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Henry Darger, Throw Away Boy: The Tragic Life of an Outsider Artist


Henry Darger, Throw Away Boy: The Tragic Life of an Outsider Artist Cover

ISBN13: 9781590208557
ISBN10: 1590208552
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Utterly unknown during his lifetime, Henry Darger led a quiet, secluded existence as a janitor on Chicago's North Side. When he died, his landlord discovered a treasure trove of more than three hundred canvases and more than 30,000 manuscript pages depicting a rich, shocking fantasy world—many featuring hermaphroditic children being eviscerated, crucified, and strangled.

While some art historians tend to dismiss Darger as possibly psychotic, Jim Elledge cuts through the cloud of controversy and rediscovers Darger as a damaged and fearful gay man, raised in a world unaware of the consequences of child abuse or gay shame. This thoughtful, sympathetic biography tells the true story of a tragically misunderstood artist. Drawn from fascinating histories of the vice-ridden districts of 1900s Chicago, tens of thousands of pages of primary source material, and Elledge's own work in queer history, Henry Darger, Throwaway Boy also features a full-color reproduction of a never-before-seen canvas from a private gallery in New York, as well as a previously undiscovered photograph of Darger with his lifelong companion William Schloeder, or "Whillie" as Henry affectionately referred to him.

Engaging, arresting, and ultimately illuminating, Henry Darger, Throwaway Boy brings alive a complex, brave, and compelling man whose outsider art is both challenging and a triumph over trauma.

About the Author

Jim Elledge is the award-winning author and editor of twenty-two books, including a textbook on publishing, four anthologies on queer culture, and numerous poetry collections and chapbooks. He is currently director of the M.A. in Professional Writing Program at Kennesaw State University. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

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Ellen Etc, November 27, 2013 (view all comments by Ellen Etc)
I had accepted the canard that Henry Darger drew his child warrior sisters, the Vivian Girls, with penises only because he didn’t know what girls looked like, but Jim Elledge presents a compelling (if speculative) argument of the gay/hermaphrodite figure at the turn of the century to be the inspiration for Henry’s little “fairy” and “queen” generals in his imaginary army of child liberators.
Elledge incorporates the journal of another street boy living near the vice district in turn-of-the-century Chicago to reveal the extent of child abuse and assault, and the protective arrangements that could be made with generous sexual sponsors. Life on the street for an unsupervised child (think age seven) was dreadful, but Darger’s subsequent incarcerations in reform and mental institutions was much worse, with predators of all kinds, from nuns and teachers to fellow students, leaving orphans with no recourse whatsoever. What was a “lamb,” a “kid,” a “brat” to do in the dangerous world of predatory “wolves”?
Some typos and usage errors mar the text, but the overall impact is significant, and this is a compelling biography for those interested in queer theory and outsider art. Rest in peace, Henry Darger -- a private artist and writer who lived in unrelieved poverty for his entire life, but whose artworks now sell for upwards of $200,000 each.

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Product Details

Elledge, Jim
Overlook Press
Artists, Architects, Photographers
Biography-Artists Architects and Photographers
Edition Description:
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
from 12
8.5 x 6 in 1 lb
Age Level:
from 18

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