Scope and arrangement
The Papers of Harold Edward Pickett (3.0 l.f., 1965-1988) consist of letters, typescripts of Pickett's poems and articles, clippings, printed ephemera, and some miscellaneous items. The collection is small but provides useful insights into the origins and development of gay rights activism within New York City during the 1970's, as experienced by Pickett through his own activism and writings.
The papers provide very uneven coverage of Pickett's life. The basic biographical details of his life are documented weakly or not at all. Few personal records, save for some college records, are included in the papers. Hence it is unclear, for example, what job(s) Pickett held, for whom he worked, or whether he ever earned a college degree. Compensating for this, however, are records which provide a fairly detailed picture of what, for Pickett, was of inestimably greater importance: his identity as a gay man. In his dream notebooks, EST seminar workbooks, and journalism, Pickett left valuable recollections of his childhood, development of his sexual identity, his own response to his homosexuality, the path leading to his coming out while at Hunter College, and his relations with other gay men in pre-AIDS times. Unfortunately lacking is almost any documentation of Pickett's years in San Francisco (1967-69) and his struggle with AIDS during the late 1980's.
The collection's strength lies in its documentation of New York City gay rights activism (especially ca. 1974-80), particularly as it was experienced and influenced by Pickett. Pickett first sought a means of exploring and communicating his own sexual identity and found it in his poetry. Although few of his poems were ever published, the surviving drafts provide useful insights into Pickett's own attitudes toward the gay rights movement.
Pickett next sought through political activism to work toward the fundamental recognition and acceptance of gays by society at large. The clippings, printed ephemera, and limited amount of correspondence in the subject files are helpful in showing how, while at Hunter College, Pickett became part of a small circle of gay activists who remained very influential in New York gay rights circles into at least the mid-1980's. Particularly interesting is the collection's documentation on how gay activists continually expanded and redefined their notions of what gay 'liberation' really entailed. Pickett's articles and subject files, for instance, show gay activists during the late 1970's extending the reach of gay rights to all aspects of society and seeking to define their roles within movements as diverse as anarchism and atheism. Also touched upon are the tensions that developed between lesbian and gay activists as to whether their movements should be merged or separated. Of special note are the files Pickett assembled on the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) and how, by testing the limits of what was considered acceptable gay behavior, NAMBLA proved a disruptive influence in New York gay rights circles.
The value of Pickett's subject files is somewhat weakened in that they stress his role as journalist and observer of the gay rights movement while obscuring his own active participation in the events he chronicled for the gay press. Pickett's journalistic objectivity and detachment prevented him from mentioning his own involvement in various demonstrations and organizations; yet the clippings often reproduce photographs of demonstrations in which Pickett features prominently. The relative lack of correspondence or other primary documentation will disappoint researchers seeking to probe beneath the gloss of Pickett's journalism.
The papers are similarly disappointing in their paucity of information on Pickett's founding, editing, and publishing of New York City News (1980-85). There is virtually no documentation on the founding of New York City News or Pickett's reasons for doing so; no business, financial, or circulation records; and almost nothing on its cessation in 1985. The small amount of correspondence and few editorial files are helpful in assessing how Pickett employed New York City News in furthering the gay rights activism of his friends and promoting those gay community issues of most interest to him. Still, researchers will learn more about New York City News and its role in New York's gay community by examining the published issues.
The Harold Pickett papers are arranged in seven series:
- 1968-1987 [bulk 1977-1980; 1986-1987].2 l.f. (1 box)Correspondence is arranged chronologically, with separate folders for major correspondents arranged alphabetically, and is almost exclusively incoming.
Pickett evidently retained little of his correspondence. Surviving letters consist largely of letters written to Pickett by members of his immediate family while he was hospitalized during 1986-87. The only other sustained correspondence consists of letters (1977-1980) exchanged between Pickett and Randy Smallwood, an aspiring gay poet living in rural Kentucky who sought advice and encouragement from Pickett. Correspondence for the years 1977-80, while by no means complete, is much more extensive than for other years; it largely concerns Pickett's political activism, journalism, and attempts to publish poems. Most of the extant outgoing correspondence consists of photocopies of letters Pickett sent to various government officials concerning various gay rights and New York City issues. Also included are correspondence and a typescript astrological "Life Path" reading prepared for Pickett in 1974 by the "Italian mail-order astrologer" Oric Bovar, along with clippings detailing Bovar's later notoriety in New York (1975-77) as a cult leader and celebrity guru, and his eventual suicide.
Other important groups of correspondence have been placed elsewhere in the Papers. Letters concerning Pickett's biweekly gay newspaper, New York City News, are in Box 1, folders 18-24 and Box 2, folders 1-3. The subject files (Boxes 4-7) contain some miscellaneous correspondence (largely 1977-80) sent to Pickett by various gay activists and organizations.
- ca. 1970-19868 l.f. (2 boxes)
Pickett's writings are arranged alphabetically by genre. Included are clippings, some typescripts, and a few manuscript drafts of many (but by no means all) of the articles which Pickett contributed to Hunter College student newspapers and various gay newspapers and magazines ca. 1974-80. The most extensive file--and the only one likely to be nearly complete--contains clippings of the several dozen articles and columns which Pickett contributed to Gay Community News (1977-80). Although Pickett retained few of his articles for Michael's Thing, the papers document his work for this publication through photocopies of checks received in payment for his writings (1977-80). Clippings or typescripts, frequently accompanied by interview notes, for many additional articles are scattered throughout the subject files (Boxes 4-7).
The New York City News files consist of only a few miscellaneous files pertaining to Pickett's role as editor and publisher. Included are mock-ups for the first issue, clippings of only a few of Pickett's articles, a few complete issues, and correspondence and notes detailing Pickett's efforts to place complete archival sets of New York City News in various gay libraries and archives. Also included is a file of correspondence (1980-86) received by the editors: letters of appreciation or complaint from various gay activists and organizations concerning particular articles, circular letters from gay groups, and some miscellaneous editorial correspondence. However, virtually no business and financial records or outgoing correspondence, and few editorial records, are included. Three folders consisting of photocopies of articles submitted by Brad Mulroy to New York City News, and a few letters, have been transferred to the Harold Pickett Papers from the International Gay Information Center, Inc. Archives. Correspondence regarding New York City News coverage of the North American Man/Boy Love Association is in Box 6, f.20. [The New York Public Library owns a complete run of New York City News, which has been microfilmed. The microfilm classmark is *ZAN-T5794.
Pickett's poetry files contain manuscript and typescript drafts--many with holograph revisions--for various poems, most dealing with gay themes. The typescripts are in no apparent order, having been arranged as Pickett left them. Also included are clippings and photocopies of some of the poems which Pickett succeeded in publishing in various gay publications. Pickett's self-published volume of poetry, Triptych (1974) is present in two versions: the initial version and a heavily revised version. The "Memorial Book" (Box 4, f.1) prepared after Pickett's death includes the typescript ribbon copy of the revised Triptych, as well as photocopies of several other Pickett poems as they appeared in two published gay verse anthologies. Pickett's poem, "City Council Hearings" (1978) was published in an unidentified gay newspaper, encircled by photos of a New York gay rights demonstration; Box 8 contains a copy of the published poem which has been autographed by many of the demonstrators and mounted for wall display.
- 1965-19885 l.f. (two boxes)
Files are arranged alphabetically by subject. The AIDS treatment diary, kept by Pickett's friends over an 11-day period during his final illness, records his temperature and fluid, food, and medication intake. In two notebooks, Pickett recorded his dreams for short periods in 1968, 1969, and 1972. Dreams are described in great detail; Pickett's lengthy commentaries provide much autobiographical information on his childhood, adolescence, and sexual identity. Likewise, the notes Pickett took during several EST seminars (1976-79) provide highly personal glimpses into his relationships and finances.
Pickett's academic records are restricted to his college attendance, most dating from his years at Hunter College (1972-1978?). Included are transcripts, miscellaneous academic records and correspondence; clippings, correspondence, and press releases from Pickett's term of service on the Hunter College School of General Studies Student Government; course notes; examinations; and student papers. Several of Pickett's papers deal with gay themes, as does his detailed typescript proposal for a gay studies major. While at Hunter Pickett conducted at least two gay attitude surveys. His "Gay Attitude Survey," administered to selected Hunter classes regardless of students' sexual orientation, sought to document general societal attitudes toward lesbians and homosexuals. Although the completed questionnaires are present, Pickett's papers include no summary tabulations or data analyses. Pickett also prepared a questionnaire booklet for a "Gay Identity Survey" to be administered to gays, but it is not clear whether the survey was ever conducted.
After his death, friends assembled a "Memorial Book About Gay Activist Harold Pickett." Its contents include the original typescript ribbon copy of Triptych (1974), photocopies of several of Pickett's other published poems, five photographs of Pickett and other family members (ca. 1969-87), a photocopy of Pickett's obituary in the New York Times (1 April 1988), and the program for Pickett's memorial service (20 April 1988).
- 1977-1984.05 l.f. (1 box)
Arranged alphabetically by subject. Included are clippings and photocopies of Ferguson's notes on the Gloria Spector case, an alleged incident of police brutality witnessed by Ferguson in July, 1978. Also included are clippings of some of Ferguson's articles and reviews published in New York City News; and clippings, reviews, and promotional materials concerning Ferguson's popular Off-Broadway musical, Wonderful Lives (1977) and best-selling novel, Fortunes (1982).
For other materials on Ferguson and his relationship with Pickett, see especially Box 1, f.14 and Box 3, f.5.
- 1974-19801.5 l.f. (4 boxes)
Files are arranged alphabetically by subject. Pickett compiled these files, which deal almost exclusively with gay themes, as morgue files for use in preparing the many articles he published in gay newspapers and magazines. They consist largely of clippings from New York newspapers (e.g., the Times, Daily News, Post, and Soho Weekly News), popular magazines, and gay newspapers and magazines (e.g., Advocate, Gay Community News). Also included are flyers, press releases, and other printed ephemera issued by various gay organizations (primarily New York City-based); some correspondence from gay activists; clippings and photocopied typescripts of articles written by Pickett; and miscellaneous notes. Most items date from 1974-80, with relatively little having been added after 1980.
Pickett's files are strongest in documenting issues of special interest to the New York gay community, as well as the work of individual gay activists and organizations within New York City. Topics which are particularly well covered include anti-gay violence and police harassment; gay - straight conflicts within Greenwich Village; and the Christopher Park Gay Pride Sculpture Project controversy (1980). Gay activist groups which are well documented include the Hunter College Lesbians Rising/Gay Men's Alliance, Gay Activists' Alliance, Gay Anarchists, and the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights. Some materials--e.g., position papers and other conference materials from the National Post- March on Washington Conference for Lesbian and Gay Rights held in Oberlin, OH in 1980--illuminate efforts on the part of gay activists to form a national coordinating body.
Pickett also gathered extensive files on the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA). The files--which consist of correspondence, clippings, press releases, ephemera, serial issues, and copies of Pickett's articles on NAMBLA--trace founder David Thorstad's related activities in the gay rights movement; NAMBLA's founding and early conferences (1978-79); and especially its divisive effect within the New York gay rights movement, first in 1980 and again in 1983 when various groups sought to expel NAMBLA from the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights.
The subject files also document Pickett's interests in gay music, film, and religion, among other subjects. Pickett collected information on various gay rock bands, particularly the punk group, Plasmatics, and the transvestite rock singer, Wayne/Jayne County. His file on the 5th New York Gay Film Festival (1983), for which Pickett served as administrative coordinator, includes notes, flyers, clippings, correspondence, publicity and ad solicitation mailing lists, and a copy of the program. Pickett's religion files contain clippings, ephemera, and correspondence relating to several gay ministries; gays' struggle for recognition and acceptance by mainstream religious denominations; and Madalyn Murray O'Hair and gay atheism. A final item of note is a copy of Now East (1980), an elaborate parody of a gay magazine prepared by a disgruntled client to expose lawyer Roy Cohn's homosexuality and distributed by the thousands in Manhattan.
- .01 l.f. (1 box)
One photo of two unidentified men, and one lock of hair from an unidentified person.
Several photographs are located elsewhere in the Papers. Five photos of Pickett and his immediate family (ca. 1969-87) are mounted in the "Memorial Book" (Box 4f.1) assembled by Pickett's friends after his death. Several photos of Randy Smallwood are filed with his correspondence (Box 1, f.11)