As you most probably know already June is Pride Month, celebrated each year to honour the 1969 Stonewall riots in Manhattan, which was a watershed moment in gay liberation in the USA. The world has moved on a long way since the brave actions of those pioneering activists to the point where now many contemporary novels, including some written by heterosexual writers, feature gay characters. Here then are some of our favourite queer novels of the past few years, and some of the classics.
Never Anyone But You by Rupert Thomson (2018)
Based on real characters from history, Rupert Thomson’s tenth novel takes as its subject a passionate love affair between two women: Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore. Pushing the boundaries of love, gender, and art, the pioneering protagonists become the centre of a fascinating story of political subversion and eventual tragedy.
Women by Chloe Caldwell (2018)
This novella is just 149 pages long, but covers a lot of emotional ground through the first-person narrative that follows a woman in her late 20s entering a relationship with another woman for the first time. It’s an intimate, painful read that is one of our favourites for 2018.
Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (2016)
The author’s son, who is gay, inspired Sebastian Barry to pen the tale of two young soldiers fighting in the brutal Indian Wars and American Civil War in the 1850s. The story takes a turn when the soldiers, who are also lovers, adopt a Native American girl. What follows is a soaring, otherworldly meditation on national identity, violence, loyalty, and unconventional families that is a pure pleasure to read.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (2012)
One of our young adult fiction favourites, this affirming book is a coming-of-age tale set in 1987 that follows the fate of two Mexican-American boys as they contend with gender, sexuality, race, and relationships. It’s rightfully received near-universal critical acclaim and is a must-read for adults and teenagers alike.
The Gentrification of the Mind by Sarah Schulman (2011)
Scholar and activist Sarah Schulman’s memoir of the AIDS crisis, between 1981 and 1996 in the US, is essential reading for anyone interested in political protest, intergenerational differences in queer activism, and what constitutes true resistance. In a time of increasing legal rights for LGBT+ people in many parts of the world, Schulman’s book reminds us that nothing is won without sacrifice—and that gains which might seem permanent can be taken away if we don’t continue to fight for them.
And a couple of the classics …
Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin (1956)
African-American writer and cultural critic James Baldwin rightly received renewed attention with the release of last year’s film, I am not Your Negro, and it’s well worth revisiting his fiction as well. This ground-breaking book, set in Paris, explores relationships between men and presents a nuanced, novel account of homosexuality and bisexuality.
Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg (1993)
Hard-hitting and painful, Leslie Feinberg’s semi-autobiographical book about a working-class butch lesbian navigating a world that visits daily violence upon her remains almost unparalleled in its empathetic exploration of gender-nonconformity. Set in 1970s America, it is nonetheless a sobering reminder of just how hard life still can be for trans*, genderqueer, and gender-nonconforming people.
Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters (1998)
It’s now two decades since Sarah Waters published her astonishing debut. It follows a young woman who starts life as an oyster-seller in Kent and comes to the exciting world of London’s dance halls in the 1890s. Her journey takes her through multiple guises—as a performer, rent-boy, and feminist activist—and is an incredibly rich, memorable coming-of-age story that deserves to be read as widely as Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. It’s Victorian London as you’ve never seen it before. (Sarah Waters is also the first interviewee of the relaunched Virago podcast, where she discusses what’s changed for LGBT+ people since she first started writing Tipping the Velvet in the mid-1990s. Listen to it here.)
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