When Larry Kramer ’57 and Yale officials embraced at a ceremony held yesterday at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library in Kramer’s honor, the small audience of administrators, faculty and Kramer’s friends exuded a feeling of triumph.
For nearly four years, University officials engaged in contentious negotiations with Kramer, a prominent playwright and gay rights activist who sought to donate his collection of literary and political papers and endow a gay and lesbian studies program at Yale. The University’s rejection of Kramer’s initial offer in 1997 led him to publicly chastise Yale President Richard Levin and Provost Alison Richard, but yesterday’s ceremony and official acceptance of a revised gift put an end to the prolonged strife.
Levin said in a speech that Kramer had “given us a nudge in the right direction, bringing us eventually, if not right away, to this happy occasion.”
Along with Larry Kramer’s donation of all of his papers, his brother, Arthur Kramer ’49, a lawyer and financier, is giving $1 million to the University to fund the Larry Kramer Initiative for Gay and Lesbian Studies at Yale for five years. The program, to be overseen by a group of faculty advisers, will support visiting professors, lectures and conferences, and will be housed somewhere on central campus.
Larry Kramer, who is HIV positive and suffering from advanced liver disease, spoke briefly yesterday to an audience that included his brother, administrators, gay faculty members and student activists. Also present at the reception was former Yale trustee and noted writer Calvin Trillin ’57, who Kramer said helped orchestrate the final deal.
After being lauded for his combative spirit by Levin, Kramer also addressed the passion with which he approached his gift.
“I’m impatient by nature and do not enjoy long journeys,” Kramer said.
He went on to say that the ordeal was worth the wait and even poked fun at his tense relationship with Richard, whom he once called “that termagant woman.”
Near the end of his poignant speech, Kramer recalled his days as an 18-year-old gay freshman at Yale in the 1950s and how feeling rejected drove him to attempt suicide just two blocks away from where he was speaking in Beinecke.
“I wanted Yale to recognize me as it recognized other boys and girls,” Kramer said.
Levin’s speech included an assurance that all students will continue to feel welcome at Yale, even if that was not always the case.
“Lesbian and gay students are, and must be made to feel themselves, a part of this institution, a part of this community, a part of the Yale family,” Levin said.
Kramer’s donation of his writings and correspondence and his brother’s monetary contribution may not be the last Kramer gift given to Yale.
“Let’s see how much in its present state it inspires gay alumni to contribute money and academic people to want to participate,” Kramer said in an interview Sunday. “Then we’ll know where we’re going with it, and we can plan accordingly.”