Hiding his sexuality. Embracing free love. Fighting fear during the AIDS crisis.

The story of novelist, playwright and activist Joseph Caldwell in many ways mirrors the story of New York City’s artist scene in the Fifties and straight through to the Eighties. His new memoir, In the Shadow of the Bridge (Delphinium Books), tracks both the bohemian and gay lifestyle as well as the city itself that came to define him.

Joseph lives in New York next to the iconic Brooklyn Bridge, for which there was a connection. It was “there on the bridge I admitted to myself that ‘sex’ had been central to my life,” Caldwell writes. He, as well as the city, would go through profound changes as he experiences love, loss and tremendous career growth.

Religion plays a big part of Joseph’s life. Growing up in a strict Catholic household, Joseph has trouble dealing with the religion he grew up in and his sexuality. He questions the hypocrisies that come with religion and slowly has to change how he sees faith, not necessarily as judgments from above but love from within.

Caldwell explains, “Christianity’s purpose was neither the exercise of power nor the imposition of dogmas. Its striving was not for conformity enforced from above, but for its opposite — a unity from within, inspired ideally by love.” It is this belief that helps him keep his faith.

The memoir also shows Joseph rise to the reputation of an acclaimed playwright. When he comes to New York as an aspiring writer, he can only afford an $11-a-month apartment with two roommates. He gets his first job at the classical radio music station WQXR, and then begins to write plays that eventually are produced Off Broadway.

He also starts to write for soap operas as well and eventually begins to write novels. His 1978 novel In Such Dark Places was awarded the Rome Prize for Literature by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. It was a huge honor that allowed him to live and write in Rome for a year.

One of the biggest changes comes when he is in the heart of the gay community during the AIDS crisis in the Eighties. He became involved at the St. Vincent’s hospital during this crisis. Caldwell didn’t want to sit idly by; he wanted to help. “I wanted to do more than just wring my hands and weep or even pray,” he writes.

Overcoming the misinformation and prejudice AIDS patients faced, he became a caretaker to AIDS patients. It was an extremely chaotic and heartbreaking time, and even though there was some danger being involved with AIDS patients, Caldwell still wanted to help out.

Caldwell’s story and his writing are very moving and impactful. You go on a journey with Joseph that traces not only changes in New York but changes in society.

The city was much rawer a few decades ago, with a real sense of danger and mystery. This memoir is not only about a changing city but a changing man.

In the Shadow of the Bridge is now available.

 

About Joseph Caldwell

A playwright and novelist who has been awarded the Rome Prize for Literature by the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Joseph Caldwell has been praised by critics for his “precise prose,” and “subtle humor that edges into the absurd.” He is the author of five novels in addition to the Pig Trilogy including In Such Dark Places, The Uncle From Rome, and Bread for the Baker’s Child. Caldwell currently lives New York City and is working on various post-Pig writing projects.