R. Zamora Linmark: Not Necessarily Filipino

Sep 10, 2019

Poet, novelist R. Zamora Linmark is kicking off a national tour for his latest novel tonight in Honolulu. Harvard, Columbia, and other schools have booked him for presentations based largely on his last two novels, which present insightful and rollicking images of both Filipinos, and sexual awakening. Linmark’s latest novel is a departure in many ways.

The author of Rolling the R’s, R. Zamora Linmark, reads from his new book September 10, 2019, at 5:30, at Punahou School in the Cooke Learning Commons. Free and open to the public. 

Born in Manila, Filipino American writer R. Zamora Linmark’s work is rich with dialect, often our own pidgin.  He was raised in Hawai‘i. In his first two novels, Linmark draws on youthful gay experiences, and dives deep into Filipino culture. Formally, his novels come at you in a lot of ways.  He wrestles different literary genres together; poems, dialog, memories, letters combine to become telling portraits of places and people. Linmark divides his time now between Baguio and Honolulu.

“The idea to write for young adults, I was never interested in that,” says Linmark, “I don’t write for a targeted audience.”

Then, Linmark says, September 2010 came around. He had just finished Leche, his second novel, and was set to relax.

“I decided to read the biography of Oscar Wilde by Richard Ellmann.” 

Ellmann’s biography, Oscar Wilde, has won both a National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Linmark says he’s been fascinated with the 19th century author since the 1980's, both because of Wilde’s writing, and because of the persecution he endured for his sexual orientation. Gay before the word meant what it does, at the height of his fame, Wilde was imprisoned two years for “gross indecency with men.” 

“At the same time I was reading, all these teen agers were committing suicide in the U.S,.” Linmark continues. “It felt like there was this dialog going on between this book I was reading, the biography of Oscar Wilde and this tragedy.  There was this urgency. It was my responsibility as a writer to write about bullying, to write a book that young adults could access.”

Linmark is referring to Seth Walsh, Tyler Clementi, Billy Lucas, and Asher Brown--American teens who killed themselves in the fall of 2010, after bullying over their sexuality. Asked how he oriented himself to the young adult audience, Linmark says he worked at it for seven years, reading other young adult novels.

“It’s fun, but it’s not loud,” says Linmark about this new novel, “It’s very interior, very introspective.”

In The Importance of Being Wilde at Heart, Linmark follows a handful of teens as they create a community around a single shared interest.

“I also wanted to explore the whole thing about belonging. Who is it for? Who is belonging for? What is lost when we’re trying to fit in and be accepted? Do we give up our identity to be accepted?"

In his new work, Linmark hypothesizes that three or four close compadres may be all you need to weather slings and arrows from the larger society.

“Once you’ve established that community, I think it makes it easier for discussion, because all our guards are down. Once we reveal who we are and accept who we are, it makes it easier for others to do the same.”

R. Zamora Linmark’s new book is The Importance of Being Wilde at Heart.

Of interest, perhaps, Wilde's last words were reported to be: “This wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. Either it goes or I do.”