Pioneers, Visionaries, Safe Havens, and Glitter: The 2009 Lambda Literary Awards
I had never heard of the Violet Quill, but apparently it was a writing group consisting of seven gay men who met in the early 1980s to critique and share each other’s work as the post-Stonewall gay male writing was on the verge of locating homosexuality centrally in writing in a way it never before had been. Holleran, Picano, and White also mentioned one other surviving member of the original seven, whose name I did not catch, and I felt a pang of regret for the three who did not make it through the AIDS epidemic, and then a larger wound in my queer cultural history opened in my chest as I remembered how many writers, leaders, thinkers, politicians, activists, and visionaries this community lost through fear and ignorance. Our activism has been effective and insistent, though; let’s not forget how much we’ve done in response.
Oscar Wilde [Bookshop] is no more. I feel deep sadness recognizing that, but then I think: what did I ever buy there?... And I am absolutely the gay bookstore’s target audience, so if I am not supporting it financially, then probably the community isn’t either, and I can see how they couldn’t survive.Christopher Rice, the President of the Board for the Lambda Literary Foundation, with his slick suit and eloquent words, and who, I hear, has published four novels and is thirty (thirty!), was also impressive. His introduction to the history of queer bookstores was touching, and I found myself wondering where I would be without those safe havens as I was coming out ten years ago, and wondering what would be coming next since these bookstores have been closing in droves.
The Oscar Wilde Bookshop in New York City closed its doors just a few months ago, and while I’m sure I heard about it at some point, it hadn’t really hit me that it would actually happen—seems like some anonymous patron often comes along at the last minute to be certain that things like this will stay open. But no: Oscar Wilde is no more. I feel deep sadness, recognizing that, but then I think: what did I ever buy there? I have definitely visited, but I didn’t spend my free nights stopping by just to see how the staff had rearranged the featured tables. And I am absolutely the gay bookstore’s target audience, so if I am not supporting it financially, then probably the community isn’t either, and I can see how they couldn’t survive. As much as I whine and lament about the closing of independent, feminist, and queer bookstores, I have to admit that they do not serve the purpose in my life that they used to. This just reminded me that things are changing, in this digital day and age, and I wondered what the e-books and audio books and Kindles and blogs will do when bookstores are all huge personality-less chain stores. How will we connect with our authors? How will we show them how much we love their work? How will we create the opportunities to get together with other fans and readers, to discuss that amazing book we just read? I kept thinking: things are changing, and I want to be a part of where they go.
Here’s a few more fantastic moments from the evening: I loved seeing James Allen Hall share the stage—and the award for Best Gay Poetry—with his former graduate poetry teacher Mark Doty (and fueled my big ol’ straight crush on Doty. I even got him to take his shirt off and show me his tattoo once, after hearing him read one of his tattoo poems). Nicole Kimberling, who won the best LGBT Sci-fi/Fantasy/Horror category for her book Turnskin, left the stage with her very own lightsaber—in addition to her Lammy. Jenny Block, author of Open: Love, Sex and Life in an Open Marriage (Seal Press) took her time getting to the stage, then recounted that she was walking slowly because she wore her “big-girl shoes,” and of course I made a note that I had to get a glimpse of her fabulous heels later (oh they were hottt). Karen Kallmaker was cute and excited for her two awards, and I chuckled at everything Kate Clinton said. The host of the evening, Scott Nevins, made jokes about American Idol, Paula Abdul, Fantasia, Hugh Jackman and the Oscars, and Cher, and only got a sprinkle of laughter. I thought, doesn’t he know he’s talking to a big room full of bookworms? Though he did get a rise when he said, “I’m so excited and SO gay that I combust into a ball of glitter!” (Maybe just out of me. I will definitely be borrowing that line.)
It isn’t often that I’m in an auditorium full of literary homosexuals, and while the audience was very white and definitely male-dominated, I didn’t feel out of place. I haven’t read nearly as many of the titles as I’d like to, but here are a few that I have gotten my hands on:
Open: Love, Sex and Life in an Open Marriage by Jenny Block
Winner in the Bisexual category
I was hooked on this memoir from the introduction. Block has a careful fairy-tale that she dissects and elaborates upon throughout the entire book, and I loved that structure. I was also taken with how her marriage evolved, how she came to some new understandings about her own sexuality, and how she negotiated openness in a productive and respectful way with her husband. It was an easy breezy read, not particularly radical, but interesting, and very normalizing of open relationships.
Intersex (For Lack of a Better Word) by Thea Hillman
(Manic D Press)
Winner in the Transgender category
I devoured this book. I couldn’t put it down. Hillman tells her own story of growing up with various hormone treatments from age four, coming to a queer identity, and, eventually, discovering, uncovering, and creating her own intersex identity as well. Her writing and stories are so familiar, her language so similar to mine and so relatable, I feel like I know her and I’m surprised we don’t go have beers on the weekends. Hillman is also a performance poet, which comes through clearly in many of her pieces, both the cadence and rhythm and specifically crafted rise-and-fall of her storytelling and also in the length of her pieces, many of which are just about a thousand words. Highly recommended.
Lipstick on Her Collar, edited by Sacchi Green and Rakelle Valencia
(Pretty Things Press)
Finalist in the Lesbian Erotica category
Smut! Yes, now we’re talking. This collection includes a wide range of queer erotica writers, many names that I recognize. Three of the stories are butch/femme, and stand out in my memory: “Kingdom Cum” by Scarlett French, about a femme seducing a drag king after a drag show; “Femme Princess” by Ellen Tevault, about a femme in a bed death relationship who answers a butch’s personal ad and reawakens her sexual desire, seeming to uncover her own gender fetish at the same time; and “Now and Then” by Barrett Bonden, about a butch’s return to her long-term femme lover, which ranges from quite smutty and dirty (especially in the dialogue: “Get up on the bed, slut. Hands and knees, ass in the air.”) to very sweet and long-term lesbionic. Read my full review of this book over on my own site, Sugarbutch Chronicles.
Transgender History by Susan Stryker
Finalist in the Transgender category
A quick-and-dirty history of the transgender movement, including many introductory terms, language, semantics, and context to the evolution. Very clear, concise, laid out plainly and in ways that are palatable and accurate. Impressive. I want to read more books from Seal Press’s new Seal Studies category, which are providing context and education about feminism and activist topics.
And now, I’ll leave you with the full list of this year’s 2009 Lambda Literary Award recipients. Pick your favorite genre and read at least one, will you? Even if you aren’t queer, these works are beautiful, radical, literary, human, and worth reading.
2009 Lambda Literary Award WINNERS
- BISEXUAL: Open, Jenny Block, Seal Press
- TRANSGENDER: Intersex (For Lack of a Better Word), Thea Hillman, Manic D Press
- LGBT ANTHOLOGIES: Our Caribbean, edited by Thomas Glave, Duke University Press
- LGBT CHILDRENS/YOUNG ADULT: Out of the Pocket, Bill Konigsberg, Dutton
- LGBT DRAMA: The Second Coming of Joan of Arc, Carolyn Gage, Outskirts Press
- LGBT NONFICTION: Loving The Difficult, Jane Rule, Hedgerow Press
- LGBT SCI-FI/FANTASY/HORROR: Turnskin, Nicole Kimberling, Blind Eye Books
- LGBT STUDIES: Criminal Intimacy: Prison and the Uneven History of Modern American Sexuality, Regina Kunzel, The University of Chicago Press
- LESBIAN DEBUT FICTION: The Bruise, Magdalena Zurawski, Fiction Collective Two/University of Alabama Press
- LESBIAN EROTICA: In Deep Waters 2: Cruising the Strip, Radclyffe and Karin Kallmaker, Bold Strokes Books
- LESBIAN FICTION (a tie!): The Sealed Letter, Emma Donoghue, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and All the Pretty Girls, Chandra Mayor, Conundrum Press
- LESBIAN MEMOIR/BIOGRAPHY: Sex Talks to Girls: A Memoir, Maureen Seaton, University of Wisconsin Press
- LESBIAN MYSTERY: Whacked, Josie Gordon, Bella Books
- LESBIAN POETRY: love belongs to those who do the feeling, Judy Grahn, Red Hen Press
- LESBIAN ROMANCE: The Kiss That Counted, Karin Kallmaker, Bella Books
- GAY DEBUT FICTION: Finlater, Shawn Ruff, Quote Editions
- GAY EROTICA: Best Gay Erotica 2009, Richard Labonte & James Lear, Cleis Press
- GAY FICTION: We Disappear, Scott Heim, Harper Perennial
- GAY MEMOIR/BIOGRAPHY: Edward Carpenter: A Life of Liberty and Love, Sheila Rowbotham, Verso Books
- GAY MYSTERY: First You Fall, Scott Sherman, Alyson Books
- GAY POETRY (a tie!): Fire to Fire, Mark Doty, Harper and Now You're the Enemy, James Allen Hall, Univ. of Arkansas Press
- GAY ROMANCE: Got 'Til It's Gone, Larry Duplechan, Arsenal Pulp Press
For the complete list of finalists, check the Lambda Literary Foundation website.