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Pioneers, Visionaries, Safe Havens, and Glitter: The 2009 Lambda Literary Awards

The 21st annual Lambda Literary Awards returned to New York City for the 2009 ceremony at the New School for Graduate Studies in midtown Manhattan, after presenting last year’s awards in Los Angeles. It seems appropriate that the awards would come of legal drinking age in Gotham, amidst solid grey skies and a drizzle, where writers stoop over bourbon in dark East Village bars. Writerly brooding just isn’t the same on the beach with bikinis and sunshine.

The Awards began in 1988, and though the specific categories have evolved since then, with the addition of bisexual and transgender categories and, eventually, the fizzling of the AIDS-related category, the Awards reflect the movements of the queer community for the past twenty years, and the best of the best new and seasoned authors are recognized and awarded. It is one of my life-goals to read all the winners—at least for the lesbian fiction category, if not all the others.

As someone whose life was changed and saved by queer books, I was thrilled to be attending the awards ceremony. I sat in the back so I could see the authors jump up when their name was announced after “and the winner is…” so I could see their lovers’ and friends’ faces as they hugged, clapped their hands, kissed on the cheek. And then the long walk to the stage and the acceptance speech: “I know it’s cliché to say that I didn’t prepare anything because I didn’t expect to win, but it’s true!”

Highlights of the evening included Judy Grahn’s win in the Best Lesbian Poetry category for her book love belongs to those who do the feeling (Red Hen Press); her significant work deserves recognition and her acceptance was elegant. I understand her book is a bit of a retrospective, including many poems from many different publications, and though I haven’t read it I look forward to picking it up and becoming immersed in her illustrious career.

This year’s Pioneer Awards were given out to four individuals: Leslie Feinberg, grassroots activist and trans advocate; and Violet Quill members Andrew Holleran, Felice Picano, and Edmund White. From the website: “The Lambda Literary Foundation bestows its Pioneer Award on those individuals who have broken new ground in the field of LGBT literature and publishing. Established in 1995, the Award honors those who, through their achievements and passionate commitment, have contributed to the LGBT literary community in significant and tangible ways: through works of literature, or by establishing publishing houses, publications, archives, bookstores, or other institutions.”

Feinberg is perhaps best known for hir novel Stone Butch Blues (1993, Firebrand Books), a groundbreaking depiction of gender struggles in the bar culture of the 1960s, but should not be overlooked for hir work in activism. From hir bio: “Feinberg is a national leader of Workers World Party, and a managing editor of Workers World newspaper. As a trade unionist, anti-racist and socialist, Feinberg also organizes to build strong bonds of unity between political and social movements in defense of oppressed nationalities, women, disabled, and the working-class movement as a whole.” A friend (hir agent?) read the speech Feinberg had written, as Feinberg hirself is struggling with a chronic illness and is not particularly mobile—indeed, in Feinberg’s introduction, someone said that Minnie Bruce Pratt, Feinberg’s partner, acknowledged that this acceptance speech may be one of the last things Feinberg writes. But in Feinberg’s speech, ze mentioned that hir 60th birthday is coming up in September (and that we were all invited—road trip!). Certainly there is more time for hir to write? Oh I hope so. Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue (Beacon), a collection of Feinberg’s speeches on gender and activism, had a deep effect on me, and I consider Feinberg a grand mentor and influence.

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Oh dear, I'm sorry to hear

Oh dear, I'm sorry to hear that Feinberg is so ill; ze totally deserved the award, in my opinion. (Did you pick that picture of hir? Ze looks stunning in that suit.)

Great reporting -- thanks for passing on this fabulous line: “I’m so excited and SO gay that I combust into a ball of glitter!"

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Sinclair Sexsmith
June 19th, 2009
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Sinclair Sexsmith is a sadistic kinky queer butch top who writes about sex, gender, and relationship adventures at Sugarbutch Chronicles. He partners with femmes and gets off on intentional...