Father offers portrait of son in own words

Father offers portrait of son in own words

URBANA – Charles Suhor had several strikes against him as he shopped around the idea of a book of his son's writings: The son was gay, dead and had never been published, and his writings as a whole did not fit into any particular genre.

"Don't send me the manuscript," Suhor was often told.

But MBF Press, a progressive regional press in Montgomery, Ala., where Suhor settled in 1997 after living in Champaign for 20 years, agreed to read the manuscript, the first publishing house to do so. It quickly agreed to publish the writings.

They were edited, actually "massaged" by his father, a published writer who didn't want to violate in the book his late son's spirit.

Suhor recently visited Champaign-Urbana to talk about Mr. Sure, named John Gregory Suhor at birth in 1960, and "The Book of Rude and Other Outrages: A Queer Self-Portrait." It contains Mr. Sure's razor-sharp and sardonic aphorisms, poems, short stories and prose sketches; they bring to mind a much harsher David Sedaris.

Stephan Sure (he had changed his name after moving back to his native New Orleans) had begun jotting down his observations of life when he was a student at Champaign Central High School. (One of the short stories in "Book of Rude" is set at Central.)

Suhor called his son a "thorough critic of human nature and foibles, including his own."

Here are a few of Mr. Sure's one-liners:

"Do you floss those talons?"

"If you're not your own greatest critic/the rest of the world is willing."

"Control freak with no self-control."

"The lyrics are too intelligent for you to lip sync to."

"Spit puddles with more depth than you."

"I don't want to fall in love with another idea."

Mr. Sure kept his writings private but later in his life began sharing them with a few friends and family. He never tried to get published from fear of rejection, rooted in insecurity that Suhor believes was not linked to being gay.

Mr. Sure never really found himself, his father said. He died June 21, 1999, of a gunshot wound to his chest after confronting an older, wealthy divorcee for whom he worked in the French Quarter of New Orleans and who had been repeatedly hassling him by telephone.

"Homicide? Suicide? The coroner wasn't sure, and the divorcee died a year later," Suhor wrote in the epilogue to "Book of Rude."

For the first year or so after his son's untimely death, Suhor was emotionally unable to edit his son's writings. He finally began the task, with encouragement from his 10 other children, particularly David, who also is gay.

It was a painful process, but sometimes Suhor would laugh aloud at his son's writings, as did people who heard Suhor read some of the one-liners last week at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Urbana.

Suhor wrote in the introduction to the book that he wanted others to know his late son, whom he described as "this brilliant, witty, loving, angry, anguished, inhibited, cruel, companionable, tender, manipulative, frightened, nonconforming, abundantly gifted gay man."

As an editor Suhor succeeded; at least one reader who finished the book told him he felt he knew Mr. Sure, who was the second oldest of the 11 Suhor children.

As editor of "Book of Rude" – the title that Mr. Sure as a teen had given the notebooks in which he wrote – Suhor tried not to sanitize Mr. Sure's language, not to touch up the picture of him that emerges through his words, and not to romanticize his son's struggles and rebellion.

Suhor also decided not to worry about breaking down or perpetuating gay stereotypes, saying that some of his son's writings don't deal with gay themes anyway.

"Stephan made his living as a house cleaner," Suhor wrote. "His writings show concern with clothes, furnishings, personal grooming and attention to detail, and he values art, intelligence and common courtesy. He also tells of kinky sex, drug abuse and bitterness toward a homophobic society."

In addition to appearing at the Unitarian church and Pages for All Ages bookstore last week, Suhor discussed the new book with employees of the National Council of Teachers of English in Urbana. From 1977 to 1997 Suhor worked as the council's deputy executive director, focusing on anti-censorship efforts.

Suhor called "Book of Rude" unique. It is among nominees for the 20th annual Lambda Literary Awards. It has not yet received any reviews, but one is forthcoming in the fall issue of the American Book Review, a review of books from small, independent and academic presses, Suhor said.

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