Did you know that it is LGBT History Month? LGBT History Month focuses on LGBT individuals and their contributions to society. It is also the perfect opportuntiy to highlight LGBTQ authors.
A Little History
As many of you know, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, a series of riots where members of the LGBTQ community — especially drag queens and transgender women of color, protested police brutality.
The riots began on June 28, 1969, and took place at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York City. The uprisings started a new wave of the gay rights movement and served as the impetuous for gay pride parades and Pride Month, which began in June 1970.
LGBTQ History Month
LGBT History Month was founded by Missouri high-school history teacher Rodney Wilson in 1994. Wilson chose October because National Coming Out Day was already an established event October 11, the date of the Second March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.
As we remember Stonewall and celebrate LGBT History Month, it is the perfect time to support phenomenal LGBTQ authors.
LGBTQ Authors Not To Miss
Women writers — especially those who are part of the LGBTQ community — often do not get their due. To shine light on some LGBTQ authors, I’ve compiled a list that focuses on lesbian, bisexual, and transgender writers not to be missed, along with a condensed listing of gay writers of note.
While by no means comprehensive, the list gives those who want to read compelling queer literature a great place to start.
Gertrude Stein was able to cast her life in a brighter light with her biography of life in Paris with her long-time love, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Fearlessly outspoken, Stein entertained artists and writers of the day such as Pablo Picasso, Henry Matisse, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, Sinclair Lewis, and Thornton Wilder at her Stein Salon. Her famous line, “There is no there, there,” written after she returned to Oakland, California, to find her childhood home burned down, became so emblematic that it is the title of Tommy Orange’s Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction, though the attribution of Stein’s meaning may have been co-opted.
Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own defined my own writer’s pursuit and her Orlando created a template for gender jujitsu.
The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall, the classic lesbian story with a gender-bending twist, was banned when it was first published in 1928. Many lesbians came out after secretly reading this book, though it offered little hope of a fulfilling happy life.
Wading into the transgender arena, the early story by Leslie Feinberg, Stone Butch Blues, defined a category. Feinberg was one of the first openly transgender writers.
Uruguayan-American lesbian Carolina De Robertis’ wonderful novel set in pre-WWI Buenos Aires, Stonewall Book Award Winner, Gods of Tango. The story involves the cross-dressing of the lead character who is trying to escape the economic realities of an unmarried woman, widowed before she arrived from Italy, struggling against the female fates of prostitution or indentured marriage and menial work, launched into a gender fluid identity by her grandfather’s accordion. The love scenes between her and her lover are palpable. Poetic love revelries worthy of Pablo Neruda.
Do not miss the re-release of Emma Donoghue’s novel about death, love and loss told in the span of a week: Hood. Donoghue is an Irish-Canadian author best-known for her international bestseller, Room, which became an Academy Award-nominated film.
Sarah Waters, the Welsh novelist and winner of several Orange Prizes and shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, is well known for her novel of scandalous Victorian love, Tipping the Velvet.
Patricia Highsmith wrote under the pseudonym Claire Morgan. Her book, The Price of Salt, became the basis for the Academy Award-nominated, Carol. Like many women of her era, Highsmith had relationships with both men and women.
The coming-of-age story found in Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown is a perfect blend of humor and poignancy. It tells the tale of a young, butch lesbian growing up in the crinoline South. Brown won a Lambda Literary Pioneer Award for her body of lesbian fiction and was nominated for an Emmy for her screenwriting.
Oranges Aren’t the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson shares the complexities of growing up in industrial England as a closeted Pentecostal with adoptive parents who haven’t a clue of who she is. The story is freighted with meaning — so much so that Winterson released a memoir about the same subject nearly half a lifetime later, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal. It is an honest, well-written, and marvelous evaluation of an alien childhood. Winterson won a Whitbread Award for her first novel and a 2018 Commander of the British Empire (CBE) for her overall contributions to literature.
Alice Walker broke open the secret of lesbian love in slave times with The Color Purple.
Today’s rising star, Jacqueline Woodson, a lesbian mom, recounts her childhood in poetry and prose. She won the 2014 National Book Award for her memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming and garnered a nomination for the 2016 National Book Award for fiction for Another Brooklyn, a story of friendship among a group of girls who revisit childhood and learn its devastating effects on the grown-ups they’ve become. This is a book on the edges of community and the margins of urban society.
Out of Nigeria, Chinelo Okparanta bravely tackles the subject of lesbian feelings in a violently repressive society in Under the Udala Trees. The book puts the writer at the forefront of emerging lesbian writers of color.
Though not a fan of vampire stories, I would be remiss if I didn’t include the classic The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez. Gomez uses this vehicle to share the broken vine slave history and its aftermath of an African American woman coming into her own across centuries. The 25thAnniversary Edition in 2016 revives the stories.
During the heyday of feminism, Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Azaldúa collaborated on a collection, The Bridge Called My Back: Writings of Radical Women of Color, published in 1981, out of print in 2008, and re-printed by SUNY Press in 2015. Politically, women are one down; lesbians are two down; and lesbians of color are near the bottom of the rung. Only disabled lesbians of color are further down the economic and political power ladder. While uneven in quality, this collection reaches an underserved group of women who devoured the stories reflective of their own experience.
On the poetry front, Mary Oliver stands out. The Provincetown lesbian recluse, who had never given a reading when she won the Pulitzer Prize, just passed away. Her collections of poetry endure amongst the most beautifully written encapsulations of the intersection of nature, soul, and daily life. Grolier Poetry Book Shop, across from Harvard, revealed to me that Mary Oliver was the best-selling poet in the oldest poetry bookshop in America in its 92-year history.
Having had the good fortune of studying with poet Adrienne Rich, I believe the work of this National Book Award winner should be on everyone’s reading list. Rich weaves the body politic into her rich metaphors and shines when she reveals the “love that dare not speak its name.”
(Lord Alfred Douglas) Audre Lorde’s poetry, but more importantly, her Cancer Journals and Zami, are worth the challenging subject matter.
Having gone to many San Francisco Bay Area poetry readings, I found June Jordan’s work to resemble a jazz piano riff and Nikki Giovanni to be able to turn the everyday into everything, making me love poetry even more, across any boundaries of race and culture.
Then there’s Marilyn Hacker and Elizabeth Bishop and Emily Dickinson, not all fully out lesbians, along with the very out lesbian, Eileen Myles, that must be read.
Wanda Sykes, who is currently married to a woman after a marriage to a man and is a well-known Netflix stand-up comic, was an Emmy award-winning screenwriter before she struck out on her own. Her nuanced comedy demonstrates a command of language similar to Tasmanian Hannah Gadsby’s searing wit.
In the realm of theater, Allison Bechdel’s graphic memoir, Fun Home, was adapted for the stage and tells Bechdel’s story of growing up with a closeted gay dad in a funeral home. The show won the 2013 Tony Award for Best Musical, with book and lyrics by lesbian Lisa Kron and music by Jeanine Tesori. It was the first Broadway show with a lesbian protagonist, and the first time that an all-female writing team won a Tony for Best Original Score.
It is well-known that despite the burgeoning number of women readers and book buyers, the publishing industry has traditionally favored men. That’s why George Sand and George Elliot changed their given female names to secure publication. In the publishing ecosystem of agents, big-name publishers, awards, magazines, conferences, creative writing programs, and retreats, women, especially lesbian, transgender, and bisexual women, are underrepresented.
Gay white men still dominate the literary scene in the world of LGBTQ authors.
My favorites include: James Baldwin, Oscar Wilde, Tennessee Williams, Walt Whitman, Colm Tóibín, Andrew Sean Greer, Tony Kushner, Alan Hollinghurst, Felice Picano, Edmund White, Armistead Maupin (as a fourth-generation San Franciscan, I had to read Tales of the City), Paul Monette, David Leavitt, David Sedaris, Michael Cunningham, and Dustin Lance Black.
The Wrap Up
We will continue to remember the Stonewall Uprisings this year, we will support friends, family members, and strangers on National Coming Out Day on October 11, and we will continue to celebrate LGBTQ History Month throughout the rest of October, but the contributions LGBTQ authors have made to the literary landscape extend beyond one anniversary, one day, or one month.
So, read books by LGBTQ authors and about LGBTQ characters. Go down to your local indie bookstore or hop on IndieBound today, next week, and next month. You’ll be amazed.
Kathleen Archambeau (WNBA-SF) is an award-winning writer and longtime LGBTQ activist. She was a founding contributor to the James Hormel LGBT wing of the San Francisco Public Library and Board VP, Outstanding Service Award, Operation Concern. Archambeau wrote a regular column for one of the oldest LGBTQ publications, The San Francisco Bay Times. Archambeau’s LGBTQ nonfiction publications include: We Make It Better (2019), with gay dad, Eric Rosswood, and Pride & Joy (2017).
Archambeau has been a featured speaker at the New Zealand Pride Festival, Saints and Sinners Literary Conference, and the Women’s Caucus for Art of Georgia. Her book has been included as part of the Oakland Museum of California Store’s Queer California Exhibit. She was a Department of Education Fellow at the University of Iowa and is a legacy donor focused on LGBTQ writers to the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
She lives with her wife and Guide Dog Career Change Puppy in the San Francisco Bay Area. Currently, they’re training for a cycling trip to the Lake District of England.
You can find her on Twitter.
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