Metro Weekly

André Aciman and Becky Albertalli on creating seminal works of gay fiction

The "Call Me By Your Name" and "Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda" authors will discuss their novels at the Library of Congress

Becky Albertalli & André Aciman

It sometimes surprises people to learn that the author of Call Me By Your Name is straight. “I’m married and I have three sons,” laughs André Aciman, whose popular 2007 novel was the basis for last year’s critically acclaimed gay romance. “Creativity is to be able to put yourself in someone else’s skin and body, and go with it.

“People ask me how come I know gay sex so well,” he adds. “Well, it doesn’t take anything to figure it out, for God’s sakes.”

Aciman attributes his book’s success to its universal themes. “It follows a trajectory that’s been established for most straight novels. There is no bullying. There is no murder. There is no harassment. There is no AIDS. There is really nothing. There’s just the attraction of one person to another person. In a summer environment that’s almost festive. All of the senses are involved.”

Aciman will discuss Call Me at the Library of Congress on Wednesday, June 6, as part of the library’s June Pride events. The next night, Becky Albertalli will do similar honors for her young adult novel, Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, the basis for the film Love, Simon.

“People want to know why I wrote about a gay teenage boy,” says Albertalli. “But there’s a component of this book that is a love letter to a lot of kids and adults I’ve known, professionally and personally, who are broadly members of the LGBTQ community.”

Both Call Me and Simon share similarities in that the parents of the 17-year-old protagonists are fully supportive of their romantic choices. The inspirational talk that Elio’s father offers at the conclusion of Call Me, masterfully delivered by Michael Stuhlbarg, is arguably the movie’s most powerful moment.

“The father’s speech was transcribed almost word for word from the book,” says Aciman, adding “There were a few scenes that were totally seminal. There’s a scene in the square where the two would-be lovers speak to each other in a very, very oblique way. There’s the father’s speech. And the peach scene.”

Ah, yes, the peach scene. “I never have — I can say this very honestly — and I wouldn’t,” he laughs. “I wish I could go to a shrink and say, ‘I came with up this scene, and I don’t know where it’s coming from.’ If a character takes a fruit in his bedroom, and you’re writing about sex all the time, it’s only natural that your mind might go there. But I didn’t just go there, I stayed on it and had the whole thing.”

There were no such fruit-based encounters in Simon, but Albertalli does point out a welcome addition to the film that was not in the novel — the mother’s inspirational talk to her son. “Jennifer Garner wanted to add that scene,” she says. “She wanted to create it as a template for other moms. She’s very badass. The real deal…. I love that those speeches existed in both these films, but they aren’t the right words for every family. There is no universal correct speech that works for every family — though these two make wonderful templates for some.”

André Aciman will discuss Call Me on Wednesday, June 6, at 7 p.m. Becky Albertalli will discuss Simon on Thursday, June 7, also at 7 p.m. Coolidge Auditorium, Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. SE. Tickets are free, available on a first-come, first-served basis. Call 202-707-8000 or visit loc.gov/lgbt-pride-month.

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