After years of contentious negotiation, Yale will announce today that writer and gay activist Larry Kramer ’57 is donating his papers and manuscripts to the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, and that his brother, Arthur Kramer ’49, will give $1 million to the University to fund the Kramer Initiative for Lesbian and Gay Studies at Yale.
The announcement would put an end to a four-year tug-of-war between Larry Kramer and Yale administrators over the details of the potential gift. Talks between Kramer and the University had hit several snags since 1997, but in recent weeks the parties were able to overcome existing problems with some outside help.
A small ceremony will be held today outside Beinecke library where University officials, including President Richard Levin and Provost Alison Richard, Yale’s chief academic and finance officer, will honor Larry and Arthur Kramer and officially accept the gifts.
Arthur Kramer’s gift, given in honor of his brother, will fund research and teaching in gay and lesbian studies, including visiting professors, lectures and conferences.
The extensive collection of Larry Kramer’s writings includes original manuscripts and correspondence. Friends describe Kramer as a “pack rat,” making his donation more valuable to scholars who are interested in studying his work.
“We’re delighted that Larry Kramer’s papers are coming to Yale, where they will be greatly appreciated, and that his brother is making a gift to support lesbian and gay studies,” Levin said.
In 1997, Larry Kramer offered to endow a professorship in gay and lesbian studies and build a gay and lesbian student center. The University declined to accept such a gift on the grounds that the field was not yet a legitimate academic discipline, but negotiations persisted.
“It has not been an easy journey, but we’re here. That was yesterday and we’re here today,” Kramer said. “I hope that the faculty, kids and alumni who will support this and that it will become strong, powerful and long lasting.”
A New York-based author and playwright, Larry Kramer is considered a founding father of the gay rights and AIDS movements. His 1985 play, “The Normal Heart,” drew international acclaim and his screenplay for the film, “Women in Love,” was nominated for an Academy Award in 1969.
Kramer co-founded the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in 1982 and the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, known as ACT UP, in 1987. He was diagnosed as HIV positive in 1989, but does not have AIDS. He is currently suffering from advanced liver disease.
As an undergraduate at Yale in the 1950s, Kramer said he felt rejected because of his sexual orientation and even attempted suicide. He now seeks to ensure that others will not have to endure the same situation.
In 1997, when Yale first spurned Kramer’s offer, he launched vicious attacks on University administrators, calling Levin “spineless” and Richard “that termagant woman.”
Despite harsh words, Levin and Richard said they never turned their backs on Kramer.
“I have never been shaken in my admiration and respect for this man,” Richard said.
As recently as February, negotiations between Larry Kramer and Yale nearly disintegrated, but Kramer said that former Yale trustee Calvin Trillin ’57 and his brother Arthur “reawakened” his enthusiasm for the gift.
“The University from the start really wanted this to happen,” Trillin said. “I also think that Larry from the start really wanted it to happen — he’s a real Yale guy.”
Professor Marianne LaFrance, the chair of the faculty committee that will oversee Kramer’s initiative, said that gay and lesbian studies as an academic discipline is “taking foot.”
Although Larry Kramer said Yale is still playing “catch-up,” he is pleased that his gift will advance gay and lesbian studies at Yale.
“I’m proud to see my name on something that represents a triumph — a small triumph — over an unfortunate historical condition,” Kramer said.