“The big houses are still doing really smart gay books,” says Carroll & Graf senior editor Don Weise, singling out Knopf, Norton and St. Martin’s in particular. But it’s the university presses, he says, that are doing the heavy lifting, publishing books that are “intellectually rigorous.”

As home to some of the more challenging books, university presses increasingly fill an important niche within the gay and lesbian market. “I’d like to see more publishers looking at quality of writing before the size of the audience. As a university press, we can still afford to think that way,” says Raphael Kadushin, senior acquisitions editor at the University of Wisconsin Press, one of the few university presses with an extensive list of gay and lesbian titles. While this audience has more mass media choices than ever before, Kadushin says books still offer the most diversity. “A large part of the gay and lesbian market still doesn’t see their lives reflected anywhere else.”

Weise agrees. “The gay readership is dramatically underestimated. We need to be discovering new voices—publishers and editors must grow this audience.”

Here are some of the season’s most notable books tackling the complexities faced by members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) community.

The Enemy by Rafael Campo (Duke Univ., Apr.)

The fifth poetry collection from acclaimed writer and physician Rafael Campo considers an America at war with its own conscience. “I wrote most of the poems in the several years since 9/11, trying to formulate a healing response not only to those events but also to the many other challenges to empathy and compassion we face today,” says Campo, who remembers watching the images of 9/11 on the television in the waiting room of his clinic at Harvard.

Exploring what it means to be an “enemy” in today’s world, Campo takes on some of the most controversial elements of the “culture wars”—feminism, gay marriage, the AIDS pandemic, immigration—while attempting to offer genuine hope for redemption. As the Latino son of immigrants growing up in New Jersey, Campo says he learned early on about poetry as a “wonderfully powerful and musical mode of expression.”

Campo says the lives of his patients embody the true breadth of the gay experience in America, but that their stories still go largely untold. “I personally would like to see more literary work by gay, lesbian and transgender writers get published, and perhaps fewer books with half-naked white men on their covers. We are already too defined by our sexuality in the eyes of the nongay world.”

The Man Who Would Marry Susan Sontag: And Other Intimate Literary Portraits of the Bohemian Era by Edward Field (Univ. of Wisconsin, Apr.)

When the editors of the University of Wisconsin Press’s gay memoir series approached award-winning poet Field, he immediately knew his radical days in post-WWII, avant-garde literary bohemia would fill a book. “I had a half dozen essays about Alfred Chester and his fierce rivalry with Susan Sontag, and his later conflict with Paul Bowles, and I reshaped the book with that central drama.”

The memoir offers a closeup look at life and literary culture in the bohemian outposts of Greenwich Village, Paris’s Left Bank and Tangier, where it was possible to be openly gay long before Stonewall. Field infused the book with his own “education as a poet,” and readers will find out extremely intimate details about poet Frank O’Hara in the chapter about their affair.

Field believes that gay and lesbian figures are often marginalized by a lack of honesty from writers dealing with historical events. “The important thing for me is that writers don’t censor themselves, but say what’s been left out before. In a sense, we are still being left out or cut out of history and we still have to fight for our existence.” He also thinks there will never be too many memoirs for the category to support. “Gay and lesbian memoirs and fiction abound, but we have endless curiosity about each other, and can never get enough intimate details—as if the truth is always out of reach.”

Ask & Tell: Gay & Lesbian Veterans Speak Out by Steve Estes (Univ. of North Carolina, May)

Steve Estes spent five years gathering the stories of gay and lesbian veterans from World War II to the Iraq War. “I got into this as an activist, wanting to use my skills as a historian and interviewer to support what I saw as a civil rights issue. I found that the vets were really excited to tell their stories.”

While several notable books have considered the experiences of gay and lesbian veterans in WWII and Vietnam, Ask & Tell offers the most comprehensive range of stories to date and provides a forum for veterans to discuss the legacy of the military’s infamous “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. “Gay and lesbian troops do not damage morale or unit cohesion. They are already in the military and pose no threat to the privacy of straight service personnel,” Estes says. “Above all, I hope this book reminds readers that the history of gay and lesbian military service is long and valorous, and that it is really just the story of patriotic Americans doing their duty and serving their country.”

Estes believes that the prospects for publishing serious work in the field continue to improve. “There wasn’t exactly a flood of pink ink in the 1990s, but academic publishers have finally begun to recognize the value of community studies and gay history in general.”

Waiting for the Call: From Preacher’s Daughter to Lesbian Mom by Jacqueline Taylor (Univ. of Michigan, Apr.)

Jacqueline Taylor decided to write a memoir because she didn’t see her own experience as a lesbian and a Southerner from a religious background reflected in what was being published. “My story is not the one people automatically expect. It’s not about leaving one thing to get to another. This is a book about faith and family,” says Taylor. “We need more books about faith without being from the far right.”

Although she has left behind the conservative Southern Baptist congregation of her childhood, Taylor’s Christianity is still an important part of her life. Her memoir chronicles her devout childhood, getting married and divorced, coming out and, finally, the adoption of two Peruvian infants with her partner. “I want to show that my family now is not unrelated or disconnected from the family I grew up in.”

Taylor knows there are a lot of people out there with backgrounds like hers, because they approach her after readings. “There are a huge number of people who grew up in this very religious environment. Where are our stories?”

Taylor thinks that while there is a wider variety of gay and lesbian narratives being told today, Southern voices are still underrepresented. “If it wasn’t for a university press, I don’t know what would have happened to my book. The big presses want you to be famous or have gone to hell and back in a melodramatic way. I’m just a Southern gay mom trying to tell my story in a way that’s not slash and burn.”

What Becomes You by Aaron Raz Link and Hilda Raz (Univ. of Nebraska, Apr.)

One of the hottest memoirs in the category this year is the unusual, shared story of a mother and her child’s transformation from female to male. A well-known feminist writer and women’s studies professor, Hilda Raz had a background uniquely suited to supporting her daughter Sarah’s decision to start her life anew as a gay man—Aaron Raz Link—at age 29.

What Becomes You tells the tandem story of the “astonished” parent, Raz, watching her child reinvent himself, and of Link’s own complete identity change from woman to man, teaching scientist to theater performer. “Gay, straight, male, female, Jew, Christian, Muslim—we’ve all been taught to shut up. I fell through the cracks,” says Link. “I’m a man who can speak to these social and scientific issues with the authority of a personal voice.”

Raz says they knew there was a need for a story like Link’s to be told. “We need many more books in which sex change is background as well as subject, books that can be taught in literature classes as well as biology, sociology, anthropology, history, books that are well written.”

Ten years ago, Raz and Link agree, their story might not have been published. They see the university press as a thriving home for LGBT stories. “Life is interesting,” says Link. “Writing should be interesting.”

Hear Us Out! Lesbian and Gay Stories of Struggle, Progress, and Hope, 1950 to the Present and Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, June)

An icon in the field of gay and lesbian writing, Nancy Garden returns this year with two books—one old and one new—aimed at the teen audience. And they come from a house that has published its share of iconic gay authors, from Michael Cunningham to Susan Sontag.

The 25th anniversary reissue of her landmark 1982 novel, Annie on My Mind, about teenage girls who fall in love and their struggle, brings this classic of the genre to a whole new generation of readers. “It says that love is essentially the same regardless of the genders of the lovers, and that gay and lesbian people feel the same emotions as straight people when they’re in love.”

Her new book—Hear Us Out!—aims to educate those same teenagers on just how much things have changed since the 1950s. The book mixes essays with short stories about teenagers coming to terms with their LGBT and “Q,” or questioning, identities. “I hope that when kids know something about the progress we’ve already made and the battles we’ve already won, they’ll be encouraged—as many of them already are—to continue the fight. More than that, I hope they’ll see that there’s not much reason why they can’t live happy, healthy, productive lives in the 21st century.”

Garden believes that gay adolescents and teenagers will only have more access to stories about kids like themselves, despite challenges to books with such content. “Today’s queer kids can read around 200 novels and story collections featuring kids like themselves. There is also a growing amount of good nonfiction about LGBT people and issues.”

Now Voyagers, Some Divisions of the Saga of Mawrdew Czgowchwz, Oltrano, Authenticated by Persons Represented Therein, Book One: The Night Sea Journey by James McCourt (Turtle Point, Oct.)

Published in 1975, James McCourt’s Mawrdew Czgowchwz (pronounced “Mardu Gorgeous”) was a comic, flamboyantly original sendup of the opera world that quickly became a cult classic. Now he returns with an equally avant-garde sequel that begins in 2004 and furthers the tale of an outrageous opera diva turned psychoanalyst.

The sequel has been in the works for nearly three decades, says McCourt. “I started the book 28 years ago. My editor at Knopf, Victoria Wilson, gave me a lot of help over the years, while we worked together on other things. It ended up being far too large for a commercial publisher, but I wouldn’t have been able to continue without her support.”

The New York Review of Books reprint series brought Mawrdew Czgowchwz back into print in 2002, but bookstore placement can be a concern for literary work like McCourt’s. “The problem in the gay community is that gay bookstores favor popular fiction,” he says. “Gay bookstores are mostly a mix of serious nonfiction and light, entertaining fiction. Books like mine are on a little shelf called Literature or Classics.”

Despite those challenges, Now Voyagers will be the first of four books continuing the series. “I was getting used to the idea these books would not be published. Turtle Point has really given this work a second life,” says McCourt. “Books are still very important to the gay community. We’ve made real progress just by writing.”

Readers browsing the selection of gay and lesbian titles in bookstores will find no shortage of lifestyle, erotica and genre books to cart to the beach. You can learn how to dress in Liberace’s outré style, discover where to find love online and fantasize in tales of lesbian erotica.

But those looking for more literary books may find the pickings slimmer. Charles Flowers, executive director of the Lambda Literary Foundation, says, “New York houses do one or two gay or lesbian books, but it’s not a list except for publishers like Carroll & Graf and Kensington. But serious literary books are thriving at a certain level.” That “certain level,” at least in the spring of 2007, is (with some exceptions) the university presses.

The Mirrorball Is Still Spinning
The death knell for gay and lesbian bookstores has been sounded so often that it’s a genuine surprise to find that a number of LGBT bookstore owners state that they are not facing any worse financial woes than those of any other independent bookstore.

The biggest changes in LGBT bookstores occurred more than a decade ago. “The original business plan was to be a community center because we didn’t have community centers,” explains Charles Flowers, executive director of the Lambda Literary Foundation. “You went to those stores to buy books, cruise, get health information and get involved in political actions. Now we have all those institutions, so the bookstores have gone back to their purest form: a place for literature and culture.”

The mainstreaming of gay culture also cut into sales, as readers could purchase gay titles at national chain bookstores and on the Internet. The same is true of other niche booksellers such as those specializing in African-American, mystery and children’s books, though there is less ink spent predicting their demise.

“It’s a popular misconception that gay bookstores are struggling, but they’re just facing the same difficulties general independent bookstores are facing with the Internet and big box stores,” says Don Weise, senior editor at Carroll & Graf. “It’s not that gay publishing is tough; all publishing is tough.”

“We service 100 accounts that define themselves as gay and lesbian bookstores and another 100 that are interested in those titles,” says Ron Hanby, director of gay and lesbian sales at Bookazine, a national book wholesaler. “Those numbers are not very far from what they were in the ’70s and ’80s. Many of the people who managed bookstores then have closed their doors, but young people have started opening new stores and they’re savvy about the way the business now works. People doing well are creating the perfect mix of gay-lesbian titles with some mainstream titles and sidelines.”

“Since we opened 32 years ago, we’ve always been half bookstore and half gift shop, and that’s the reason we’ve been able to survive,” says Deacon Maccubbin, owner of the Lambda Rising chain of independents in Washington, D.C.; Baltimore, Md.; Rehoboth Beach, Del.; and Norfolk, Va.

“We have 20,000 books, but half of our merchandise has always been magazines, DVDs, music and rainbow tchotchkes—you know, anything you can put a rainbow on.”

New York City’s Oscar Wilde Bookshop, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year (making it the oldest gay and lesbian bookstore in the world), has shied away from “rainbowy sideline items because there are so many stores around us selling those items,” says owner Kim Brinster. “Although we get so many international visitors we’ve started going after more gift items featuring our logo—bags, baseball caps, T-shirts and mugs.”

“You need innovations to make a profit in this challenging environment,” says Philip Rafshoon, owner of Outwrite Bookstore & Coffeehouse in Atlanta. “We are constantly working with organizations and our community to help them understand the benefits of working with a local independent store. Our customers know that each sale insures that we stay here and we are in constant communication with them—through e-mail, our Web site, ads in local publications and fliers and posters that other stores in our community put up for us.” Rafshoon stresses that bookstores can’t be satisfied with just a portion of their customers’ purchases. “You need to know your customers, what they buy, why they shop at your store and why they don’t shop at your store. We work to get 100% of their business by finding out the reasons they buy elsewhere.”

Outwrite has a visual cue in the store that reminds its booksellers whether or not the store has reached its financial goal for the day. The mirrorball hanging in the store doesn’t spin until the day’s goals are met. “That mirrorball reminds our staff that every customer and sale counts,” says Rafshoon.

Oscar Wilde’s Brinster agrees that it’s important to let customers know that their every purchase matters to the store’s bottom line. “It’s a really tough business for everybody,” she says. “But we don’t want to browbeat our customers. I have a quote on my bulletin board from Roxanne Coady of R.J. Julia Booksellers. It says, 'It’s not my job to make people feel badly that we might go away; it’s my job to make this a place where people want to buy books.’ I wouldn’t want to do anything else. A bookstore is a great place to be. If we can only figure out how to make money at it, it would be a perfect world.” —Kevin Howell

Spanning the Rainbow
Forthcoming LGBT titles from the general trade sector (i.e., the non-university press category) run the gamut from college guide to canine guide, with the occasional serious tome in between. Educators once spoke of the three Rs; looking at the season’s new gay and lesbian titles might suggest the three Es, as books strive to entertain, to elucidate and to engage readers.

Two forthcoming novels from Carroll & Graf are polar opposites in just about every way except their quality, says senior editor Don Weise. Selfish & Perverse is a debut novel by Bob Smith, a veteran Tonight Show comic who’s also had his own HBO special. The romantic comedy about a Hollywood TV writer and an Alaskan fisherman spun out of a real-life visit to Alaska, where Smith emceed the state’s first-ever gay pride festival. “I’m as excited about this as anything I’ve ever published,” says Weise, noting that the August title has received early raves from Armistead Maupin, David Rakoff and Stephen McCauley.

Sarah Schulman, one of the most widely respected lesbian novelists, returns after an eight-year absence with the just released The Child, a politically charged, unsparing look at contemporary gay life. With characteristic candor, Schulman looks at the often-troubled relationships between gay people and their families. In Weise’s words, “It takes guts to tackle these difficult topics, and Sarah doesn’t disappoint.” She clearly didn’t disappoint PW’s reviewer, who found the work “a piercing investigation into desire, mores and the law.”

In addition to the Carroll & Graf titles, another diverse pairing comes in the form of two reprints, the first of which, The Gay Metropolis: The Landmark History of Gay Life in America Since World War II, will be released next month as a Grove Atlantic trade paperback. Originally published 10 years ago by Houghton Mifflin (and subtitled simply 1940—1996), Charles Kaiser’s work was termed “fascinating and fabulous” by Vanity Fair, while the San Francisco Chronicle called it “a sweeping saga written with wit, insight and poignancy.” The book was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and a Lambda Literary Award winner.

I Must Confess, though not technically a reprint, has never been available in the U.S.; it was originally published in the U.K. in 1998 and will be released here by Cleis Press in October. Diane Levinson, marketing and publicity director, calls Rupert Smith’s faux tell-all “an absolutely spot-on satire of pop culture, trend chasing and self-absorbed celebrities—the perfect comic novel for the media-obsessed times we live in.”

Humor of the, er, four-legged variety romps through WOOF! A Gay Man’s Guide to Dogs by Andrew DePrisco. This June Bow Tie Press title, which advises gay men on selecting the perfect pooch, features such chapter headings as “Studs and Bitches: The Secret Sex Lives of Dogs” and includes lists of “Gay Names” (Sassy, Delilah, Sigmund, Ashton) and “Nongay Names” (Sparky, Duke, Sport, Bandit). Sly illustrations by Jason O’Malley perfectly complement the book, which sprung from DePrisco’s long-time involvement in the pet world and the gay role models he encountered in the world of dog shows.

Among the season’s many nonfiction offerings is an intriguing-sounding memoir from Alyson: Nightlife (Sept.) is by Janine Avril, who, while in her 20s, learned a shocking family secret—one that her family used to protect her from the truth about her past. Her investigation into this secret revealed a personal, powerful link to her father and the truth about herself. The book, says marketing and publicity director Jeff Theis, “reads like a detective novel, keeping you in suspense until the end, much in the way it happened in Janine’s life. And it shows how socially accepted 'values’ can lead to unexpected tragedy.”

Coming in November from Arsenal Pulp Press is First Person Queer: Who We Are (So Far), edited by Richard Labonté and Lawrence Schimel, which collects first-person essays from the LGBT community. Schimel explains the book’s genesis: “Ten years ago, I co-edited PoMoSexuals, which became a sort of manifesto for those who felt limited by gender labels. First Person Queer is not a sequel but a sort of companion book: instead of rebelling against these identities, it offers glimpses into the diversity and complexity of contemporary LGBT life.”

The world of academe—or more specifically, a guide to same—is smartly represented in The Gay and Lesbian Guide to College Life: A Comprehensive Resource for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Students and Their Allies by John Baez, Jennifer Howd, Rachel Pepper and the staff of the Princeton Review, coming in September from Random House/Princeton Review. As publicist Jeanne Krier explains, “It combines the expertise of the Princeton Review with the authority of content partners and contributors from 14 LGBT organizations.” Among those organizations are such recognizable names as the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). Laced throughout the book are real stories of LGBT students and interviews with administrators and student leaders. —Dick Donahue