John Willis - Biography

John Willis was born in Melbourne in 1931. He is a former retailer, early gay activist and bibliophile. His life experiences include a stint in theatre with the National Theatre, as a member of the chorus of the Italian Opera Company, working at Harrods (London) and Tiffany’s (New York) in the 1950s, and many years as pastor of Australian’s first Gay Church.

John has collected books for over 40 years and has completed an extensive bibliography of Australian Gay literature. He is currently researching Oscar Wilde’s Australian connections.

The John Willis Collection of Lesbian and Gay Literature

John Willis explains:

"When asked as to why and how this collection came into being the answer is that fifty years ago it was almost impossible to find a book with a gay character. The books that appeared had gay characters who were either murdered or suicide. Not a good grounding for some one that was unsure of their sexuality. Reviews were couched with euphemisms, and the blurbs lacked the details. The lack of an accessible bibliography was changed when Ian Young published The Male Homosexual in Literature, 1975. Barbara Grier’s The Lesbian in Literature appeared in 1976. There also developed bookshops specializing in lesbian and gay male fiction in America and England. I collected books on overseas trips. My first stop was always to bookshops. In the collection I added biographies art books and the history of the gay movement.

"The early Lesbian material was gifted to me by Margaret Bernasconi, a leader of the Melbourne Lesbian movement. Some volumes came from the library of Society Five, an early gay society which worked for social acceptance and early law reform.

"World wide collections are now well established, The Bud Flounders Collection at Stanford University and another at Cornell University and the old established library at One Incorporated in Los Angeles, which dates from the early '70s.

"I believe that this collection will help in the acceptance of gay people and in the information needed for gay studies."

The Willis Collection contains:

  • literature with homosexual themes;
  • literature which has homosexual character/s or incident/s (including
    minor characters);
  • literature by authors known or reputed to be homosexual whether
    the novel has homosexual themes or not;
  • non-fiction homosexual studies;
  • non-fiction sexual studies which may include references to homosexuality;
  • serials.

This collection is catalogued.

Willis Collection home page