We’re getting better at recognizing diversity in literature (and other areas of culture) but we still have a long way to go. To steer some attention in the right direction – especially during Pride Month, here are some great reads to include in your TBR.
1. Out East: Memoir of a Montauk Summer by John Glynn
A gripping, unforgettable portrait of life in a Montauk summer house – a debut memoir of first love, identity and self-discovery among a group of friends who became family.
I love memoirs and I especially love memoirs that are honest and vulnerable. Glynn’s debut is impressive and inspiring and deserves a top spot on this list.
2. Paul Takes The Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor
It’s 1993 and Paul Polydoris tends bar at the only gay club in a university town thrumming with politics and partying. He studies queer theory, has a dyke best friend, makes zines, and is a flâneur with a rich dating life. But Paul’s also got a secret: he’s a shapeshifter.
Another debut novel that’s striking and beautiful in its own right. Drawing on history and the naughts, Lawlor makes a wonderful story full of nostalgia and ever-present politics.
3. Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden
Acclaimed literary essayist T Kira Madden’s raw and redemptive debut memoir is about coming of age and reckoning with desire as a queer, biracial teenager amidst the fierce contradictions of Boca Raton, Florida, a place where she found cult-like privilege, shocking racial disparities, rampant white-collar crime, and powerfully destructive standards of beauty hiding in plain sight.
I can’t speak to this one personally but it has been recommended to me time and time again. Covering a wide range of obstacles and oppressions, Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls seems to have the potential to touch everyone who reads it.
4. Under the Udala Trees by Chinela Okparanta
Inspired by Nigeria’s folktales and its war, Under the Udala Trees is a deeply searching, powerful debut about the dangers of living and loving openly.
If its various awards aren’t meaningful enough for you, Under the Udala Trees is a book that will carry its own weight. It’s a story that shows how universal love, war, and hope are and offers a unique perspective many of us in the states have yet to be exposed to.
5. Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, and the Fight for Trans Equality by Sarah McBride
Tomorrow Will Be Different is a timely and captivating memoir about gender identity set against the backdrop of the transgender equality movement.
McBride’s background is far beyond writing. As the first transgender person to speak at the DNC, she’s an activist and political figure with many accomplishments under her already. Tomorrow Will Be Different provides insight into her personal journey of identity and fight for equality.
6. On Being Different: What It Means to Be a Homosexual by Merle Miller
Originally published in 1971, Merle Miller’s On Being Different is a pioneering and thought-provoking book about being homosexual in the United States.
Miller may be most known for his presidential biographies and years as a war correspondent. But he also made a name for himself as a leader of the gay rights movement. On Being Different is the result of Miller’s 1971 coming-out-article and demonstrates the hard years of effort that have been given to a long battle for basic human rights.
7. Radical Hope: Letters of Love and Dissent in Dangerous Times edited by Carolina de Robertis
Radical Hope addresses the tumult and danger of these times, from the perspective of a range of leading novelists, poets, journalists, and political thinkers.
I have a love/hate relationship with anthologies but there’s so much to love about Radical Hope. (1) It almost reads like a novel. (2) It covers a range of social issues. (3) It features many or the greatest writers of our time. Win-win-win.
8. The Stonewall Reader from The New York Public Library
For the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, an anthology chronicling the tumultuous fight for LGBTQ rights in the 1960s and the activists who spearheaded it, with a foreword by Edmund White.
Released last year, The Stonewall Reader is a wonderful collection of first-hand stories and articles from those who experienced the Stonewall uprising and the years surrounding it. It demonstrates how important media representation and free press is while highlighting one of the most defining moments in LGBTQ history.
9. The Light Years by Chris Rush
The Light Years is a joyous and defiant coming-of-age memoir set during one of the most turbulent times in American history. It’s a prayer for vanished friends, an odyssey signposted with broken and extraordinary people. It transcends one boy’s story to perfectly illustrate the slow slide from the optimism of the 1960s into the darker and more sinister 1970s.
Chris Rush has demonstrated his artistry in many mediums. His memoir, The Light Years, may be my favorite – but I’m definitely biased.
10. A People’s History of Heaven by Mathangi Subramanian
In Heaven, a ramshackle slum in Bangalore, India, five girls forge an unbreakable bond. Muslim, Christian, and Hindu; queer and straight; they love and accept one another unconditionally.
Subramanian gives an incredible story that is both driven by and greater than the identities of its characters. The grit and admirability of women who refuse the be silenced or hidden is one of my favorite things to find in books.
11. Asegi Stories: Cherokee Queer and Two-Spirit Memory by Qwo-Li Driskill
In Cherokee “Asegi udanto” refers to people who either fall outside of men’s and women’s roles or who mix men’s and women’s roles. “Asegi”, which translates as “strange,” is also used by some Cherokees as a term similar to “queer.” For author Qwo-Li Driskill, asegi provides a means by which to reread Cherokee history in order to listen for those stories rendered “strange” by colonial heteropatriarchy.
Driskill’s work is truly unique. There is no piece of literature that I could compare to Asegi Stories and that’s the beauty of it. There’s a deep analysis of gender and sexuality in Cherokee culture that you just can’t find anywhere else.
12. Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States by Samantha Allen
A transgender reporter’s narrative tour through the surprisingly vibrant queer communities sprouting up in red states, offering a vision of a stronger, more human America.
Samantha Allen walks her talk and that’s what I really like about her. A voice that comes from, represents, and speaks to an often overlooked people in the Southern United States. Real Queer America tells the stories that are hard to find outside of America’s coastal cities.
13. They Both Die At The End by Adam Silvera
On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today. Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day.
Simultaneously heart-warming and depressing, They Both Die At The End is a thought-provoking novel that drives home some of the most intriguing elements of life. Silvera does a phenomenal job of making YA literature that’s fitting for all.
14. We Are Everywhere: Protest, Power, and Pride in the History of Queer Liberation by Matthew Reimer and Leighton Brown
A rich and sweeping photographic history of the Queer Liberation Movement, from the creators and curators of the massively popular Instagram account @lgbt_history, released in time for the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.
We Are Everywhere is a perfect blend of imagery and literature. It’s a beautiful starting point for learning about LGBTQ history while bucking the notions many people have about what it means to be queer in America. An extra bonus: the book includes many of the long-gone and still-fighting leaders that deserve recognition for their activism.
15. Beijing Comrades by Bei Tong
Beijing Comrades is the story of a tumultuous love affair set against the sociopolitical unrest of late-eighties China.
Bei Tong is a pseudonym for an author whose identity is still being debated; though whoever the pen-person is, they have reason to protect their identity. Originally published on an underground gay website in China, Beijing Comrades criticizes China’s totalitarian government and is an outright defiance of the hush-hush rule China’s society is forced to hold around homosexuality.
I also want to provide some more purchasing options for these books. In honor of PRIDE Month, here is a list of LGBTQ+ Bookstores that have online ordering options:
All photos retrieved from goodreads.com
Synopsis of Out East retrieved from johnglynn.net
Synopsis of Paul Take the Form of a Mortal Girl retrieved from anderlawlor.com
Synopsis of Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls retrieved from tkiramadden.com
Synopsis of Under the Udala Trees, On Being Different, The Stonewall Reader, The Light Years, Real Queer America, We Are Everywhere, and Beijing Comrades retrieved from Amazon
Synopsis of Tomorrow Will Be Different retrieved from sarahmcbride.com
Synopsis of Radical Hope retrieved from carolinaderobertis.com
Synopsis of A People’s History of Heaven retrieved from mathangisubramanian.com
Synopsis of They Both Die At The End by adamsilvera.com