In celebration of LGBT+ History Month (1 – 28 February), Molly-Rose Medhurst from Girl Up Norwich has compiled some of her must-reads by LGBT+ writers. The leaders of Girl Up Norwich will be posting reviews of these texts on their blog as the year continues.
Molly is currently undergoing a paid internship at the National Centre for Writing.
LGBT+ History Month is the annual celebration of LGBT+ history! This spans from lesbian and gay history to asexual, gender non-conforming and queer history.
The tradition began in the US in 1994, but the UK celebration was founded in 2004 by educators and activists Sue Sanders and Paul Patrick. In the UK, it takes place in February every year to commemorate the abolition of Section 28 in 2003. Section 28 was put in place by the Conservative government and stated that local authorities were not allowed to ‘intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality’. This was extremely detrimental to the community, meaning that none of their history or existences could be taught in schools, or publicised – this was alongside the increased persecution of these groups by law enforcement. It is important to remember these histories, learn from them and continue to fight for LGBT+ liberation!
Here are my pick of some must read books by LGBT+ writers.
Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
Penguin Random House
This collection of essays is sensational. Describing herself as ‘Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet’ Audre Lorde is, in my opinion, one of the most essential and influential writers of all time. This collection of essays and speeches highlights her tremendous work fighting against misogyny, homophobia and racism, amongst other interrelated issues such as ageism.
Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith
Chatto & Windus
I was organising a reading event with my uni when I first heard Danez Smith’s poetry, specifically ‘The 17-Year-Old & the Gay Bar.’ The wonderful quality poetry has when read aloud, along with the way the poem was elegantly strung together, really stuck with me afterwards.
The power of Smith’s writing and the impact it leaves on you sets them up to be a new classic. Their collection of poems lingers on systemic racism, a HIV positive diagnosis and, centrally, imagines an afterlife of hope and prosperity for black men shot by police.
Life as a Unicorn: A Journey from Shame to Pride and Everything in Between by Amrou Al-Kadhi
An incredible drag queen, actor, writer and filmmaker, this is Al-Kadhi’s debut novel and it is being developed into a TV show. From a conservative British-Iraqi background, this memoir documents their journey to becoming a queer drag queen performer.
Russell T Davies remarks that ‘This book is as rare, fabulous and beautiful as the creature it is named for. A masterpiece of psychology, a major study of Islam and a definitive study of drag, it made me cry, it made me rage and it made me hoot.’
The Clothesline Swing by Ahmad Danny Ramadan
Danny Ramadan is a Syrian-Canadian author, public speaker and LGBTQ-Refugee activist. I came across him through his phenomenal activist work, and then looked into the pieces he has had published. He has raised over $200,000 in funds for LGBTQ-identifying refugees.
This book, inspired by Arabian tales of One Thousand and One Nights, tells the story of two lovers who share their memory of Syria, while the figure of Death presides over them. Phillip Gambone commented that ‘Ramadan’s juxtaposition of the rawness of history and the dreamscapes of fantasy – his imaginative melange of stories, voices, and timeframes – is daring and deftly handled. Through the storyteller-narrator, the author succeeds in rescuing some of Syria’s voiceless from oblivion…Ramadan’s talent as a young writer is beautifully evident in this debut novel.’
Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden
Maya from Girl Up recommended this intriguing book from T Kira Madden, a renowned writer, photographer and amateur magician. I can’t wait to read it. As a young biracial woman, I love reading about the experiences of other biracial people, as their contemplations on identity, the boundaries between birthplace and heritage, are often explored in new and intriguing ways.
This memoir about Madden’s coming to age as a queer, biracial teenager in Florida has been heralded by the New York Times Book Review as ‘a vast, arresting story. It’s a story of loving addicts. Of a queer sexual awakening. Of inhabiting a female body in America. Of biracial identity. Of obsessive, envy-fueled friendships. Of assault. It’s a eulogy and a love song. It’s about girls and the women they become. And it’s all compulsively readable, not just because of those big themes, but because of the embodied, needle-fine moments that make the stories sing.’
Nepantla: Queer Poets of Colour by Christopher Soto
Nepantla is the first major literary anthology for queer poets of colour. How groundbreaking, and also how tragic that there aren’t more of this kind! This is the print edition of an amazing online anthology of poems by Christopher Soto and Lambda Literary Foundation, founded in 2014. It features poetry by queer poets of colour throughout U.S. history, including Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, June Jordan, Ocean Vuong, Danez Smith, Joshua Jennifer Espinoza, Robin Coste Lewis, etc.
Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez
Paul Mendez’s first book has had a tremendous reception and I can’t count the number of times people have recommended this book to me over the past year! This intersectional story details the lives of Jesse McCarthy, dealing with his racial and sexual identities and reflecting on the Windrush Generation.
In his review, Andrew McMillan said this book was ‘Proof once more there can be no discussion of English history that isn’t also a discussion of blackness, queerness and class’ – and I couldn’t agree more!
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
Faber & Faber
‘An extraordinarily powerful and very different kind of physical and psychological migration story.’ – Edwidge Danticat, The New Yorker
Self-described as a ‘writer and artist based in liminal spaces’, Freshwater is about a person born ‘with one foot on the other side’. I have read extracts from this stunning work of art by Akwaeke Emezi and have been yearning to read more ever since. Akwaeke is a Nigerian, trans non-binary person and this particular work is autobiographical to some extent, dealing with the different spirits overwhelming the protagonist’s body. I am so excited to continue reading!
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
Quickly rising to worldwide success, Ocean Vuong’s powerful book centres on the relationship between a son and a mother who can’t read. This is a book I’ve had on my shelf for a little while now and I’m really excited to sit down one day soon and read it in its entirety, as so many people have pointed me towards this innovative Vietnamese-American writer!
‘Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous confirms him as a master of inventive language that has its roots in the spoken word but reaches shimmering heights of lyricism, too.’ – Joseph O’Connor, Sunday Independent
Modern HERstory by Blair Imani
Ten Speed Press
Blair Imani is a prolific black Muslim activist, someone who I’ve been following for a little while. She is an educator and activist, who, amongst her other roles, creates really informative, short clips debunking myths and explaining complicated concepts to her followers in her SmarterinSeconds videos. This book is her salute to 70 influential women, girls and nonbinary people! She is particularly looking at people who have enacted, or continue to enact, social change, as these voices are too often overlooked.
Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity by Riley Snorton
University of Minnesota Press
This is exactly the kind of history I love to read about! Thinking about the intersection between anti-black racism and transphobia – reflecting on the past couple of centuries of American society and how enforcing the gender binary is another way to sustain racism – is so, so interesting to me. I would also recommend the documentary Disclosure on Netflix to anybody who has access to that platform.
The Tradition by Jericho Brown
Copper Canyon Press/Pan Macmillan
Maya from Girl Up chose this beautiful, thought-provoking poetry collection. I enjoy writing, but I generally stick to writing prose, so the feat of inventing a poetic form, the duplex – a combination of the sonnet, the ghazal and the blues – seems all the more impressive to me.
Claudia Rankine said that ‘to read Jericho Brown’s poems is to encounter devastating genius.’
It’s vital that we commemorate LGBT+ history all year long, as often these wonderful, complex, interweaving histories are the least well known, obscured from mainstream teaching. Besides, these authors and their works deserve recognition for how beautiful their work is!