The LGBT Pride Month is celebrated each June in remembrance of the 1969 Stonewall riots, and from a vantage point midway through this year’s observance it seems especially fitting that some of the season’s recent and forthcoming titles uncover and explore the LGBT experience from a historical angle.
Three varied titles offer portraits of gay authors that range from writers who have become relatively obscure—Charles Jackson and John Horne Burns—to the iconic literary figure of Gore Vidal. In March Knopf released NBCC Award–winner Blake Bailey’s Farther and Wilder: The Lost Weekends and Literary Dreams of Charles Jackson. The biography focuses on Jackson, whose The Lost Weekend was a publishing phenomenon in 1944—which Vintage has just reissued— and provides a compelling window on mid-century American life for this closeted gay man and addict. Says Knopf editorial director Robin Desser, “Bailey gives a personal and historical context to the Lost Weekend themes, and shows how courageous Jackson was for writing about these taboos.”
Other Press has just released Dreadful: The Short Life and Gay Times of John Horne Burns by acclaimed biographer and nonfiction writer David Margolick. In the book, Margolick tells the intriguing story of Burns’s contributions to the gay literary canon, particularly his portrait of gay men in WWII in The Gallery, and his tragic early death. The book has already received critical plaudits, and excerpts will run this month in the New York Times Magazine and on Salon.com.
On the way from Magnus Books in November is In Bed with Gore Vidal by Tim Teeman. Magnus publisher Don Weise says that though Vidal was frequently thought to be gay, he did not believe there were gay people, “only gay sexual acts.” Teeman has interviewed family members and friends to give a glimpse of “what shaped the private man behind the combative author of America’s history.”
Two other notable arts-related books being distributed under the Artbook/D.A.P umbrella focus on the legendary, but somewhat forgotten, Fire Island Pines community that served as a gathering place for gay male artists, architects, and creatives, and which would later be decimated by the impact of AIDS. Tom Bianchi: Fire Island Pines: Polaroids 1975–1983 (Damiani, May), with text and photos from Bianchi, presents a moving account of the vitality of that time and place. And Fire Island Modernist: Horace Gifford and the Architecture of Seduction by Christopher Bascom Rawlins (Metropolis, May), showcases the architect’s beach houses, which also provides insight into their role in transforming the Pines community and culture.
Both books, says director of communications at Artbooks/D.A.P. Alexander Galan, have already exceeded the publishers’ expectations. He observes that, as demonstrated by recent Hollywood projects like HBO’s Liberace biopic, Behind the Candelabra, gay history consists of “American stories” and can find a broad audience if packaged to that purpose. “When these projects came to us, we saw they had a cultural relevance that would appeal beyond just LGBT books,” he says. “These stories are interesting not because they are gay history, but because they have never been told.”
In contrast, Steerforth Press offers The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard by Stephen Jimenez (Oct.), which delves more deeply into a tragedy that many might feel they already know about from media coverage. But Steerforth publisher Chip Fleischer says the truth is more complex than what most people know. “Our priority on the nonfiction side has always been to publish books that engage the reader and break new ground,” Fleischer says. “This also happens to be an important contribution to the literary record of the LGBT experience in America.”
Finally, one of the most unusual books in this crop is a novel, Anne Carson’s follow-up to Autobiography of Red with Red Doc (Knopf, Mar.). Bringing her characters Geryon and Herakles—now G and Sad—into the modern age, the book has been praised for its powerful themes and searing love story. “You can’t force literature into a niche,” says Desser. “If publishers may have done that in the past with LGBT topics, I hope we have moved well beyond those boxes.”
From memoir to family issues, hot hunks to photo essays to sexy mysteries, this array of forthcoming titles will surely rouse readers to “something for everyone.”
In Stuck in the Middle with You: A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders (Crown, Apr.), author Jennifer Finney Boylan recounts her own experiences at either end—and in the midst—of the gender spectrum, illuminating what it means to be a parent.
In Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father (Norton, June), Alysia Abbott looks back at the life she and her dad—gay poet and activist Steve Abbott— shared in San Francisco in the 1970s and ’80s, both before and after the AIDS epidemic transformed that culture.
Glitterland by Alexis Hall (Riptide Publishing, Aug.). Trapped within the cycles of manic depression, ex-literary darling Ash Winters has given up on love, happiness, and himself. Until he meets aspiring model Darian Taylor, whose glittering joy helps Ash to find the light.
Eating My Feelings: Tales of Overeating, Underperforming, and Coping with My Crazy Family (Three Rivers Press, Aug.). Author Mark Brennan Rosenberg collects essays that skewer his struggles with weight and body image, as a kid in the 1980s and later as a gay man.
Raising My Rainbow: Adventures in Raising a Fabulous, Gender Creative Son (Broadway, Sept.) by Lori Duton is a poignant, moving, and laugh-out-loud funny memoir, about the unforgettable journey she and her family embark on raising their slighly effeminate, possibly gay, totally fabulous son.
The sixth winner of the CDS/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography, Legendary (Duke Univ. Press, Oct.) features Gerard H. Gaskin’s radiant color and b&w photographs of house balls, underground pageants where gay and transgender men and women, mostly African American and Latino, come together to see and be seen.
Universal Hunks: A Pictorial History of Muscular Men Around the World, 1895–1975 (Arsenal Pulp Press, Oct.). Author David L. Chapman’s follow-up to American Hunks collects historical images beginning in the 19th century and continuing into the 1970s— including photographs, posters, advertisements, and magazine and comic book covers.
“You Can Tell Just by Looking” and Twenty Other Myths About LGBT Life and People by Michael Bronski, Ann Pellegrini, and Michael Amico (Beacon Press, Oct.) investigates and disproves some of the most commonly held misconceptions and fallacies about LGBT people in America.
Bodies of Water by T. Greenwood (Kensington, Oct.). Alternating between past and present, this lush novel centers around a forbidden love story in the sexually oppressive 1960s, touching on themes of memory, age,feminism, lust, and most importantly love in a tumultuous era.
Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive by Julia Serano (Seal Press, Oct.) advocates for an updated approach to fighting sexism within queer/LGBT movements; examines the politics of exclusion and offers lessons for all, regardless of gender or sexual identity.
Body Counts: A Memoir of Politics, Sex, AIDS and Survival (Scribner, Jan.). Author Sean Strub, founder of POZ magazine and producer of the hit play The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me, charts his remarkable life—a tale of politics and AIDS and a powerful testament to loss, hope, and survival.
Kim Fu’s debut novel, For Today I Am a Boy (HMH, Jan.), centers on four second-generation Chinese sisters, one of whom is a boy. At birth, Peter Huang was given the Chinese name Juan Chaun, powerful king. The exalted only son amidst three daughters, Peter would finally embody his father’s ideal of masculinity. But Peter has different dreams: he’s certain he’s a girl.
The Gentleman’s Keeper by Bonnie Dee and Summer Devon (Samhain, July). This emotional historical romance introduces a nobleman with a secret and a trusted bailiff with a problem—together, they must navigate the world of master and servant, man and lover, and learn the true meaning of family.
The Hardest Thing (Cleis Press, July). James Lear’s sexy gay mystery pays homage to classic pulp fiction as a former U.S. Army major must guard a beautiful young man. When Army vet Dan Stagg falls afoul of DADT he becomes entangled in a web of conspiracy.
Henry Darger, Throw-Away Boy: The Tragic Life of an Outsider Artist by James Elledge (Overlook, Sept.) Ostracized in life and vilified after his death, Henry Darger is the ultimate American anti-hero. Elledge reveals Darger as a damaged, fearful, gay man, raised in a world unaware of the consequences of child abuse or gay shame—and his strange art as a triumph over trauma.—Dick Donahue
The Lammys at 25: A talk with Tony Valenzuela
Following the June 10 Lambda Literary Awards ceremony, PW caught up with Lambda Literary Foundation executive director Tony Valenzuela to discuss some highlights of the awards—and the organization’s past and present.
The Lambda Awards, or Lammys, just marked their 25th anniversary. How did you celebrate this impressive achievement?
This year’s awards were celebrated in the historic Great Hall at New York’s Cooper Union, a venerable location for our silver anniversary. We started the night with a video collage of Lammy Award photos from the past quarter-century, more than anything to show how fashion has changed among the literary set since 1989. We honored major literary figures—Augusten Burroughs, John Irving, and Cherrie Moraga—and also invited many notable awards presenters, including Edmund White, Jonathan Capehart, Frank Bruni, Stacey D’Erasmo, Jackie Woodson, and Randy Jones of Village People fame.
How have the awards changed over the past 25 years? What do you think their significance has been and continues to be?
A simple answer is that we have more awards categories than we did 25 years ago, such as Transgender and Bisexual literature, LGBT SF/Fantasy/Horror, LGBT Studies, and a few others that didn’t exist at our first Lammys. The current, expanded awards categories better reflect the diversity of our literary community and also the genres that have grown more popular over the years. Being nominated for or winning a Lammy is significant because these writers are being recognized by their own community for work that extends the fabric of our LGBT literature. A Lammy nomination continues to be a great honor and affirmation of a writer’s achievement. A nomination or win can also mean more reviews, more mainstream notice, a longer or renewed book tour and, hopefully, more books sold. A Canadian finalist just wrote to me saying that the nomination was what got him wider distribution in the U.S. I hear these kinds of stories from U.S. writers, too.
How has LGBT publishing itself changed over the years?
From my vantage point there are more opportunities to publish and to find an audience for one’s work than ever before, thanks largely to self-publishing and social media.That’s critical to LGBT authors, who can still have a hard time finding a mainstream publisher or getting their books reviewed in the mainstream press. Writers today have learned to take the life of their book, once it’s published, into their own hands.They’re savvy at self-promotion and marketing.There are countless niche markets they’ve learned to plug themselves into.Today, there are also a lot of publishers, both mainstream and independent, who are publishing queer titles.You need only look at our nominees to see how this is true. LGBT stories or storylines are no longer taboo or risky and you find them in books across all genres, published by most serious publishers and by gay and straight authors alike.
Tell us about the Lambda Literary Review and other things the organization does.
The Lambda Literary Review is the Foundation’s Web magazine (at www.lambdaliterary.org). Previously known as the print journal, Lambda Book Report, the LLR launched in 2010 and now publishes an average of five reviews per week as well as other daily content, including author interviews, calls for submissions, and other LGBT literary resources, and book news relevant to our community.In fact, the LLR publishes more LGBT book reviews than any other publication in the world.We have, on average, over 40,000 unique readers per month from all over the globe.This is incredible considering our subscription base for the Lambda Book Report was about 2,500. For those who can’t check in with the site daily, we send out a fabulous newsletter every Friday with links to everything published in that week’s magazine. Anyone can sign up for the newsletter on our Web site. The LLR is one of the Foundation’s most important programs, along with the Lammys. But that’s not all we do. The teaching arm of the Foundation is our Emerging Writers Retreat, a summer residency for our community’s most talented up-and-coming authors, where they spend an intensive week workshopping their manuscript. Our newest program is LGBT Writers in Schools, where we arrange author visits into high school and college literature courses to discuss queer books. Throughout the year we hold readings, panel discussions, and other special programming to promote LGBT literature. We continue to grow, and I can’t wait to see where the next 25 years takes us.
The Lawyers Weigh In: Jonathan Malysiak
The field of LGBTQ-interest titles is constantly changing—just as the cultural landscape is. Executive editor of American Bar Association Publishing Jonathan Malysiak provides insight into the emerging legal environment that has led the ABA to issue a title next month to assist transgender individuals and their attorneys navigate the law.
One thing I’ve noticed, at least in national media, is the rise in prevalence of stories relating to legal and personal challenges faced by transgender individuals. A population that heretofore seems to have been relegated by the press to the fringes of collective social consciousness is gradually starting to come to the forefront. As a result, I think we’re going to see more books being published (both non-fiction and fiction) that address the very real challenges transgender individuals face on a daily basis.
This July, ABA Publishing (the book publishing division of the American Bar Association), is going to be publishing what I think is a truly groundbreaking work. Transgender Persons and the Law, written by transgender attorney Ally Windsor Howell, brings together—for the first time ever—a comprehensive overview of the laws and landmark court cases involving transgender individuals in a variety of legal situations, including housing, military service and veterans benefits, family law, education, health care, personal safety, employment, immigration, and criminal justice. It also discusses the myriad legal documents transgender persons need to understand before filling out paperwork in order to change their name, birth certificate, and gender identification. As an added benefit, it includes a CD with a complete set of legal forms for all fifty states and the District of Columbia for name changes and, for those jurisdictions that allow it, changes to birth certificates. To my knowledge, this has never been done before.
It makes for very compelling—as well as often distressing—reading. What it also does is help raise awareness to the fact that an entire segment of our population may not be fully cognizant of their rights in addition to being underserved and underrepresented by our legal community. This book—and others like it—will hopefully make strides toward providing not just transgender individuals and the lawyers who represent them with the legal information necessary to preserve those individual rights, but will also further educate the population at large.
I believe it is our duty as publishers and thought leaders to educate and inform the public on all socially relevant issues. And while we have certainly made tremendous strides over the past 10-15 years in providing tools for greater understanding and appreciation of the concerns and issues faced by the LGBTQ population as a whole, we still have a long way to go.—Jonathan Malysiak
Mario López-Cordero: Life on the High Wire: Writing the First Gay Novel
The first rule of writing a novel? Don’t look down. Be brave. It’s just you, the blank page, and the belief that you have something to say. The book I carried across that high wire, my first, was Monarch Season [Magnus Books, June]—a gay novel with gay characters in the gay setting of Fire Island. But those details say nothing more significant about bravery. To write such stories in this day and age is not the revolutionary act it once was. I was only recording a place and time and cast of people that ensnared my imagination. What happens to that story now might indeed say something significant—about perception, assimilation, the current climate. The market will march Monarch Season into whatever niche it sees fit. And I’m OK with that. Such deliberations are not mine to ponder. That’s not why I write.—Mario López-Cordero
From the Groves of Academe
University presses continue to publish many noteworthy books of interest to LGBT audiences that might otherwise have difficulty finding a home.
“We’re seeing a notable increase in submissions from university presses,” says Carol Rosenfeld, chair of the Publishing Triangle, which presents the annual Triangle Awards. “And it’s interesting that these books span all our categories now—a few years ago university presses mainly submitted nonfiction, but they’re now very actively publishing LGBT fiction and poetry.” PW spoke with three university press editors to discuss their LGBT-focused offerings.
Duke University Press editorial director Ken Wissoker cites its “long successful history of publishing queer work”—a history that includes titles by such noted academic voices as Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Judith Halberstam. Its best-known and longest running effort to date was its “Series Q,” which began in 1993 and was edited by queer theorist Sedgwick and three colleagues. The series of themed essay collections ended with Sedgwick’s last book, in 2012, The Weather in Proust, following her death in 2009. “Queer theory had changed and broadened over those two decades,” notes Wissoker. The press had begun a second queer theory series during the period, Perverse Modernities, edited by Halberstam and Lisa Lowe, on the intersection of race and sexuality. Now two former Series Q authors, Lauren Berlant (Cruel Optimism) and Lee Edelman (No Future), are starting another new series, Theory Q. The first volume, Sex, or the Unbearable, co-written by the editors, is due out this year. “Queer theory began with the idea that thinking about sexuality could reveal a great deal about human life in a wide frame,” Wissoker says. “This new series takes up that challenge for our current era.”
At University of Massachusetts Press, editor Brian Halley continues his LGBT publishing from his previous job at Beacon Press, where he acquired and edited many such titles. He sees a shift from a purely academic focus among university presses. “In terms of scholarly presses, the reign of theory may be slowing as the leading force in the field, even as it remains a powerful, thriving, and fascinating element in LGBT studies,” Halley observes. “Those of us at presses in which history is a strong area have continued to seek out those books that tell hidden or potentially forgotten stories, which hold crossover appeal.” The press believes it has one such title in 1960s Gay Pulp Fiction, edited by Drewey Wayne Gunn and Jaime Harker (Dec.). The book is an effort by scholars to recover a mostly forgotten explosion in gay writing across a number of genres that occurred in the 1960s, in response to a series of court cases that ultimately meant the postal service could no longer intercept books that contained homosexuality. In addition, the press published Lies About My Family by Amy Hoffman this past March. The author’s third memoir, it explores her sexual orientation in the context of her Jewish identity.
At the University of Wisconsin Press, senior acquisitions editor Raphael Kadushin says he emphasizes quality of writing first in order to build a wide-ranging LGBT list. According to Kadushin, Wisconsin continues to produce one of the country’s largest, most sustained LGBT lists of fiction, history, biographies, and the only series in existence devoted to LGBT memoir (the Living Out series). Two of the press’s fall 2012 titles, Michael Lowenthal’s The Paternity Test and Trebor Healey’s A Horse Named So, were up for Lammys this year, and Healey won a Publishing Triangle Award. The current season’s list brings Autobiography of My Hungers by Rigoberto Gonzalez to the Living Out series (May); A Heaven of Words: Last Journals, 1956-1984 by Glenway Wescott, edited by Jerry Rosco (June); and The Beauty of Men Never Dies: An Autobiographical Novel by David Leddick (June). Coming in the fall are Our Deep Gossip: Conversations with Gay Writers on Poetry and Desire by Christopher Hennessy, with a foreword by Christopher Bram; and, also in the Living Out series, Lawfully Wedded Husband: How My Gay Marriage Will Save the American Family by Joel Derfner.
Kadushin finds a significant change in the larger culture’s reception of LGBT books. “Younger readers are more open to reading a good memoir or novel with a gay protagonist or narrator because that registers as part of their natural cultural ecosystem now, not something exotic or other,” he says. —Gwenda Bond