Carl Vernon Corley was born in Florence, Mississippi, in 1921, growing up there to graduate from Florence High School. During World War II, Corley served in the South Pacific in the United States Marine Corps. From 1947 to 1961, he lived in Jackson, Mississippi, and worked for the Mississippi State Highway Department as an illustrator and staff artist. From 1961 to 1981, he worked in a similar position for the Louisiana Highway Department. In both jobs, he designed and illustrated tourist guides, manuals, pamphlets, road maps, and traffic surveys. He provided the cover art for at least one book on Louisiana history. In the 1970s and early 1980s, he drew a comic strip dealing with Cajun folklore for the Eunice (LA) News. He also wrote and illustrated a Louisiana state history for a small press.
Carl Corley in the 1950s contributed homoerotic art to physique magazines, signing the work for publication with his own name. John Howard identified ten Carl Corley posters sold by Sir Prise Publishers of Chicago. He describes them as using master-slave imagery, but inverting the roles, where the darker-skinned figure dominates the lighter-skinned one (Howard 211). When Howard interviewed Corley in 1997, the older man told him, "One of my ambitions [was] to be the greatest male physique artist of all" (Howard 219).
When Corley moved to Louisiana in 1961, he spent more time writing. Between 1966 and 1971, Corley published twenty-two erotic novels for the French Line by P.E.C. (Publishers Export Company) of San Diego and the Pad Library of Agoura, California, publishers of erotic gay pulp novels. providing his own cover art, Corley also had the novels published under his own name, a usual act for most writers in the genre.
The novels, in order of publication, are:A Chosen World (1966)
My Purple Winter (1966)
The Scarlet Lantern (1966)
Star Light Star Bright (1967)
A Fool's Advice (1967)
Fallen Eagle (1967)
Faces in Secret (1967)
Brazen Image (1967)
A Lover Mourned (1967)
Sky Eyes (1967)
Satin Chaps (1968)
Attala Rose (1968)
Jesse (Corley novel)|Jesse (1968)
The Purple Ring (1968)
The Different and the Damned (1968)
Cast a Wistful Eye (1968)
Black Angel (novel)|Black Angel (1968)
Trick of the Trade (1968)
Easy Ride (novel)|Easy Ride (1970)
The Hustling Place (1970)
Swamp Angel (1971)
Jail Mate (1971) (Howard 310)
Corley's work seems to have many autobiographical elements. His early novels are set in rural Rankin County, Mississippi, including his hometown of Florence, in the early 1900s (Howard 200). Many plots deal with young Southern farm boys discovering gay sex, sometimes crossing racial or class lines. Some novels involve urban plots in places such as Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Perhaps most autobiographical is A Chosen World (1966), whose narrator, Rex Polo, is born in Florence, Mississippi, in 1921, just as Corley was. In the novel, Rex discovers gay sex in high school in 1936 with a football player. Rex goes on, like Corley, to serve in the military in the Pacific during World War II, and the novel details his sexual experiences, including a gang-rape by drunken soldiers. By the end of the novel, Rex is back in his hometown, becoming a physique artist, in love with his male model (Howard 200-201, 207-209). Howard comments on Corley's novels that compared to other gay pulp erotica, they "stood out as more sober, more earnest . . . . [T]itles . . . evoke literary aspirations." Howard suggests that they challenge distinctions of high-brow and low-brow writing (197).
Carl Corley in his writing and illustrations provides a nearly unique example of out gay expression in a predominantly rural, Southern setting in the pre-Stonewall era. His work illuminates popular cultural expression as well as gay experience and imagination in the rural South.
In 1998, Duke University bought from Corley his papers, including typescripts and published copies of his novels, for their special collections in gay and lesbian studies.