Back in the day, if you wanted to read LGBTQ literature, you had to scour books hoping for any faint hint of queerness — a flamboyant bachelor, a female athlete, an androgynous shop clerk, anything! Threatened by vague “decency laws”, publishers and writers avoided any overt LGBT content by encoding queerness into their work through euphemism and ambiguity,lest they risk public harassment or, like Oscar Wilde, imprisonment.
Thankfully, in these modern times, many LGBT authors can write openly about queer life and romance without getting tossed in the can (though we should remember, this is not the case in other countries like Russia). Groups like The Publishing Triangle can also honor LGBTQ fiction, nonfiction and poetry writers through events like the 28th Annual Triangle Awards.
We decided to highlight all this year’s award nominees because they’re all worth checking out. Take a look at the titles below; you might even find a new favorite book for some summertime reading!
Finalists for the Publishing Triangle Award for Trans and Gender-Variant Literature
WINNER – The Middle Notebookes by Nathanaël
NOMINEES – The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
The title of Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts refers to Roland Barthes’ metaphor of the Ancient Greek ship, the Argo. The Argo spent so long in service that the crew had to keep replacing parts, until there was no original material left — but yet, what remained was still the Argo. The Argonauts tells the story of Maggie Nelson’s pregnancy, an event that coincides with the start of her agender partner’s testosterone regimen. Nelson uses the situation as a springboard to talk about queerness, sexuality, body, gender, birth and what remains after life literally transforms your body.
Debridement by Corrina Bain
Corrina Bain’s Debridement — a title which refers to the removal of damaged flesh from a wound — is a poetry collection examining death and femininity. The poems provide a backstory behind the deaths of various women, exploring the true costs of patriarchy and rape culture. But Bain’s work also deals with his own gender, and being gender-nonconforming. As Michael Dennis said, “These are exactly the sort of poems we need more of.”
Trans/Portraits: Voices from Transgender Communities by Jackson Wright Schultz
One of the reasons representation is so important is that the media rarely lets members of diverse groups speak for themselves. Trans/Portraits seeks to redress the balance; Jackson Wright Schultz interviewed 34 transgender people across demographic lines all around America. The book is in an “oral history” format, but is more cohesive than what you might expect. Trans/Portraits provides an important look at what it really means to be trans in the United States, one more real than any portrayals you’ll find from Hollywood.
Finalists for the Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction
The Kitty Genovese story is one of the most talked about (and misinterpreted) stories of the past 50 years. The myth: In 1964, Winston Moseley raped and killed Kitty Genovese, a 28-year-old lesbian, in front of Genovese’s apartment building in New York City, and despite her cries, her 38 neighbors never did anything to help. But as it turns out — that’s not true at all; there were (at most) six potential witnesses, and only two of them knew what was happening… and some of the neighbors DID call the police.
Marcia M. Gallo, author of Different Daughters: A History of the Daughters of Bilitis and the Rise of the Lesbian Rights Movement, analyzes the changing demographics of New York in the 1960s, the acceptance of the mythological Genovese narrative that persisted despite evidence and examines the myth of the big heartless city — and why our culture wanted to believe the lies more badly than the truth.
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha is the only author on the list nominated for two categories — she should feel proud! Dirty River is a memoir of the time the Lambda Literary Award-winning poet packed two bags and left America on a Greyhound bus for Toronto. While she found acceptance amongst Toronto’s queer punk community, Dirty River isn’t rose-colored in looking back at this time of her life and gets into the gritty details of life and love among the punks.
The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle by Lillian Faderman
Lillian Faderman’s The Gay Revolution is one of the most well-researched book; the author conducted over 150 interviews! Faderman’s non-fiction looks at the early days of the LGBTQ movement — from the Mattachine Society to Betty Friedan’s smear of “The Lavender Menace”. Owing to Faderman’s expertise in lesbian history, The Gay Revolution differs from most gay and lesbian history books in a significant way. Namely, it’s one of the few that doesn’t merely focus on the men’s side of gay and lesbian history; she’s devoted to equal time between men and women so the WHOLE story is told. No wonder Victoria A. Brownworth calls it a “landmark book”. Now if only we could find a complete transgender, intersexual and asexual history…
Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash
Sadly, comics don’t always get the recognition they deserve — thankfully that’s not the case for Honor Girl, Maggie Thrash’s acclaimed graphic memoir. Honor Girl is the story of how Maggie discovered she’s lesbian, navigating homophobia, confusion, depression and love — just to figure out who she is. If people know, will she be ostracized like Beth and Ellie, the assumed-gay couple from last year’s camp — or will she be different? Or is it best to stay closeted — and can she even?
Finalists for the Randy Shilts Award for Gay Nonfiction
Former US Representative Barney Frank started his political career in 1972, gaining a seat in the Massachusetts State Legislature — and he immediately used his position to put forth two gay rights bills in the state… a great start for a man who was later faced a failed attempt to be ousted for his sexuality by — of all people — Representative Larry Craig (the anti-gay congressman who plead guilty to cruising an undercover police officer in an airport toilet). Frank should be a must-read for anyone interested in politics or the Democratic party.
It’s Not Over: Getting Beyond Tolerance, Defeating Homophobia, and Winning True Equality by Michelangelo Signorile
With last year’s Supreme Court decision legalizing marriage equality, plus all the other strides the LGBTQ community has made, it can be easy to think that the bulk of the struggle is over. Michelangelo Signorile’s It’s Not Over reminds us that, well, it’s not. Signorile not only lays out the struggles the community still faces — not least of all transphobia — but, thankfully includes a battle plan for what we can do now, and what’s next in the fight for equality for all.
Matthew Spender was the child of the gay poet Stephen Spender and the pianist Natasha Litvin — though, as his memoir makes clear, neither were particularly suited for having children. While his parents shuttled him around the world and left him with family friends, abandonment was the norm. But even when he wasn’t physically away from his parents, he still felt emotionally distance, given the neglect and abuse he faced on a regular basis. Thankfully, Matthew Spender was able to find love, move to Italy — far away from his parents — and write this harrowing memoir that will resound with any artists or children who have ever felt distant from those who should know and love them best.
Visions and Revisions: Coming of Age in the Age of AIDS by Dale Peck
Acclaimed author of Hatchet Jobs, Sprout and Shift, Dale Peck’s memoir about being a young adult in the age of the AIDS epidemic is a must-read. Peck combines the fear of HIV and AIDS with the rampant homophobia in American culture — including multiple instances of police ignoring serial murders of gay men, like those committed by Jeffrey Dahmer. The book ends with “Thirteen Ecstasies of the Soul”, a lyrical set of vignettes putting a human face on the AIDS crisis.
Finalists for the Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry
Jennifer Perrine’s poetry in No Confession, No Mass comes across in many different styles — sonnets, ballads, villanelle. She uses these forms in service of poetry about sexual and gendered violence — and whether or not, given these things, we can be saved. Some poems handle their topics more directly, like the opening “Invocation: [Saint] Genevieve” (the woman who saved Paris from Attila’s ravaging Huns), while others are more subtle, like “Ode To A Motorcycle” (a meditation on her lifelong relationship on a road hog). Perrine’s great skill makes No Confession, No Mass an obvious choice for winning this category.
While Dirty River is a memoir, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s poetry collection Bodymap looks at love, queerness, disability politics and her fight with chronic illness. In an interview, Piepzna-Samarasinha says that her work encompasses “inherited trauma, environmental racism (she grew up in a Rust Belt town with a lot of toxic waste), sexual abuse survival, and the ways in which our racialized bodies flee the medical industrial complex.” Bodymap is also Piepzna-Samarasinha’s first book that focuses on disability, mapping her body’s changes — in rich, multi-sensory language that challenges and delights readers, even as it evokes conflicting feelings on injustice.
Fanny Says by Nickole Brown
Nickole Brown’s Fanny Says is both a collection of poetry and a biography of the author’s grandmother, the titular Fanny. Brown’s poetry combines all aspects of Fanny’s life — from her own personal set of malapropisms, to her love of Pepsi (and Joan Crawford), the word “fuck”, and more. In Fanny Says, Fanny is given the ability to live again in the minds of all those who read it.
Life in a Box Is a Pretty Life by Dawn Lundy Martin
When Dawn Lundy Martin says Life in a Box Is a Pretty Life, she’s referring to the boxes we make for ourselves, be the in the language we use, the language used by others, or just society. Sometimes embracing the box others put us in is easier — if we’re a known quantity, people know how to treat us…. but even if they “know how” to treat us, it’s not necessarily the best way we should be treated. Boxes might be easier, but they’re rarely satisfying. Martin looks at the boxes she’s put in and always reminds us that there’s more outside those cardboard walls.
Finalists for the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry
Chord, Rick Barot’s third volume of poetry, doesn’t have as clear of an overall theme as many of the other poetry collections on this list, but it’s no less moving. Barot’s masterful use of language explores themes of colonialism, war and privilege — but also language itself, and the quest for clarity. His poems play with form and Barot will experiment with the different shapes poetry can take.
Rickey Laurentiis’ Boy With Thorn is about the American South, and the complexity that comes with the fraught identity of the Southerner. With an ugly racist history — that, as we’re reminded with the Confederate Flag controversy, a history that’s far from past — the South is often characterized as the worst parts of America and Americans. But that discounts all the people — Black, queer, women and otherwise — who live there, and face discrimination as well as the joys and beauty of the South that’s often overlooked by the rest of America.
Farther Traveler by Ronaldo V. Wilson
Farther Traveler combines poetry and prose to form a memoir of Wilson’s life. Wilson writes about queerness, race, family and sexuality, pairing his work with powerful images that provide a stronger punch than either would be on its own. Wilson writes about our modern world, exploring what the “daddy” fetish in porn says about race and power; racial profiling that results in dead children. Wilson shows that poetry can be vibrant and, above all, relevant.
The Spectral Wilderness by Oliver Bendorf
Oliver Bendorf’s debut book, The Spectral Wilderness is already generating buzz about what the poet will do next. Bendorf’s work explores masculinity and transitioning. In the first poem, the narrator assures his girlfriend that, even after starting hormone replacement therapy, his hands will remain the same size, and not grow. Later in the volume, he talks about building the frame for “The Manliest Mattress”. Bendorf’s language and voice is original and vibrant. One five-star review on Goodreads merely reads “Holy shit.” Sometimes nothing more needs to be said.
Finalists for the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction
Written in brief vignettes over one hundred chapters, One Hundred Days of Rain uses Vancouver, British Columbia’s favorite weather pattern as a metaphor for getting over a breakup. Rain, like anything, can be seen as one oppressive phenomenon — or, rather, as a million different patterns bound by a single word. If we ignore the individual events, rain can feel like the same thing every day — but if we really start to pay attention, we know that no rainstorm is like any other — and, of course, even when rain may be ruining our plans, it’s simultaneously providing the water and nourishment all living things need to grow.
The short story collection Blue Talk and Love by Mecca Jamilah Sullivan collects fourteen wide-ranging stories with one thing in common: They’re all about women and girls of color, a demographic unfortunately often ignored by the mainstream media. The stories examine what women are taught about themselves and their own worth by society — for example, the story about four young women charged with attacking the man who threatened to rape them. Sullivan’s doctorate in English literature is a definite boon — her use of language is gorgeously moving.
Bright Lines by Tanwi Nandini Islam
Tanwi Nandini Islam’s Bright Lines follows the story of the orphaned Ella. Born in Bangladesh, when her parents are murdered, she moves to Brooklyn with her aunt and uncle. Bright Lines is a queer bildungsroman, taking its main character on a journey around the world as she discovers herself, her family, and the sense of longing for a home she never really knew.
Hotel Living by Ioannis Pappos
Hotel Living is a novel of the economic crisis. Ioannis Pappos’ semi-autobiographical novel stars Stathis Rakis, a Greek consultant who moved to the United States at thirteen, and got an MBA from Stanford when the dot-com bubble burst. He finds himself going from hotel to hotel — he’s homeless yet rich. Author of The Hours, Michael Cunningham compares Hotel Living to The Great Gatsby, “reincarnated in a contemporary hell beyond even F. Scott Fitzgerald’s imagination… It is, in short, a great and terrible beauty of a book.”
Finalists for The Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBT Fiction
Michael Golding’s most recent book, A Poet of the Invisible World is a spiritual, magical novel about Nouri, a boy born with four ears. Facing discrimination from the superstitious members of his small village, Nouri leaves on a trip to find himself. He ends up being taken in by a group of Sufis, and goes on adventures — full of delicious food. How delicious? A Poet of the Invisible World ends with a food glossary so you can feast along with Nouri.
Renowned author of short stories Lori Ostlund makes her first foray into novel-writing — and she does a great job. After the Parade is a slice of life novel where Aaron, the protagonist, leaves his partner of over 20 years, Walter. To Walter, it’s abrupt, but Aaron has been working on a list of 149 (!) grievances to steel his resolve to leave. He does, and heads for San Francisco to teach ESL classes — but soon realizes he needs to make peace with his small Minnesota hometown and his childhood growing up without a father — who died in the titular town parade when Aaron was five years old.
JD by Mark Merlis
JD by Mark Merlis uses the guise of a long-dead bisexual radical writer to explore what gay life was like back pre-Stonewall. In the novel, a biographer asks the writer’s widow for permission to go through the papers and work of the once-relevant author — where they both find out what his life was like before he knew her. The experience also forces her to relive her marriage and the fights they had — providing new context and revealing secrets she couldn’t know at the time. JD combines the power of biography from the outsider’s perspective as well as the emotions that can be dredged up by those who knew the subject best.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
At 720 pages, one could be forgiven for wondering if the title A Little Life is intended to be ironic. Hanya Yanagihara’s novel follows four queer friends as they bond after college. Yanagihara follows the four characters in detail, focusing on the couple of Willem and Jude, the latter of whom is secretive and has gone through an especially traumatic past. The book takes an unflinching look at self-harm, drug use and rape, to form a tragic story of love and loss.
Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta
Chinelo Okparanta’s Under the Udala Trees is, like many of the novels on this list, a coming-of-age story with a queer narrator. What makes Under the Udala Trees stand out is that it takes place in civil war-torn Nigeria, mirroring Nigeria’s growth as a nation with the protagonist’s own growth. Ijeoma, the lead character, must navigate not only her dangerous surroundings with her Christian faith and being closeted at a time when she’s still trying to figure herself out.
Leadership Award Winner: Christopher Street Magazine
The Triangle Awards also honored the late, lamented attempted at a gay version of The New Yorker, Christopher Street magazine. Christoper Street ran for 231 monthly issues between 1976 and 1995 — collecting work from writers and cartoonists like Fran Lebowitz, Quentin Crisp, Samuel Delany, Roz Chast and Howard Cruse. Due to its huge influence and dedication to providing an outlet for gay writers, the Triangle’s Leadership Award was presented to the magazines founder Charles Ortleb, editors Patrick Merla, Tom Steele and advisor Michael Denneny.
Bill Whitehead Award For Lifetime Achievement Winner:
Eloise Klein Healy
If anyone deserves a lifetime achievement award, it’s Eloise Klein Healy, Los Angeles’ first poet laureate. Healy has written five books of poetry — including Passing, which was a finalist for the Publishing Triangle’s 2003 Audre Lorde Award for lesbian poetry. Not content to merely do her own work, her work in academia — she’s the founding chair of the MFA program for Creative Writing at Antioch University, among other prestigious positions — means that she’s also responsible for mentoring countless other poets and bringing them to the world. To that end, she’s also the founding editor of Arktoi Books, specializing in work by lesbian authors. We can’t wait to see what she’s doing next!
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