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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Cecil W. Wooten, July 16, 2001. Interview K-0849. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The formation of the Mary Renault Society

Wooten describes his role in the founding of the Mary Renault Society during the early 1980s in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Wooten explains how despite the fact that Chapel Hill was relatively tolerant of gays and lesbians, there were few outlets outside of gay bars available for gay people to meet and socialize with one another. The Mary Renault Society, a group devoted to reading and discussion, emerged to fill this void.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Cecil W. Wooten, July 16, 2001. Interview K-0849. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

So we were talking about the Mary Renault Society.
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
Yeah, so, he asked me if, this was the first year that I was in Chapel Hill and he asked me in 1980, I guess that it was in 81 because I was in the humanity center the first year, so it was the first year that I as teaching, and he asked me if I would be the sort of front man to organize a group like this and he said that he would write the letter, explaining the concept if I would sign it and distribute it to gay people that I knew, and so I did, and Hoagie Gaskins was one of the people that I distributed it to.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Did he live in the castle at that time?
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
I don't remember. I gave it to himߞhe ran a bookstore at University Mallߞ
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Was it Little Professor Books?
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
Yeah, Little Professor, and I gave it to him down there, and I must say, his initial response was, "Oh, this is silly, you know, this sounds 'pissie' and pretentious."
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
He was blonde, he was nice looking, he was very nice, very dynamic and energetic. He had somewhat of an edge to him. But, I like himߞ
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
He had sarcasm?
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
He was sarcastic, for example, I remember when I took him this notice about this book club meeting, he sort pruned the whole thing and made some sort of sarcastic comment about 'pissie' queens talking about Oscar Wilde Plays and [Laughter] But I distributed this to about thirty or forty people and we had the first meeting at my apartment, which was at Sharon Heights.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Oh
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
There were about twenty people there, and some of them I knew and some of them I didn't know, because people I had given this notice too had told other people about it, and everybody sort of agreed that it was a good idea, it was a good opportunity for gay people to meet other people outside of bars and tea rooms and other highly sexually charged environments, but it was more welcoming for older people and people who didn't feel comfortable being very out.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Which in Chapel Hill meant that you were over twenty-one.
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
That's right, exactly, it had the possibility of being educational and so we agreed to do it, and then of course, we needed a name and we talked about various things, and I think most of the people there said that the first gay novel they had ever read was by Mary Renault, so we decided that we would call it the Mary Renault Society.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
And what did she write?
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
The one that I read was called "The Persian Boy" about the King of Persia and his boyfriend whose name was Bogerass I still remember that. [Laughter] But plenty of her novels, "The Charioteer" was a gay theme, many of her novels had gay themes, and she is one of these interesting lesbian women who writes about gay men.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
That is kind of unusual.
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
So, we formed a group and we met once a month and the way we did it, was like many book clubs, somebody would agree to lead a discussion on a book and we would all read it, and I remember the first one that we did was "The Best Little Boy in the World" and the discussion was lead by a therapist by the name of Bill Sims in Durham and it was wonderful, it was very interesting. I mean, it just went beautifully. We got together, and we had drinks, sort of cocktails and food and we all sat around Don Stanford's living room and talked about "The Best Little Boy in the World" and we met for about two years and then it seemed to me to have sort have run it's course. I mean, we were not getting any new people, we had read all of the sort of standard gay books and we had all met a lot of nice people and it did not seem to be of much interest anymore, so I quit going and my colleague who had been responsible for it had quit going and I assumed that it would sort of die eventually, but I think that it may be still going.