Representation on the page matters, and honest portrayals of the full spectrum of intimate relationships help readers not only to see themselves but also other people with more clarity and understanding. This season brings new and newly translated queer story collections that place their characters in societies coping with climate change, a pandemic, controlling governments, and more. Their authors, whether publishing for the first time or departed decades ago, are part of a literary heritage of queer inclusion.
K-Ming Chang’s 2020 debut novel, Bestiary, is a “wild story of a family’s tenuous grasp on belonging in the U.S.,” PW’s review said. In the forthcoming collection Gods of Want (One World, July), Chang zooms out to think about larger collectives, such as mythic traditions and girlhood as a whole. The stories, she says, take inspiration from the unconventional approach to family and queerness in Dorothy Allison’s 1988 collection Trash, and Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s 2019 compendium Sabrina & Corina, with its exploration of “proximity and contrast” in women’s lives and relationships.
Chang says she’s “interested in how one sentence can hold both exaggeration and subtlety,” and the 16 stories in Gods of Want, divided into sections labeled Mothers, Myths, and Moths, mix tragedy and banality, and the magical and the mundane. Stories such as “Auntland,” a list in prose form recounting the activities of the narrator’s many aunts (“I had an aunt who wiped her ass with her birth certificate and another one who failed her immigration test because she named Colonel Sanders as a founding father”), demonstrate Chang’s fascination with matriarchal, unofficial lineages, and her penchant for finding comedy in the unexpected. “I enjoy humor that can be dark and tied to mortality,” she says, “always with a shadow mixed into the laughter.”
Humor also plays a role in Lydia Conklin’s Rainbow Rainbow (Catapult, May), which PW’s starred review praised for displaying “a captivating interest in human contradiction.” For instance, in “Laramie Time,” a lesbian couple struggles with the decision of whether to have a child together; interspersed in the narrative are descriptions of the narrator’s comic strip turned TV show about lesbian turtles. “I want people to laugh and cry,” Conklin says. “For humor to work, it has to get to an emotional core; it has to be both painful and true.” Their approach is to write about “more liminal, uncertain, and shaky identities, as well as queer and trans experiences that weren’t as commonly documented,” they explain, such as queer joy.
Conklin chronicles these experiences in tales that span as little as two hours in their characters’ lives. “I love short stories—the compression,” Conklin says. “I like what you can do with time.” Many of Rainbow Rainbow’s stories take place in the 1990s, but Conklin also addresses the complexity of the present, as in “Pink Knives,” about an open relationship during the Covid era, which marks time by how far out a character’s roots have grown in since the pandemic began (“four to five inches into the black—we’re that deep in”).
Love and resistance
Caio Fernando Abreu’s Moldy Strawberries (Archipelago, May), appearing now in a “vivid translation” by Bruna Dantas Lobato, per PW’s starred review, was first published in Portuguese in 1982, during a different time of crisis: Brazil in the 1980s, as the AIDS epidemic and a military dictatorship battered society. Lobato says she was drawn to the author’s depiction of homosexual romance and his compassionate stories depicting love as an act of resistance: “The people were not broken. Rather, the world was broken,” she explains, “and they were showing love in a broken world.”
In “Passing Through a Great Sorrow,” told almost entirely as a phone conversation, the discussion touches on HIV/AIDS and also climate change, with one character unable to sleep because she keeps thinking about the holes in the ozone layer. The author, who died in 1996, introduces the piece with instructions that it’s “to be read to the soundtrack of Erik Satie”—one of many musical references in the book. The title story is divided into the movements of a symphony, from Prelude through Minuet and Rondo. It features a protagonist who has come to peace with himself and with the world, ending on the simplest word of hopefulness: “Yes.”
God’s Children Are Little Broken Things (A Public Space, June), Arinze Ifeakandu’s debut collection, brings the reader to Nigeria for nine queer stories of male intimacy. Ifeakandu began writing his collection in 2014, the same year that the country’s government outlawed homosexuality. His stories of love, loss, youth, and hope represent the resilience of Nigerians in the face of “government policy that is determined to frustrate you,” he says, exploring “what it means to be young and queer, young and gay, have big dreams, and live in a system that makes young people abandon their dreams for immediate needs.”
Having grown up speaking English, Igbo, and Nigerian Pidgin, Ifeakandu says he also felt it important to depict “a multilingual society where language is at the center of life, showing class, ethnicity, and the relationships between people.” He incorporates these languages, as well as Hausa and Yoruba, into the dialogues peppered throughout this collection, as in the story “The Dreamer’s Litany,” where language choice reveals the power dynamics and changing levels of intimacy between a shop owner and the wealthy businessman with whom he has an affair.
Climate change again makes an appearance, as do shifting intimacies between characters, in Kathryn Harlan’s Fruiting Bodies (Norton, June), an “enticing debut collection,” per PW’s review. “Endangered Animals” opens with the continual fires in contemporary California, and in “Algal Bloom,” a pair of adolescent girls are drawn to an off-limits lake that’s being taken over by poisonous algae. Harlan describes Fruiting Bodies as “a book about trying to figure out who you are as the world falls apart.”
As in Abreu’s Moldy Strawberries, Harlan writes about people holding onto their humanity despite a broken world. In the title story, mushrooms begin sprouting on a woman’s body, inspiring a tenderness between herself and her lover as they cut the specimens from her torso, deciphering what is edible and what could be dangerous. “It’s about experiencing joy in the strangeness of your body and taking in that joy with someone else,” Harlan says. “I was a teenager when I first discovered gay books, and it made me realize that words existed for these things.”
Harlan and other authors interviewed for this piece felt empowered to articulate their experiences thanks in part to the writers who paved a path before them. With their new collections, these authors hope to convey that same sense of hope to a new generation.
Catherine LaSota is founder of the Resort writing community and LIC Reading Series and hosts the Cabana Chats podcast on writing and community.