Five landmark LGBTQIA2S+ books

It’s Pride Month! In honour of celebrating Pride Month, I’ll be sharing some LGBTQIA2S+ book recommendations. Keep checking in each week for more recommendations.

LGBTQIA2S+ = Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, Two-Spirit, and plus (anyone who doesn’t fit into one specific category)


Landmarks are things that stand out to us and help us understand the progress we’re making on our journey.

I believe landmark books are ones that made a significant impact, that caught peoples’ attention and was able to challenge their perspective. These are the books that mark changes in our society’s literary journey, maybe as turning points or cultural flash points.

They always challenge some status quo, but also deeply connect with people, and (hopefully) help others move past some preconceived notions.

For this week, I wanted to highlight some landmark LGBTQIA2S+ books. Each of these caused a commotion, made people uncomfortable, but also helped so many people feel seen and opened doors for conversations.

These books are historically important and yet still relevant today.

I believe it’s important to recognize the impact these books had both at the time they were published and on the literary community afterwards. I want to give them their flowers.

These are also great books to gain a better insight into the context and development of LGBTQIA2S+ literature. These had a huge impact on how the literature evolved and changed, and how these themes were perceived by the cis-hetero side of the literary world.

Just remember, this is a list of only five books, it’s not exhaustive, but it’s a good place to start.

Photo by Viviana Couto Sayalero on Unsplash

Five landmark LGBTQIA2S+ books

Here’s a list of five landmark LGBTQIA2S+ books.

  1. Another Country by James Baldwin (1962)
  2. Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown (1973)
  3. Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde (1982)
  4. Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg (1993)
  5. Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters (1998)

Keep reading to find out more about each one. I’ve listed them in order of when they were published

Another Country (1962)

by James Baldwin

  • Year Published: 1962
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, lgbtqia+, literary, challenging, emotional, reflective, slow-paced

From one of the most important American novelists of the twentieth century—a novel of sexual, racial, political, artistic passions, set in Greenwich Village, Harlem, and France.

Stunning for its emotional intensity and haunting sensuality, this book depicts men and women, blacks and whites, stripped of their masks of gender and race by love and hatred at the most elemental and sublime.

Links:

Rubyfruit Jungle (1973)

by Rita Mae Brown

  • Year Published: 1973
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, lgbtqia+, emotional, reflective, medium-paced
  • Winner of the Lambda Literary Pioneer Award and the Lee Lynch Classic Book Award

A landmark coming-of-age novel that launched the career of one of this country’s most distinctive voices, Rubyfruit Jungle remains a transformative work more than forty years after its original publication. In bawdy, moving prose, Rita Mae Brown tells the story of Molly Bolt, the adoptive daughter of a dirt-poor Southern couple who boldly forges her own path in America. With her startling beauty and crackling wit, Molly finds that women are drawn to her wherever she goes—and she refuses to apologize for loving them back. This literary milestone continues to resonate with its message about being true to yourself and, against the odds, living happily ever after.

Links:

Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1982)

by Audre Lorde

  • Year Published: 1982
  • Storygraph Categories:
    nonfiction, feminism, lgbtqia+, memoir, emotional, inspiring, reflective, medium-paced
  • Created a new genre of literature called biomythography, which combines history, biography, and myth

If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.

A little black girl opens her eyes in 1930s Harlem. Around her, a heady swirl of passers-by, car horns, kerosene lamps, the stock market falling, fried bananas, tales of her parents’ native Grenada. She trudges to public school along snowy sidewalks, and finds she is tongue-tied, legally blind, left behind by her older sisters. On she stumbles through teenage hardships — suicide, abortion, hunger, a Christmas spent alone — until she emerges into happiness: an oasis of friendship in Washington Heights, an affair in a dirty factory in Connecticut, and, finally, a journey down to the heat of Mexico, discovering sex, tenderness, and suppers of hot tamales and cold milk. This is Audre Lorde’s story. It is a rapturous, life-affirming tale of independence, love, work, strength, sexuality and change, rich with poetry and fierce emotional power.

Links:

Stone Butch Blues (1993)

by Leslie Feinberg (she/her/zie/hir)

  • Year Published: 1993
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, lgbtqia+, literary, emotional, reflective, sad, medium-paced
  • Considered a cult classic in LGBTQIA2S+ communities
  • Won the 1994 American Library Association Gay & Lesbian Book Award (now the Stonewall Book Award), and finalist for the 1994 Lambda LIterary Award for Lesbian Fiction

Woman or man? This internationally acclaimed novel looks at the world through the eyes of Jess Goldberg, a masculine girl growing up in the “Ozzie and Harriet” McCarthy era and coming out as a young butch lesbian in the pre-Stonewall gay drag bars of a blue-collar town. Stone Butch Blues traces a propulsive journey, powerfully evoking history and politics while portraying an extraordinary protagonist full of longing, vulnerability, and working-class grit. This once-underground classic takes the reader on a roller-coaster ride of gender transformation and exploration and ultimately speaks to the heart of anyone who has ever suffered or gloried in being different.

Links:

Tipping the Velvet (1998)

by Sarah Waters

  • Year Published: 1998
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, historical, lgbtqia+, adventurous, emotional, medium-paced
  • Won the Lambda Literary Award for lesbian fiction in 2000 and the Betty Trask Award (for Commonwealth citizens’ first novel published before the age of 35)

Nan King, an oyster girl, is captivated by the music hall phenomenon Kitty Butler, a male impersonator extraordinaire treading the boards in Canterbury. Through a friend at the box office, Nan manages to visit all her shows and finally meet her heroine. Soon after, she becomes Kitty’s dresser and the two head for the bright lights of Leicester Square where they begin a glittering career as music-hall stars in an all-singing and dancing double act. At the same time, behind closed doors, they admit their attraction to each other and their affair begins.

Links:

Final thoughts

I hope you found something of interest in this list of books.

I’m always looking for more suggestions of books to read. I’d love to know which books you love or that you would recommend. Let me know in a comment below!

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.

A fool like him

Excerpt from Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin

Photo by Jake Hills on Unsplash

This is an excerpt from the book Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin.

Beyond Sixth Avenue the movie houses began, and now he studied the stills carefully, trying to decide which of all these theaters he should enter. He stopped at last before a gigantic, colored poster that represented a wicked woman, half undressed, leaning in a doorway, apparently quarreling with a blond man who stared wretchedly into the street. The legend above their heads was: “There’s a fool like him in every family-and a woman next door to take him over!” He decided to see this, for he felt identified with the blond young man, the fool of his family, and he wished to know more about his so blatantly unkind fate.

And so he stared at the price above the ticket-seller’s window and, showing her his coins, received the piece of paper that was charged with the power to open doors. Having once decided to enter, he did not look back at the street again for fear that one of the saints might be passing and, seeing him, might cry out his name and lay hands on him to drag him back. Не walked very quickly across the carpeted lobby, looking at nothing, and pausing only to see his ticket torn, half of it thrown into a silver box and half returned to him. And then the usherette opened the doors of this dark palace and with a flashlight held behind her took him to his seat. Not even then, having pushed past a wilderness of knees and feet to reach his designated seat, did he dare to breathe; nor, out of a last, sick hope for forgiveness, did he look at the screen. He stared at the darkness around him, and at the profiles that gradually emerged from this gloom, which was so like the gloom of Hell. He waited for this darkness to be shattered by the light of the second coming, for the ceiling to crack upward, revealing, for every eye to see, the chariots of fire on which descended a wrathful God and all the host of Heaven. He sank far down in his seat, as though his crouching might make him invisible and deny his presence there. But then he thought: “Not yet. The day of judgment is not yet,” and voices reached him, the voices no doubt of the hapless man and the evil woman, and he raised his eyes helplessly and watched the screen.

The woman was most evil. She was blonde and pasty white, and she had lived in London, which was in England, quite some time ago, judging from her clothes, and she coughed. She had a terrible disease, tuberculosis, which he had heard about. Someone in his mother’s family had died of it. She had a great many boy friends, and she smoked cigarettes and drank. When she met the young man, who was a student and who loved her very much, she was very cruel to him. She laughed at him because he was a cripple. She took his money and she went out with other men, and she lied to the student—who was certainly a fool. He limped about, looking soft and sad, and soon all John’s sympathy was given to this violent and unhappy woman. He understood her when she raged and shook her hips and threw back her head in laughter so furious that it seemed the veins of her neck would burst. She walked the cold, foggy streets, a little woman and not pretty, with a lewd, brutal swagger, saying to the whole world: “You can kiss my ass.” Nothing tamed or broke her, nothing touched her, neither kindness, nor scorn, nor hatred, nor love. She had never thought of prayer. It was unimaginable that she would ever bend her knees and come crawling along a dusty floor to anybody’s altar, weeping for forgiveness. Perhaps her sin was so extreme that it could not be forgiven; perhaps her pride was so great that she did not need forgiveness. She had fallen from that high estate which God had intended for men and women, and she made her fall glorious because it was so complete. John could not have found in his heart, had he dared to search it, any wish for her redemption. He wanted to be like her, only more powerful, more thorough, and more cruel; to make those around him, all who hurt him, suffer as she made the student suffer, and laugh in their faces when they asked pity for their pain. He would have asked no pity, and his pain was greater than theirs. Go on, girl, he whispered, as the student, facing her implacable ill will, sighed and wept. Go on, girl. One day he would talk like that, he would face them and tell them how much he hated them, how they had made him suffer, how he would pay them back!

Nevertheless, when she came to die, which she did eventually, looking more grotesque than ever, as she deserved, his thoughts were abruptly arrested, and he was chilled by the expression on her face. She seemed to stare endlessly outward and down, in the face of a wind more piercing than any she had left on earth, feeling herself propelled with speed into a kingdom where nothing could help her, neither her pride, nor her courage, nor her glorious wickedness. In the place where she was going, it was not these things that mattered but something else, for which she had no name, only a cold intimation, something that she could not alter in any degree, and that she had never thought of. She began to cry, her depraved face breaking into an infant’s grimace; and they moved away from her, leaving her dirty in a dirty room, alone to face her Maker. The scene faded out and she was gone; and though the movie went on, allowing the student to marry another girl, darker, and very sweet, but by no means so arresting, John thought of this woman and her dreadful end. Again, had the thought not been blasphemous, he would have thought that it was the Lord who had led him into this theater to show him an example of the wages of sin. The movie ended and people stirred around him; the newsreel came on, and while girls in bathing suits paraded before him and boxers growled and fought, and baseball players ran home safe and presidents and kings of countries that were only names to him moved briefly across the flickering square of light John thought of Hell, of his soul’s redemption, and struggled to find a compromise between the way that led to life everlasting and the way that ended in the pit. But there was none, for he had been raised in the truth. He could not claim, as African savages might be able to claim, that no one had brought him the gospel. His father and mother and all the saints had taught him from his earliest childhood what was the will of God. Either he arose from this theater, never to return, putting behind him the world and its pleasures, its honors, and its glories, or he remained here with the wicked and partook of their certain punishment. Yes, it was a narrow way—and John stirred in his seat, not daring to feel it God’s injustice that he must make so cruel a choice.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

Go Tell It On the Mountain – Summary

“Mountain,” Baldwin said, “is the book I had to write if I was ever going to write anything else.” 

Go Tell It On The Mountain, first published in 1953, is Baldwin’s first major work, a novel that has established itself as an American classic. With lyrical precision, psychological directness, resonating symbolic power, and a rage that is at once unrelenting and compassionate, Baldwin chronicles a fourteen-year-old boy’s discovery of the terms of his identity as the son of the minister of a storefront Pentecostal church in Harlem one Saturday in March of 1935. Baldwin’s rendering of his protagonist’s spiritual, sexual, and moral struggle of self-invention opened new possibilities in the American language and in the way Americans understand themselves.

Copyright © 1953 by James Baldwin

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

When he had read all the books

This is a quote from the book Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin.

Quote by James Baldwin, “He would enter on another day, when he had read all the books uptown, an achievement that would he felt, lend him the poise to enter any building in the world.”

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

Go Tell It On the Mountain – Summary

“Mountain,” Baldwin said, “is the book I had to write if I was ever going to write anything else.” 

Go Tell It On The Mountain, first published in 1953, is Baldwin’s first major work, a novel that has established itself as an American classic. With lyrical precision, psychological directness, resonating symbolic power, and a rage that is at once unrelenting and compassionate, Baldwin chronicles a fourteen-year-old boy’s discovery of the terms of his identity as the son of the minister of a storefront Pentecostal church in Harlem one Saturday in March of 1935. Baldwin’s rendering of his protagonist’s spiritual, sexual, and moral struggle of self-invention opened new possibilities in the American language and in the way Americans understand themselves.

Copyright © 1953 by James Baldwin

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

Classics to read for Pride Month

It’s Pride Month! In honour of celebrating Pride Month, I’ll be sharing some LGBTQIA2S+ book recommendations. Keep checking in each week for more recommendations.


Are you tired of reading classics by boring old white men? Here’s your chance to read some queer friendly classics!

Even though most classics represent heteronormative relationships, there have always been people who exist outside those norms. There’s a small portion of classics that represent people within the LGBTQIA2S+ community and I think it’s important to highlight them.

Everyone deserves to see themselves in the books they read.

It’s unfortunate that there aren’t more classics with a range of sexualities portrayed, but sadly, it’s not surprising. Especially since homosexuality has been illegal, and remains illegal in many countries around the world (source).

However, it does make me think about the many works of art that have been lost to history due to society’s limited acceptance of people.

With all the barriers authors faced to get these types of novels published, I think it makes the ones that do exist that much more valuable.

Photo by Robert Anasch on Unsplash

Five classic LGBTQIA2S+ books

Here’s a list of five classic books that represent some aspect of the LGBTQIA2S+ community.

  1. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890)
  2. Orlando by Virginia Woolf (1928)
  3. Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin (1956)
  4. Maurice by E.M. Forster (1971)
  5. The Color Purple by Alice Walker (1982)

Keep reading to find out more about each one. I’ve listed them in order of when they were published.

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)

by Oscar Wilde

  • Year Published: 1890
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, classics, horror, lgbtqia+, literary, dark, mysterious, reflective, medium-paced
  • Oscar Wilde’s only novel

Summary:

In this celebrated work Wilde forged a devastating portrait of the effects of evil and debauchery on a young aesthete in late-19th-century England. Combining elements of the Gothic horror novel and decadent French fiction, the book centers on a striking premise: As Dorian Gray sinks into a life of crime and gross sensuality, his body retains perfect youth and vigor while his recently painted portrait grows day by day into a hideous record of evil, which he must keep hidden from the world. For over a century, this mesmerizing tale of horror and suspense has enjoyed wide popularity. It ranks as one of Wilde’s most important creations and among the classic achievements of its kind.

Links:

Orlando (1928)

by Virginia Woolf

  • Year Published: 1928
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, classics, lgbtqia+, literary, magical realism, challenging, reflective, slow-paced
  • Considered a feminist classic

Summary:

As his tale begins, Orlando is a passionate young nobleman whose days are spent in rowdy revelry, filled with the colourful delights of Queen Elizabeth’s court. By the close, he will have transformed into a modern, 36-year-old woman and three centuries will have passed. Orlando will not only witness the making of history from its edge, but will find that his unique position as a woman who knows what it is to be a man will give him insight into matters of the heart.

Links:

Giovanni’s Room (1956)

by James Baldwin

  • Year Published: 1956
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, lgbtqia+, literary, emotional, reflective, sad, medium-paced
  • Considered a classic of gay literature, and helped foster discussions of homosexuality and bisexuality in mainstream readers

Summary:

Baldwin’s haunting and controversial second novel is his most sustained treatment of sexuality, and a classic of gay literature. In a 1950s Paris swarming with expatriates and characterized by dangerous liaisons and hidden violence, an American finds himself unable to repress his impulses, despite his determination to live the conventional life he envisions for himself. After meeting and proposing to a young woman, he falls into a lengthy affair with an Italian bartender and is confounded and tortured by his sexual identity as he oscillates between the two.

Examining the mystery of love and passion in an intensely imagined narrative, Baldwin creates a moving and complex story of death and desire that is revelatory in its insight.

Links:

Maurice (1971)

by E.M. Forster

  • Year Published: 1971 (written in 1914)
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, lgbtqia+, literary, emotional, reflective, medium-paced
  • Forster wrote the book in 1914 but wouldn’t let it be published until after his death.

Summary:

Maurice is heartbroken over unrequited love, which opened his heart and mind to his own sexual identity. In order to be true to himself, he goes against the grain of society’s often unspoken rules of class, wealth, and politics.

Forster understood that his homage to same-sex love, if published when he completed it in 1914, would probably end his career. Thus, Maurice languished in a drawer for fifty-seven years, the author requesting it be published only after his death (along with his stories about homosexuality later collected in The Life to Come).

Since its release in 1971, Maurice has been widely read and praised. It has been, and continues to be, adapted for major stage productions, including the 1987 Oscar-nominated film adaptation starring Hugh Grant and James Wilby.

Links:

The Color Purple (1982)

by Alice Walker

  • Year Published: 1982
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, historical, lgbtqia+, literary, emotional, reflective, slow-paced
  • Importance: Winner of the 1983 Pulitzer Prize (making Walker the first black woman to win the prize)

Summary:

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Alice Walker’s iconic modern classic is now a Penguin Book.

A powerful cultural touchstone of modern American literature, The Color Purple depicts the lives of African American women in early twentieth-century rural Georgia. Separated as girls, sisters Celie and Nettie sustain their loyalty to and hope in each other across time, distance and silence. Through a series of letters spanning twenty years, first from Celie to God, then the sisters to each other despite the unknown, the novel draws readers into its rich and memorable portrayals of Celie, Nettie, Shug Avery and Sofia and their experience.

The Color Purple broke the silence around domestic and sexual abuse, narrating the lives of women through their pain and struggle, companionship and growth, resilience and bravery. Deeply compassionate and beautifully imagined, Alice Walker’s epic carries readers on a spirit-affirming journey towards redemption and love.

Links:

Final thoughts

I’ve only listed five books here, so it’s only a small portion of the classics available. But hopefully something caught your eye.

I’m always looking for more suggestions of books to read. If you have a favourite classic that represents part of the LGBTQIA2S+ community, please feel free to share it in a comment below!

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of the book?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.

I could not share…

This is a quote from The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin.

Quote by James Baldwin, “I could not share the white man’s vision of himself for the very good reason that white men in America do not behave toward black men the way they behave toward each other.”

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

The Fire Next Time – Summary

Here is the book summary from Goodreads:

At once a powerful evocation of James Baldwin’s early life in Harlem and a disturbing examination of the consequences of racial injustice, the book is an intensely personal and provocative document from the iconic author of If Beale Street Could Talk and Go Tell It on the Mountain. It consists of two “letters,” written on the occasion of the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, that exhort Americans, both black and white, to attack the terrible legacy of racism. Described by The New York Times Book Review as “sermon, ultimatum, confession, deposition, testament, and chronicle…all presented in searing, brilliant prose,” The Fire Next Time stands as a classic of literature.

Copyright © 1963 by James Baldwin.

More details can be found on Goodreads and on Storygraph.