EW pays tribute to queer writers and thinkers with Russian Doll co-creator Leslye Headland, who reveals Fran Lebowitz's early influence, and The Queen of the Night author Alexander Chee, who talks about his friend, the late poet Justin Chin.

By Shana Naomi Krochmal
July 06, 2020 at 05:19 PM EDT
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As part of our ongoing celebration of Pride Month, EW continues its special four-part audio series, Untold Stories: Pride Edition, hosted by Tre'vell Anderson, with a final episode dedicated to queer authors and thinkers in recent history. (Listen to the full episode above.)

Russian Doll co-creator Leslye Headland reveals the early influence of Fran Lebowitz, author and professor Karen Tongson explores what exactly makes someone a queer icon or legend, and The Queen of the Night author Alexander Chee talks about his friend, the late poet Justin Chin.

"There isn't anything like the work that she had put out at the time when she was still writing," Headland says of Lebowitz. "There's absolutely nothing like her. Her almost stream of consciousness rants. She talks a lot about in her interviews the difference between writing and talking and that she hates writing, but she loves talking. I felt so similarly about making that transition from a precocious child who everyone told to shut up to a person that everyone was like, 'Oh, we'll pay you to say that actually. We'll give you good money to write that down and say that.' She really is an icon, I think, in the old fashioned or traditional sense of that word."

Headland credits Lebowitz both with impacting her school reports as a 12-year-old — see below — and in Natasha Lyonne's main character for Russian Doll. "Any of those jokes that she says in there could be Lebowitz jokes," Headland says. "When she walks into the bar and says, 'Oh, it smells like George Plimpton after a three-day bender in here.' People don't talk that way."

For Chee, a novelist and essayist, one long-lasting influence was the writer Justin Chin, who died in 2015. "He has this wonderful way of making the disgusting sublime without also making it prettier than it is," Chee says. "He was completely unabashed about his desires, about what the rightness or wrongness of them."

EW also called upon USC professor and podcaster Karen Tongson to help us make sense of our subjects' choices throughout this series to pay tribute to some truly untold storytellers from modern queer history. "Whereas it's more comfortable sometimes for us to think on the scale of icons, on the scale of celebrity, on the scale of what is grand, I also think it's important for us to recognize and understand the smaller, more intimate scales of being queer in the world and being in community," Tongson says.

In each episode of the Untold Stories: Pride Edition podcast, we talked to some of our favorite LGBTQ entertainers about the queer legends, icons, and contemporaries who have inspired their own work and art. In episode 1, we took a deep dive into the history of theater: actor and singer Tituss Burgess talked about the iconic Stephen Sondheim and how Sondheim helped him come out. Plus, actor Matt Bomer shared a moving tribute to activist and playwright Larry Kramer.

In episode 2Lena Waithe talked about Paris Is Burning's Pepper Labeija and the impact of ballroom culture on her work in TV and film, and pop songwriter Justin Tranter credited John Waters muse Divine's work in film, music, and other appearances with helping shape their understanding of gender.

Episode 3 focused on queer TV. Pose co-creator & EP Steven Canals talked with EW's senior TV editor Gerrad Hall about his mentor Ryan Murphy and Los Espookys star and co-creator Julio Torres honored Saturday Night Live writer James Anderson. Plus, TV critic Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya joined us to dive into the queer history of SNL and Murphy's previous shows.

Listen to all four episodes of Untold Stories below or on Apple Podcasts.

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