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It’s GLBT Book Month over in the US, so we thought we’d celebrate by offering a selection of some of our favourite LGBT-themed books.
GLBT is the old American acronym which has been largely replaced by LGBT (a term that originating in the UK). GLBT Book Month was founded to celebrate queer writers and books in all their diversity. Literature is rife with the stereotypical heteronormative lifestyle – from Romeo and Juliet to Bridget Jones – but GLBT Book Month gives us a reason to unearth and share books that capture the breadth of human experience.
Here’s a list of our 16 favourite LGBT-themed books to have a gander at this month:
1. Physical by Andrew McMillan
Raw and urgent, these poems are hymns to the male body – to male friendship and male love – muscular, sometimes shocking, but always deeply moving. We are witness here to an almost religious celebration of the flesh: a flesh vital with the vulnerability of love and loss, to desire and its departure.
In an extraordinary blend of McMillan’s own colloquial Yorkshire rhythms with a sinewy, metaphysical music and Thom Gunn’s torque and speed – ‘your kiss was deep enough to stand in’ – the poems in this first collection confront what it is to be a man and interrogate the very idea of masculinity. This is poetry where every instance of human connection, from the casual encounter to the intimate relationship, becomes redeemable and revelatory.
Physical by Andrew McMillan comes highly recommended.
2. SPOKE: New Queer Voices, ed. by Adam Lowe
SPOKE: New Queer Voices brings together some of the very best young writers working today. United yet multiple, together but disparate, the writers herein encompass a range of genres and styles. Inside you’ll find essays, poems, plays, a song, a map and a comic.
Themes include love, dance, drag, social justice, family and social media. SPOKE puts the words and voices of a new generation of LGBT writers alongside each other to create a dialogue and to capture a turning point. Collected here are many of the best entries to the Young Enigma Awards along with a selection of specially commissioned writers.
Check out SPOKE: New Queer Voices today.
3. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde
Presenting the essential writings of black lesbian poet and feminist writer Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider celebrates an influential voice in 20th-century literature.
In this charged collection of 15 essays and speeches, Lorde takes on sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia, and class, and propounds social difference as a vehicle for action and change. Her prose is incisive, unflinching, and lyrical, reflecting struggle but ultimately offering messages of hope.
4. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
The Picture of Dorian Gray is an 1891 philosophical novel by Irish writer and playwright Oscar Wilde. First published as a serial story in the July 1890 issue of Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, the editors feared the story was indecent, and without Wilde’s knowledge, deleted 500 words before publication.
Despite that censorship, The Picture of Dorian Gray offended the moral sensibilities of British book reviewers, some of whom said that Oscar Wilde merited prosecution for violating the laws guarding the public morality. In response, Wilde aggressively defended his novel and art in correspondence with the British press.
Wilde did eventually end up in prison, but for being gay, rather than for his oeuvre.
5. The Naked Civil Servant by Quentin Crisp
In 1931, queer liberation was not a movement – it was simply unthinkable. But in that year, Quentin Crisp made the courageous decision to “come out” as a homosexual. This exhibitionist with the henna-dyed hair was harassed, ridiculed and beaten. Nevertheless, he claimed his right to be himself – whatever the consequences. The Naked Civil Servant is both a comic masterpiece and a unique testament to the resilience of the human spirit.
6. You Can’t Keep A Good Woman Down by Alice Walker
In this splendid volume by Alice Walker, we encounter a whole range of characters: the guru who preaches that ‘nobody’s anything’; the rich white lawyer who wants a teenage sex slave; the old comrade in anti-sexist struggle who reveals that the feminist she most admires is Scarlett O’Hara; the expert lover whose virtuosity depends on the stimulation of pornography; and the ‘Emperor of Rock and Roll’ whose failure to understand the songs he sings – the songs of a black woman – haunt his gold-plated, but empty life.
7. Selected Woks of Angelina Weld Grimké by Angelina Weld Grimké
Centred around the themes of death, women as objects of desire, lost love, motherhood, and children, the poems in this selection offer insight into the work of this well-known abolitionist and advocate of women’s rights. Including Grimké’s prose and drama, this volume also sheds new light on the African-American experience of racial pride and the reaction against racist acts.
8. Bodies in Motion by Mary Anne Mohanraj
Like the sweet heat of a palate-pleasing curry or the brilliant radiance of bougainvillea, the short stories in Mary Anne Mohanraj’s Bodies in Motion will delight the senses and sensibilities. Her tales follow two generations of two families living on the cusp of disparate worlds, America and Sri Lanka – their lives and ties shaped, strengthened, devastated, and altered by the emigrant-immigrant ebb and flow.
Through stunning, effervescent prose, intimate moments are beautifully distilled, revealing the tug-of-war between generations and gender in stories sensual and honest, chronicling love, ambition, and the spiritual and sexual quests of mothers and daughters, fathers and sons.
9. Homo Superiors by L A Fields
In Homo Superiors, two college seniors: Noah, frail like the hollow-boned birds he enjoys watching, caged by his intellect, and by his sense that the only boy as smart as himself is his best friend; Ray who has spent years aping leading men so that his every gesture is suave, but who has become bored with petty cheats and tricks, and now, during summer break in Chicago, needs something momentous to occupy himself.
Noah’s text says, I’ve found some candidates for murder. Ray chuckles and knows that Noah sent the message to cheer him. Both boys realize they stand apart from others their age. One lacks social graces, the other has perfected being charming. Both are too willing to embark on a true challenge of their superiority but neither realizes what such a crime will do because no matter how they see themselves, how they need one another, they still possess the same emotions of H. sapiens. .
10. Jam”! On the Vine by LaShonda Barnett
Jam! On the Vine is a new American classic: a dynamic tale of triumph against the odds and the compelling story of one woman’s struggle for equality that belongs alongside Jazz by Toni Morrison and The Color Purple by Alice Walker.
Ivoe Williams, the precocious daughter of a Muslim cook and a metalsmith from central-east Texas, first ignites her lifelong obsession with journalism when she steals a newspaper from her mother’s white employer. Living in the poor, segregated quarter of Little Tunis, Ivoe immerses herself in printed matter as an escape from her dour surroundings. She earns a scholarship to the prestigious Willetson College in Austin, only to return over-qualified to the menial labor offered by her hometown s racially-biased employers.
Ivoe eventually flees the Jim Crow South with her family and settles in Kansas City, where she and her former teacher and lover, Ona, found the first female-run African American newspaper, Jam! On the Vine. In the throes of the Red Summer – the 1919 outbreak of lynchings and race riots across the Midwest – Ivoe risks her freedom, and her life, to call attention to the atrocities of segregation in the American prison system.
Skillfully interweaving Ivoe’s story with those of her family members, LaShonda Katrice Barnett’s Jam! On the Vine is both an epic vision of the hardships and injustices that defined an era and a moving and compelling story of a complicated history we only thought we knew.
11. Tango by Justin Vivian Bond
Hailed as “the greatest cabaret artist of [V’s] generation” in The New Yorker, Justin Vivian Bond makes a brilliant literary debut with this candid and hilarious novella-length memoir. With a recent diagnosis of attention deficit disorder and news that Bond’s first lover from childhood has been imprisoned for impersonating an undercover police officer, Bond recalls in vivid detail her coming-of-age as a trans kid. With inimitable style, Bond raises issues about LGBT adolescence, homophobia, parenting and sexuality, while being utterly entertaining.
12. Trumpet by Jackie Kay
The death of legendary jazz trumpeter Joss Moody exposes an extraordinary secret. Unbeknown to all but his wife Millie, Joss was a woman living as a man. The discovery is most devastating for their adopted son, Colman, whose bewildered fury brings the press to the doorstep and sends his grieving mother to the sanctuary of a remote Scottish village.
A novel about the lengths to which people will go for love, Trumpet is a moving story of a shared life founded on an intricate lie, of loving deception and lasting devotion, and of the intimate workings of the human heart.
13. Before Night Falls: A Memoir by Reinaldo Arenas
This shocking memoir by visionary Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas “is a book above all about being free”, said The New York Review of Books: sexually, politically, artistically.
Arenas recounts a stunning odyssey from his poverty-stricken childhood in rural Cuba and his adolescence as a rebel fighting for Castro, through his suppression as a writer, imprisonment as a homosexual, his flight from Cuba via the Mariel boat lift, and his subsequent life and the events leading to his death in New York. In what The Miami Herald calls his “deathbed ode to eroticism”, Arenas breaks through the code of secrecy and silence that protects the privileged in a state where homosexuality is a political crime. Recorded in simple, straightforward prose, this is the true story of the Kafkaesque life and world re-created in the author’s acclaimed novels.
14. Stealing Nasreen by Farzana Doctor
The lives of three very different individuals, all of whom belong to the same small religious community, intersect while they try to find and pursue love and life itself. Set in Toronto, which is home to Nasreen – an Indo-Canadian lesbian and burnt-out psychologist – but a new world to Shaffiq and Salma, Stealing Nasreen offers a unique view of the world of the immigrant through three different viewpoints.
While working in the same hospital, Shaffiq becomes increasingly fascinated with Nasreen, causing him to bring home and hide things he finds in her office. Salma discovers some of these hidden treasures and suspects that something is amiss. In the meantime, Nasreen begins attending Salma’s weekly Gujarati classes, and Salma too finds herself inexplicably attracted to her student. And an impulsive kiss sets off a surprising course of events…
15. The Other Side of Paradise: A Memoir by Staceyann Chin
Staceyann Chin has appeared on television and radio, including The Oprah Winfrey Show, CNN and PBS, discussing issues of race and sexuality. But it is her extraordinary voice that launched her career as a performer, poet, and activist. In The Other Side of Paradise, she shares her unforgettable story of triumph against all odds in this brave and fiercely candid memoir.
No one knew Staceyann’s mother was pregnant until a dangerously small baby was born on the floor of her grandmother’s house in Jamaica, on Christmas Day. Staceyann’s mother did not want her, and her father was not present. No one, except her grandmother, thought Staceyann would survive. It was her grandmother who nurtured and protected and provided for Staceyann and her older brother in the early years. But when the three were separated, Staceyann was thrust, alone, into an unfamiliar and dysfunctional home in Paradise, Jamaica.
Told with grace, humour, and courage, Chin plumbs tender and unsettling memories as she writes about drifting from one home to the next, coming out as a lesbian, finding the man she believes to be her father, and ultimately, discovering her voice.
16. Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
Many have considered whether Shakespeare was gay or bisexual, but either way, we’re including The Bard in our list.
Named for the twelfth night after Christmas, the end of the Christmas season, Twelfth Night plays with love and power. The Countess Olivia, a woman with her own household, attracts Duke (or Count) Orsino. Two other would-be suitors are her pretentious steward, Malvolio, and Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Onto this scene arrive the twins Viola and Sebastian; caught in a shipwreck, each thinks the other has drowned. Viola disguises herself as a male page and enters Orsino’s service. Orsino sends her as his envoy to Olivia—only to have Olivia fall in love with the messenger. The play complicates, then wonderfully untangles, these relationships.
Plus one more…
This one isn’t currently in print, but if you can wait until September, you can pick up a copy of this seminal work. First published in 1995, Nicola Field’s Over the Rainbow: Money, Class and Homophobia confronts the political contradictions in the LGBT+ movement and contains one of the earliest first-hand accounts from the frontlines of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, featured in the hit film Pride. Written at a time when LGBT+ people enjoyed increased visibility but faced continued discrimination and assault from conservative governments, Over the Rainbow sets an agenda for resistance rooted in class politics and shatters the myth of a unified LGBT ‘community’. Including fresh material, this expanded edition considers the impact of Pride and the challenges ahead for LGBT activism in the 21st century.
Nicola Field, an original member of LGSM, is a London-based writer, artist and activist. She has written for Diva, Socialist Review and Ambit; exhibited at the V&A and the British Film Institute; and spoken on political platforms internationally.