The winners of the 23rd annual Lambda Literary Awards were announced Thursday night in a ceremony at the School of Visual Arts Theatre in New York.
The Lambda Awards started in 1988 with the goal of celebrating LGBT literature and uniting the gay literary community. Whether or not they've been successful in that is a subject for debate — this is the first year there's been both a fiction and non-fiction transgender category, and last year was the first year there was both a fiction and non-fiction category for bisexuality. As recently as 1992, the anthology Bi Any Other Name: Bisexual People Speak Out competed and lost in the Lesbian Anthology category. And in 2004, a transphobic book made the lists of finalists in the Transgender category until protests and petitions got it removed. But while the Awards can only represent a fraction of the queer writing out there and are flawed the way any other set of literary awards are flawed, they still represent queer culture getting attention and recognition, both from the community and from places such as the Wall Street Journal (blog), and that's really important.
So important that people started debating it in their acceptance speeches.
This year, several of the winners (and finalists) wrote cross-genre books that have appeal for gay audiences looking for gay books as well as for non-gay audiences looking for something to read. Michael Cunningham's By Nightfall and crime writer Val McDerimd's Fever of the Bone, for instance, were both by authors with best-selling histories, while other works, such as Eileen Myles' (awesome) Inferno, fall more on the side of experimental. This variety, however, led to a cross-acceptance-speech-and-interview debate around the place of queerness and author identity in the texts. Edward Albee, who wrote plays including "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?," told the crowd that:
“A writer who happens to be gay or lesbian must be able to transcend self. I am not a gay writer. I am a writer who happens to be gay. [...] Any definition that limits us is deplorable."
His speech was reportedly not very well-received.
"The gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender communities are in a position where they’re expected to fill a niche, to make a point of themselves. We all long for the time when nobody has to do that.”
And in an interview with the WSJ, Lea DeLaria, the host of the awards and a comedian and singer, said, "I'm looking forward to the day where it's not 'gay books,' it's just, 'books.'"
Other authors emphasized the importance of continuing to support specifically queer content. In her speech, McDermind said:
"I grew up in a small town in Scotland. There were no lesbians anywhere. They were a bit like mermaids – you knew they were out there, but they were kind of mythical. I write so we don’t have generation of wee lassies growing up in small Scottish towns asking, ‘what’s a lesbian?’"
The two (simplified) sides of the argument are this:
+ Having and supporting queer content is important because of community and invisibility and persecution and the necessity of giving recognition to queer artists, versus
+ It would be nice to have a world where you can have books with gay content or authors that are considered "books" instead of "gay books," because sometimes being a "gay author" or having explicitly "gay books" can be limiting.
What do you think?
Winners of the 23rd Annual Lambda Literary Awards
Bisexual fiction: The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet: A Novel, by Myrlin A. Hermes (Harper Perennial)
Bisexual non-fiction: Border Sexualities, Border Families in Schools, by Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli (Rowman & Littlefield)
Transgender fiction: Holding Still for as Long as Possible, by Zoe Whittall (House of Anansi Press)
Transgender non-fiction: Balancing on the Mechitza: Transgender in Jewish Community, edited by Noach Dzmura (North Atlantic Books)
Lesbian debut fiction: Sub Rosa, by Amber Dawn (Arsenal Pulp Press)
Lesbian erotica: Sometimes She Lets Me: Best Butch Femme Erotica, edited by Tristan Taormina (Cleis Press) (read Autostraddle's review)
Lesbian fiction: Inferno (a poet's novel), by Eileen Myles (OR Books) (as seen in the first Autostraddle Book Club)
Lesbian memoir: (tied between) HAMMER!: Making Movies Out of Sex and Life, by Barbara Hammer (The Feminist Press) and Wishbone: A Memoir in Fractures, by Julie Marie Wade (Colgate University Press)
Lesbian mystery: Fever of the Bone: A Novel, by Val McDermid (HarperCollins)
Lesbian poetry: The Nights Also, by Anna Swanson (Tightrope Books)
Lesbian romance: River Walker, by Cate Culpepper (Bold Strokes Books)
LGBT anthology: Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation, edited by Kate Bornstein & S. Bear Bergman (Seal Press)
LGBT young adult: Wildthorn, by Jane Eagland (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
LGBT drama: Oedipus at Palm Springs : A Five Lesbian Brothers Play, by Maureen Angelos, Dominique Dibbell, Peg Healey, & Lisa Kron (Samuel French)
LGBT non-fiction: King Kong Theory, by Virginie Despentes (The Feminist Press)
LGBT sci-fi/fantasy/horror: Diana Comet and Other Improbable Stories, by Sandra McDonald (Lethe Press)
LGBT studies: (tied between) Another Country: Queer Anti-Urbanism, by Scott Herring )New York University Press) and Assuming a Body: Transgender and Rhetorics of Materiality, by Gayle Salamon (Columbia University Press)
Gay debut fiction: Bob the Book, by David Pratt (Chelsea Station Editions)
Gay erotica: Teleny and Camille, by Jon Macy (Northwest Press)
Gay fiction: Union Atlantic, by Adam Haslett (Doubleday)
Gay memoir: Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade, by Justin Spring (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Gay mystery: Echoes, by David Lennon (Blue Spike Publishing)
Gay poetry: Pleasure, by Brian Teare (Ahsahta Press)
Gay romance: Normal Miguel, by Erik Orrantia (Cheyenne Publishing)