Profiles of LGBT people, from the past and today – and celebrating their birthdays! All Birthdays →

Susan Sontag

An intellectual and cultural critic with an international reputation, Sontag wrote over a dozen books and hundreds of essays. Born in Manhattan and raised in Tucson and Los Angeles after her father died, she was educated at the University of Chicago, Harvard, and Oxford, before returning to New York in the late 1950s. Describing herself as an “aesthete” and “moralist,” she moved easily in New York’s intellectual scene, writing for publications like Partisan Review and The New York Review of Books. Her first big splash came with the 1964 essay “Notes on Camp,” which argued for the influence of gay sensibilities on American culture. Among her many influential books are Illness as Metaphor (1978), which argued that the language of illness often blames the sick for their condition. Identifying herself loosely with “the left” in American politics, she visited Hanoi at the height of the Vietnam War, and later roused anger when she criticized the media portrayal of those who carried out the attacks on September 11, 2001. Sontag rarely spoke about her personal life; she described herself as of the “open secret” generation. She married early, had a child, and then many later loves: “five women, four men,” as she once said. For the last decade of her life she was in an intimate relationship with the photographer Annie Leibovitz. Sontag died of leukemia at age 71, on December 28, 2004.