New Oral History: Author, Historian, Artist, and Activist Jonathan Ned Katz

Jonathan Ned Katz grew up in Greenwich Village in a house on Jane Street and attended the Little Red School House as a child. There he was encouraged to make art and found ways to discuss politics and other ideas with fellow “red diaper” babies, or children of members of the Communist Party. Although he found himself in a similar political milieu when he was later a student at the High School of Music & Art, he still felt the impact of the repressive politics of the 1950s, which was reflected in some of the visual art he created at that time.

After the Stonewall riots, Katz became involved with activism in the gay community and the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA). In 1972, the GAA produced his documentary play, Coming Out!, at the GAA firehouse on Wooster Street. Katz then embarked on a much larger documentary project, his book Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the USA, which was published in 1976 at a time when producing such scholarship could “ruin” a career. But through this project, and especially through talking with other gay scholars over subsequent decades, Katz helped establish a network of gay men and lesbians that met regularly for informal group therapy, study, or consciousness raising over the following decades –– often in Greenwich Village in the house on Jane Street where Katz lived as a child –– enabling Katz, and others, to build the field of LGBT studies and public history.

In this oral history, Katz also describes the unique approach to parenting that he experienced; his tenure as a designer at the Jack Prince Studio and the after-work conversations that enabled him to talk about sexuality and gender; anti-racism and the resistance of Black enslaved people; the importance of the naked male body in his artwork; and writing his memoir, Coming of Age in Greenwich Village: A Painter, His Paintings, His Life

Village Preservation maintains nearly 70 oral histories with figures who witnessed, participated in, or made significant history in our neighborhoods, including Jane Jacobs, Penny Arcade, Wolf Kahn, Jonas Mekas, Marlis Momber, Edwin Fancher, Margot Gayle, David Amram, Matt Umanov, Merce Cunningham, Joan Davidson, Richard Meier, Ralph Lee, Mimi Sheraton, John Guare, Calvin Trillin, and Chino Garcia

February 27, 2024