlan afraid to confront either the pain of his past, or the challenges which lay in wait if their intimacy is exposed.

But when Coach Brown finds himself falling in love with his most gifted athlete, he must combat his true feelings for Billy or risk the outrage of the entire sports world - and their only chance at Olympic gold.


Reviewer: Gary F. Taylor (Biloxi, MS)

The Right Book at the Right Time by the Right Author

The idea that THE FRONT RUNNER was the first novel to address gay men and their romantic and sexual relationships is myth. A host of novels predate it, including Gore Vidal's 1948 THE CITY AND THE PILLAR and Mary Renault's brilliant 1959 THE CHARIOTEER. By the 1960s gay characters began to crack the bestseller lists with considerable regularity, with Gavin Lambert's INSIDE DAISY CLOVER a case in point. But THE FRONT RUNNER was very much the right book at the right time by the right author--and it would become legendary as the voice of a new generation.

The Stonewall Riots, which marked a turning point in the struggle for equal rights, was barely five years old when THE FRONT RUNNER was published, and few people--including many in the gay community--had any serious context for the story Warren offered. Consequently, Warren took nothing for granted: she created that context through a series of meticulously described backgrounds, something that made the book widely accessible to mainstream readers. And when THE FRONT RUNNER hit the bookstore it proved a revelation for both homosexual and heterosexuals alike: it flew off the shelves, becoming one of the most critically lauded and widely read novels of its decade.

The story concerns Harlan, a college track coach who is rocked out of the closet when three world class athletes land on his doorstep after being expelled for homosexuality from a major university. One of the three is Billy--and Billy is everything that Harlan has both hungered for and feared: a man with whom Harlan could fall in love. Although many regard it as love story pure and simple, THE FRONT RUNNER is really a sociopolitical novel. At the time, there was little balance in public discourse on homosexuality--and as Harlan and his runners attain increasing fame they must also deal with public reaction to their increasingly open sexuality. Then as now, the price for such openness could be extremely high, and in the spotlight of the track field the price for Harlan and Billy will be beyond reckoning.

Some may feel the book is dated. The 1970s slang is so quaint! And is it really necessary to point out that gay men actually fall in love, that their relationships involve much more than sex? Is it really necessary to detail Stonewall? Do we have to go over the whole ground of being in the closet again? Surely we can take all that for granted now! Yes, we can. But one reason we can is that Patricia Nell Warren put it all on the table in the first place. The world has changed a great deal since the early 1970s, but even with the advent of AIDS, civil unions, and the controversy over same-sex marriage THE FRONT RUNNER still exerts a powerful influence. It was and is a remarkable novel, and it will doubtlessly remain so for as long as love and sexuality remain twin victims of reactionary hysteria.


Reviewer: J (Astona, NY)

The Goddess is Patricia Nell Warren

How is it that a female story teller so adeptly delved into the emotions and mind of gay men? I was 27 when I first read The Front Runner, it was published when I was only 5 years old. Even though it is a story about life set in the 70s, it is a truly remarkable tale about love, destiny, passion and the search for that special love we all seek. Harlan, the track coach at the center of the book, has paid some tough prices for coming out as a gay man. He lost a wife, a family, and yes it would be easy to say he should never have gotten married and cheating on his wife...through Ms. Warren's words, we see the pain and confusion that his sexual identity has caused him. It is not until he is into his 40s that he finds he can be out and lead a life deserving in respect & love. The tragic ending will move any heart I'm sure, gay or staright or questioning. Along with its sequels, each just as brilliant, TFR is a landmark book that is a celebration of the gay & lesbian community.


Reviewer: Kevin Williams (Birmingham, AL)

Heartfelt and Stimulatiing

The Front Runner IS the best book I have ever read. Patricia Nell Warren's writing style is one of the best I have ever found. You are able to feel the character's emotions so deeply that you hurt when they hurt, cry when they cry, and laugh when they laugh. The LOVE and HURT of Harlan and Billy are so strong that you feel your heart ache and love with the turn of each page. I was so engrossed in the characters that I could actually see them in every setting. I felt as though I was walking just a few steps behind in every scene. I HIGHLY recommend this book to all (gay and straight). The Front Runner should be made into a movie and every gay and lesbian person should be made to watch. This love, this caring and this devotion is what we all should strive for.


Reviewer: Thom Y, "T.Y." (Littleton, CO)

Groundbreaking work that still packs a punch today.

One of the first "gay books" I ever read, and still one of the best. No, I did not read it in the 1970s when it was written, I read it in the 1990s, yet it still touched me deeply. For many, this will be a "period piece" of the 1970s, but I think that's missing the point. The themes of coming out and societal acceptance of gays, especially in athletics, are very relevant today. I have heard some people surprised that a woman could write so knowingly about gay men, but really, good writers should be able to inhabit all kinds of people, and Miss Warren does an awesome job of it here. A touching, heartfelt, and important book.


Reviewer: Amazon.com-lover (California)

Gay, Striaght, Whatever, this amazing book will touch any lover's heart

I stumbled upon this book, having heard of it for years but not really knowing what it was about. Oh my Gd! One of the most poignantly written, deep and erotic love stories of all time. I am straight ( I only say that because I want to make it clear that the book touched my heart, it does not matter at all your sexual orientation) and I fell in love with Billy as much as Mr. Brown did, their relationship made me think yes! I want that too! , and it also broke my heart to experience the sick prejudices they had to contend with. Horrid prejudices, that disgustingly and sadly are still going on.

This love story deeply portrayed the connection and love we can only hope to experience in this lifetime. I felt I did just by reading this book, isnt that odd? Oh how I hope to have that connection . But whether or not that happens, The Front Runner gave me that feeling, heartbreaking though it was. Though all experiences in life are ephemeral aren't they?

Everyone, read this book , it is hailed as a great gay love story but NO , it is simply a great love story. One of the best of all time. Patricia Nell Warren is beyond genius. Read it, you will see what I mean.


Patricia Nell Warren

Author & Political Activist

Former Reader's Digest editor Patricia Nell Warren has written six novels, including The Front Runner, which made The New York Times' best-seller list in 1974 and has continued to be one of the top-selling gay novels of all time. Celebrating 40 years in print, Warren has recently released the sequel to The Front Runner, entitled Harlan's Race, which may be one of the longest-awaited gay novels ever.

A special 20th anniversary edition of The Front Runner has just been released under her own imprint, Wildcat Press, to coincide with summer Pride celebrations across the country. She was the Community Grand Marshal for the 1995 LA Pride, and made personal appearances at Atlanta Pride, the Sacramento Freedom Fair, and Orange County Cultural Pride.

Warren, who has written several other bestsellers and published four books of poetry, has attracted an estimated 20 million readers with her diverse literary subjects ranging from gay and lesbian life to Native American philosophy. Her poems, articles, and essays have appeared in The Advocate, Genre, Lesbian News, Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review, Philadelphia Gay News, Lifestyle, as well as Modern Maturity, Atlantic Monthly, the Los Angeles Times, Prairie Schooner, Reader's Digest, San Francisco Chronicle, Persimmon Hill, and American West.

But it is The Front Runner that is sometimes referred to as, The book that started it all and the most important piece of literature of the Post-Stonewall era.

"The most moving, monumental love story ever written about gay life ... This book makes Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies and A Separate Peace look like Mary Poppins ... How a woman was able to capture so beautifully, tenderly and accurately the mature adult gay psyche is also overwhelming ... This is the best gay novel to be published in years ... The most emotionally charged and romantic novel I've read in years should be on your bestseller list." -- Richard Roberts, The New York Times

The rights and dignity of youth have long been a concern for Warren. The Front Runner is a novel that focuses on young gay athletes and their battles with sports-world biases. Over the years, her novels have been favorites with young people who are struggling with coming out, or who simply want positive information about gay life. Parents, counselors, therapists and educators have also relied on her books for helping youth in crisis. For many years, she has lectured at high schools, colleges and universities. In the last year, her lecture schedule ranged from Harvard University to Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. She has done volunteer teaching in Los Angeles' well-known gay and lesbian high school, EAGLES Center.

Today, she is advisor for a new online youth publication, The YouthArts Project. This exciting new zine operates off the U. of Pennsylvania and the U. of Southern California Web sites. In company with Webmasters Darin Weeks and John Waiblinger, Warren assists young gay talent in not only publishing their fiction, poetry, art, essays and opinion online, but also in learning how to use Internet educational resources and software.


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