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Garrard Conley

Author of the bestselling memoir Boy Erased

  • About Garrard Conley

    Coming of age as the son of a Baptist pastor in rural Arkansas, Garrard Conley was terrified and conflicted by his sexuality; he had never even met another gay person. At age nineteen, his worst fear came true when he was outed to his parents. They gave him an ultimatum: he could either be shipped to a “conversion therapy” facility in a hope to “cure” him of his homosexuality, or he would lose his family, his friends, and his God. He chose the facility, a decision that would lead him through a brutally institutional Twelve-Step Program. He was supposed to emerge cleansed of impure urges, stronger in his Christian faith, and—most importantly—heterosexual. Instead, Conley developed the strength to search for his true identity and to forgive his family.

    Conley’s bestselling memoir, Boy Erased, traces the complex relationships between identity, faith, and community in a testament to the tenacity of love. A humane, poetic glimpse at a world hidden to many, Conley shows all sides of his family—good and bad—with courage and compassion, even as he depicts his own heartbreaking story of survival.

    Boy Erased thrust Conley onto the national stage as the public gained increasing awareness of conversion therapy facilities. It is currently being adapted as a film by Focus Features with Joel Edgerton directing. A popular speaker, he lectures at schools and venues across the country on radical compassion, writing through trauma, and what it means to grow up gay in the South. He has received scholarships from the Bread Loaf, Sewanee, and Elizabeth Kostova Foundation Writers’ Conferences and has facilitated classes for Catapult, Sackett Street Writers Workshop, and the Fine Arts Works Center in Provincetown. He is also currently the memoir instructor for GrubStreet’s Memoir Incubator program. His work can be found in TIME, VICE, CNN, BuzzFeed, Virginia Quarterly Review, and The Huffington Post, among other places, and he was recently named a Lambda Award Finalist for memoir/autobiography. He lives in New York.

  • Speaking Topics

    Radical Compassion

    What do we do when fundamentalist thinking damages our understanding of compassion and goodness? Garrard Conley shares stories from his memoir, Boy Erased, about growing up in a fundamentalist household and attending a conversion therapy program. In the midst of harmful practices and intense bigotry, Conley dug deep to find compassion for himself and even for the counselors who harmed him. After over a decade of recovery, he now shares some of his insights on human nature.

    Writing through Trauma

    How do we come to terms with and write about traumatic events? Can writing become a form of therapy? For memoirist Garrard Conley, the process took over 10 years, several trips to his hometown, and interviews with people who had once harmed him. Conley shares the strengths and pitfalls of his experience, along with the unexpected benefits that emerged only after he had shared his story with others.

    The Complicated South

    The son of a Baptist preacher, memoirist Garrard Conley grew up gay in rural Arkansas. His experience attending an “ex-gay” conversion therapy facility, followed by years of strained relationships with his family, led him to a unique and complicated understanding of the South. Through interviews with family members, former “ex-gay” therapists, psychologists, and advocates, Conley has developed new insights into what it means to be Southern in the 21st century.

    Literature's Role in Inspiring Empathy

    Growing up the son of a Baptist preacher, memoirist Garrard Conley lived eighteen years of his life with a fundamentalist black-and-white worldview. After he was outed as gay, he was forced to attend harmful “ex-gay” conversion therapy. Afterwards, Conley began to read classic literature with abandon, a process that healed many of his wounds and unlocked his potential for critical thinking. Charting lessons learned from books like The Scarlet Letter and The Portrait of Dorian Gray, Conley sheds light on the ways literature can lead to an empathetic, inclusive worldview.

  • Video

  • Praise for Garrard Conley

    Praise for Boy Erased

    The power of Conley’s story resides not only in the vividly depicted grotesqueries of the therapy system, but in his lyrical writing about sexuality and love, and his reflections on the Southern family and culture that shaped him.

    Los Angeles Times

    [A] powerful convergence of events that Conley portrays eloquently.

    The Washington Post

    ...[Conley's] memoir is not simply a story of survival—in this book, a true writer comes of age. Conley writes vividly, with intelligence, wit, and genuine empathy. By embracing complexity and compassion, he reclaims his life and reminds us that a story rarely belongs to one person alone.

    LA Review of Books

    This brave and bracing memoir is an urgent reminder that America remains a place where queer people have to fight for their lives. It’s also a generous portrait of a family in which the myths of prejudice give way before the reality of love. Equal parts sympathy and rage, Boy Erased is a necessary, beautiful book.

    Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You
  • Books by Garrard Conley

  • Media About Garrard Conley

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