South Orange translator publishes book of short stories twice banned in Germany

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Last week was Banned Books Week, a week to celebrate the many books that have been deemed too controversial and to speak out against censorship. South Orange resident Michael Gillespie has taken a strong stance against censorship himself with his latest publication. In June, Gillespie published an English translation of German author Granand’s short story collection “Berlin Garden of Erotic Delights.” This is the first time these stories have been translated to English, an inspiring feat considering they were twice banned and long suppressed in Germany, not being printed at all for approximately 70 years.

Set mainly among the glittering clubs and grimy side streets of 1920s Berlin, these charming, witty and erotic tales capture the trials and triumphs of early–20th-century gay life without apology or shame. Granand’s stories are told with humor, emotional acuity and deep compassion for his gay subjects. This rediscovery of a lost gem allows 21st-century readers to experience the thrill of positive depictions of gay life from a time when that was almost unthinkable.

“The original 1920 book was reprinted by a small, now defunct, German press in 1993, which is also the year I discovered it, quite serendipitously,” Gillespie told the News-Record. “This reprint is what I base my translation on, which I was drawn to by its positive depictions of same-sex desire as a means to self-knowledge. The early to mid-’90s was a terrible time, with the AIDS epidemic still raging, casting gloom over Manhattan and stigmatizing gay people. Yet it was also a period in which groundbreaking work was being done that challenged traditional notions of gender and identity. Granand had been pursuing these same issues in fiction some 70 years earlier.

“So I’ve labored on this book for nearly 30 years — not continuously, of course, but every few years I’d turn back to my translation, reviewing it and making changes. At those times I’d also attempt to find a suitable publisher, but the response was always the same: ‘Not commercially viable.’ It wasn’t until 2020 that I met a publisher who immediately understood the importance and value of the work,” he continued.

According to Gillespie, who has lived in South Orange with his husband, Marvin Taylor, for 20 years, the centurylong grind from the book’s original publication to an English publication shows just how devastatingly effective censorship can be.

“The collection was published in 1920, immediately banned by regional courts in Berlin and Leipzig — to be confiscated and “made unusable” in the language of the German Criminal Code — not reprinted until 1993, with its first English edition in 2022, over 100 years after the original, depriving readers of enjoying what I think is a key text of queer literature,” Gillespie said. “One of the big problems with book banning is that it seldom ends there, leading frequently to the curtailment of other freedoms — of speaking, writing, loving, of openly being ourselves in the evolving norms of our time. These are not freedoms we can take for granted.

“And, to be sure, those who most avidly pursue the banning of books — which enjoys a longstanding tradition worldwide — do so out of a desire to suppress views with which they disagree by playing to people’s worst instincts,” he continued. “Book banning is an ever-present pastime designed by the disingenuous to appeal to the disaffected, which William Butler Yeats hauntingly calls, in his poem ‘The Second Coming,’ first published in 1920, those ‘full of passionate intensity.’”

Gillespie points out that book banning and censorship disproportionately affect minority and stigmatized groups.

“The LGBTQ community is in particular need of information and knowledge and images to help us navigate our place in the world,” Gillespie said. “Banning and censorship is a way of ensuring that efforts to impart that knowledge remain ‘unusable.’”

Part of the fight against censorship is reading the books that others consider unacceptable. For more information about this book and to purchase it, visit The book is also for sale from local booksellers, such as Words in Maplewood.

“I hope they will appreciate the effort the stories make to explore the inner life of its gay subjects with humor and compassion,” Gillespie said of readers of his newest book, adding that he has gotten a lot of positive feedback from readers. “People always first say how they’re embarrassed that they had never heard of this author. I reassure them: No one has heard of him … until now!”