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A Passionate Engagement: A Memoir

Barbara Fisher,The Boston Sunday Globe

"A Passionate Engagement is as timely as it is moving…The vital importance of the availability of marriage to everyone shines through in this important story of true love and political activism."
Jim Plechota, Bay Area Reporter

“There’s no question more important than whether or not you get to marry the person you love. Ken Harvey shows what happens when personal lives intersect with a great political struggle, and he does it with enormous insight. This is a subtle, sensitive, and very moving book.”
--Joan Wickersham, author of The Suicide Index: Putting My Father’s Death in Order

"Ken Harvey has written a memoir that is a fine book on so many levels. The utter simplicity of retelling his childhood is as tender a story as any in the literature...echoes of Salinger and Joyce haunt the pages."
--Grady Harp, amazon top ten reviewer

As Harvey looks at his own political life, we see the political life of so many and we are lucky to have this so clearly presented to us in such beautiful language. The fact that it is so personal makes it all the more real and important. It pulled me in on the first page and has had a profound effect on me and it looks like it will be heading toward my ten best of 2010.
--Amos Lassen, Reviews by Amos Lassen

"This is a very timely story about a truly important social movement. Reading about Harvey going from observer to a fighting advocate for same-sex marriage offers hope to the reader - the hope that other states will follow Massachusetts in allowing the right for every individual to marry the person he or she loves."
-- Adela M. Brito, Edge Publications

"If your giftee loves to read memoirs that empower, then wrap up “A Passionate Engagement” by Ken Harvey. In this slim book, Harvey talks about coming out, meeting his husband and becoming an activist. Politics play an important part in this book, so it might be a good choice for anyone who’s politics-minded, too."
--Qnotes, LGBTQ Arts and Entertainment

A Passionate Engagement is both a love story and a story of political activism. In this remarkable memoir, Ken Harvey (award-winning author of If You Were With Me Everything Would Be All Right) reveals his own experience of coming out as a gay man, of meeting and falling in love with the man who would become his husband, and of growing into a social and political activist. Much of the story is filled with the kind of sensitive writing that Harvey demonstrated in his earlier work, but this book also shows a different side as he moves from the fictional to non-fictional, as he puts himself bluntly in the middle of the conflict.

As the book progresses, the reader moves with Harvey from outside observer to inside participant of the political struggle for same-sex marriage. His shift is significant, and a reader can't help but be moved along with him. This is a timely and important book, one that puts a truly human face onto this important social movement.

Here’s an excerpt:

I finally attached myself to a group that was chanting “no discrimination in the constitution.” I believed in what I was shouting, but I knew I was holding back. I didn’t want to be the loudest voice in the crowd, the one who stood out. I stood in the rear, sometimes yelling and sometimes just mouthing, then moved on to another group. What was my hesitancy about? Why did I feel little like that boy in the schoolyard on his first day of school watching the other boys play dodge ball? These were people on my side, people like me. Well, sort of. These were young gay college students, people in their sixties and seventies who, if they weren’t gay themselves, I imagined were the supportive parents and grandparents of gay children, the PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). A sad truth: many gay men of my generation had died.

So I felt both welcomed yet out of place, the forty-something gay man, walking about alone, both eager and reticent to claim my voice in the crowd. It wasn’t in me to wave signs at cars or yell at the woman holding the crucifix. So I struck a tacit bargain with those around me: I’ll let you be in the spotlight, I’ll let you be the ones on TV with your voices and your signs, if I can just stand in the back and copy you. I gave myself permission to just be present, to not feel obligated to lead the march or even strike up conversations with those on my side of the issue. I wouldn’t have known who to speak to anyway. With my khakis, button down shirt, dark green overcoat and leather gloves, I looked downright nerdy compared to the young people with brilliant scarves and secondhand chic coats. They had come of age just as the tide was shifting towards gay people. They were confident, not concerned with politeness, not only speaking out but expecting to be heard. I felt like they had come to demonstrate for gay rights while I was waiting for the formal lecture on the topic.

“This is ridiculous,” I heard behind me. “Next thing you know, they’ll be letting you marry your grandmother.”

The man, with a stubbled chin and smoking a cigarette, was talking to me. I didn’t know what to say, so I looked away from him. One of the young women who had been chanting spoke to the man.

“Hey, if you want to marry your grandmother, you go right ahead,” she said. “Personally, I think it’s sort of weird.”

“No,” the man said, this time louder and more guttural. “You’re the one that’s gonna make it so people end up marrying their grandmothers.”

“I plan to marry my girlfriend,” the woman said. “You can marry whoever you want. But your grandmother? That seems a little unnatural to me.”

The man started muttering something about having sex with other relatives, but the young woman smiled at him until he ran out of steam. He walked away.

“That was impressive,” I told the woman. “I’d never have thought to say that.”

“You just can’t let them get to you,” she said. “If you do, you’ll never make it through this whole thing.”