80 of the Best Queer, Lesbian and Bisexual Books of the Decade

It sure has been a decade! As far as the queer literary world goes, it’s seen a lot of change! Mainstream publishing has become much more open to queer stories, especially perhaps in YA, and the drive and determination of indie and queer publishing projects has meant that less saleable work that is sometimes more resonant to our lives has been able to make it to our shelves. Queer memoir and nonfiction work has broken into the general zeitgeist outside of just coming out stories, and queer and trans poets have continued to challenge and transform poetry from the inside out. Please share everything I’ve missed here in the comments, especially in graphic novels and YA, genres I am tragically not very knowledgeable about! What have you read? What are you adding to your list? What have we not talked about enough? Let’s get into it!

80 of the Best Queer, Lesbian and Bisexual Books of the Decade

  1. The Best Queer Fiction of the Decade
  2. The Best Queer Memoir of the Decade
  3. The Best Queer Nonfiction of the Decade
  4. The Best Queer Poetry of the Decade

Fiction

Huntress, Malinda Lo (2011)

Nature is out of balance in the human world. The sun hasn’t shone in years, and crops are failing. Worse yet, strange and hostile creatures have begun to appear. The people’s survival hangs in the balance.

To solve the crisis, the oracle stones are cast, and Kaede and Taisin, two seventeen-year-old girls, are picked to go on a dangerous and unheard-of journey to Tanlili, the city of the Fairy Queen. Taisin is a sage, thrumming with magic, and Kaede is of the earth, without a speck of the otherworldly. And yet the two girls’ destinies are drawn together during the mission. As members of their party succumb to unearthly attacks and fairy tricks, the two come to rely on each other and even begin to fall in love. But the Kingdom needs only one huntress to save it, and what it takes could tear Kaede and Taisin apart forever.

Read our interview with Malinda Lo here!

The Summer We Got Free, Mia McKenzie (2012)

At one time a wild young girl and a brilliant artist, Ava Delaney changes dramatically after a violent event that rocks her entire family. Once loved and respected in their community and in their church, they are ostracized by their neighbors, led by their church leader, and a seventeen-year feud between the Delaneys and the church ensues. Ava and her family are displaced from the community even as they continue to live within it, trapped inside their creaky, shadowy old house. When a mysterious woman arrives unexpectedly for a visit, her presence stirs up the past and ghosts and other restless things begin to emerge. And something is reignited in Ava: the indifferent woman she has become begins to give way to the wild girl, and the passionate artist, she used to be. But not without a struggle that threatens her well-being and, ultimately, her life.

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Read our review of The Summer We Got Free here!

Nevada, Imogen Binnie (2013)

Nevada is the darkly comedic story of Maria Griffiths, a young trans woman living in New York City and trying to stay true to her punk values while working retail. When she finds out her girlfriend has lied to her, the world she thought she’d carefully built for herself begins to unravel, and Maria sets out on a journey that will most certainly change her forever.

Miseducation of Cameron Post, Em Danforth (2013)

The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a stunning and provocative literary debut that was named to numerous best of the year lists. When Cameron Post’s parents die suddenly in a car crash, her shocking first thought is relief. Relief they’ll never know that, hours earlier, she had been kissing a girl. But that relief doesn’t last, and Cam is forced to move in with her conservative aunt Ruth and her well-intentioned but hopelessly old-fashioned grandmother. She knows that from this point on, her life will forever be different. Survival in Miles City, Montana, means blending in and leaving well enough alone, and Cam becomes an expert at both. Then Coley Talor moves to town. Beautiful, pickup-driving Coley is a perfect cowgirl with the perfect boyfriend to match. She and Cam forge an unexpected and intense friendship, one that seems to leave room for something more to emerge. But just as that starts to seem like a real possibility, Aunt Ruth takes drastic action to “fix” her niece, bringing Cam face-to-face with the cost of denying her true self—even if she’s not quite sure who that is.

Read everything we’ve written about The Miseducation of Cameron Post!

Women, Chloe Caldwell (2014)

WOMEN is a novella about falling in love with a woman, about loving women, about being a woman. It is a novella about a mother and a daughter. A novella about female friendships that blur the line of romance. A novella about a woman who, after having her first sexual relationship with a woman, goes on a series of (comical) OK Cupid dates with other women. A novella about a woman in her twenties who doesn’t know if she’s gay or straight or bi. A novella about falling in love and having your heart broken and figuring out what to do next. The book is an urgent recall of heartbreak, of a stark identity in crisis.

He Mele a Hilo, Ryka Aoki (2014)

Something strange is happening in Hilo. Noleani Choi’s new show about the life of Jesus Christ told through hula dance has everyone, especially her halau, wondering what she could possibly be thinking. Rumors circulate about a rich guy from the mainland, and the dancers and their friends must reckon with what is really hula, who is Hawaiian enough, and why each of them wants to dance. On one beautiful island, we discover that loving other people in spite of their flaws might just begin with being true to our own selves.

The Paying Guests, Sarah Waters (2014)

It is 1922, and London is tense. Ex-servicemen are disillusioned; the out-of-work and the hungry are demanding change. And in South London, in a genteel Camberwell villa—a large, silent house now bereft of brothers, husband, and even servants—life is about to be transformed as impoverished widow Mrs. Wray and her spinster daughter, Frances, are obliged to take in lodgers.

With the arrival of Lilian and Leonard Barber, a modern young couple of the “clerk class,” the routines of the house will be shaken up in unexpected ways. Little do the Wrays know just how profoundly their new tenants will alter the course of Frances’s life—or, as passions mount and frustration gathers, how far-reaching, and how devastating, the disturbances will be.

Under the Udala Trees, Chinelo Okparanta (2016)

Ijeoma comes of age as her nation does; born before independence, she is eleven when civil war breaks out in the young republic of Nigeria. Sent away to safety, she meets another displaced child and they, star-crossed, fall in love. They are from different ethnic communities. They are also both girls. When their love is discovered, Ijeoma learns that she will have to hide this part of herself. But there is a cost to living inside a lie.

Inferno: A Poet’s Novel, Eileen Myles (2016)

From its beginning—“My English professor’s ass was so beautiful.”—to its end—“You can actually learn to have grace. And that’s heaven.”—poet, essayist and performer Eileen Myles’ chronicle transmits an energy and vividness that will not soon leave its readers. Her story of a young female writer, discovering both her sexuality and her own creative drive in the meditative and raucous environment that was New York City in its punk and indie heyday, is engrossing, poignant, and funny. This is a voice from the underground that redefines the meaning of the word.

Read our book club discussion on Inferno!

Small Beauty, Jia Qing Wilson-Yang (2016)

SMALL BEAUTY tells the story of Mei, a mixed race trans woman managing the death of her cousin, the ways she contorts to navigate racism and transphobia, and her desire for community as she takes an opportunity to leave the city and revisit a town from her family’s past, where she discovers queer family history while parsing through her own anger and trauma. Cycling through time, points of view, and rural and city life, the novel introduces us to Mei’s community in fictional Dundurn and Herbertsville, loosely based on Southern Ontario places: Annette and Connie, other Asian trans women from the drop-ins; Sandy, Mei’s older cousin and constant (if aggressive) support; Diane, an older lesbian with a pick-up and secret links to Mei’s blood family; and Nelson, a presence lost before found, whose story is told in pictures sewn into a suitcase. Interspersed with one culminating night-time lake scene, the book carries us through these stories and towards their completion as the frustrating, necessary web that keeps Mei attached to the world.

Read our review of Small Beauty!

Juliet Takes a Breath, Gabby Rivera (2016)

“Even if Holden Caulfield was born in the Bronx in the 1980s, he could never be this awesome.” Inga Muscio, author of Cunt Juliet Milagros Palante is leaving the Bronx and headed to Portland, Oregon. She just came out to her family and isn’t sure if her mom will ever speak to her again. But Juliet has a plan, sort of, one that’s going to help her figure out this whole “Puerto Rican lesbian” thing. She’s interning with the author of her favorite book: Harlowe Brisbane, the ultimate authority on feminism, women’s bodies, and other gay-sounding stuff. Will Juliet be able to figure out her life over the course of one magical summer? Is that even possible? Or is she running away from all the problems that seem too big to handle? With more questions than answers, Juliet takes on Portland, Harlowe, and most importantly, herself.

Read everything we’ve written about Juliet Takes a Breath!

Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars, Kai Cheng Thom (2016)

FIERCE FEMMES AND NOTORIOUS LIARS: A DANGEROUS TRANS GIRL’S CONFABULOUS MEMOIR is the highly sensational, ultra-exciting, sort-of true coming-of-age story of a young Asian trans girl, pathological liar, and kung-fu expert who runs away from her parents’ abusive home in a rainy city called Gloom. Striking off on her own, she finds her true family in a group of larger-than-life trans femmes who live in a mysterious pleasure district known only as the Street of Miracles. Under the wings of this fierce and fabulous flock, the protagonist blossoms into the woman she has always dreamed of being, with a little help from the unscrupulous Doctor Crocodile. When one of their number is brutally murdered, she joins her sisters in forming a vigilante gang to fight back against the transphobes, violent johns, and cops that stalk the Street of Miracles. But when things go terribly wrong, she must find the truth within herself in order to stop the violence and discover what it really means to grow up and find your family.

Read our review of Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars!

We Were Witches, Ariel Gore (2017)

Wryly riffing on feminist literary tropes, We Were Witches documents the survival of a demonized single mother. She’s beset by custody disputes, homophobia, and America’s ever-present obsession with shaming strange women into passive citizenship. But even as the narrator struggles to graduate―often the triumphant climax of a dramatic plot―a question uncomfortably lingers. If you’re dealing with precarious parenthood, queer identity, and debt, what is the true narrative shape of your experience?

Read our interview with Ariel Gore about the book!

Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl, Andrea Lawlor (2017)

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. Oscillating wildly from Riot Grrrl to leather cub, Women’s Studies major to trade, Paul transforms his body at will in a series of adventures that take him from Iowa City to Boystown to Provincetown and finally to San Francisco–a journey through the deep queer archives of struggle and pleasure.

Here Comes the Sun, Nicole Dennis-Benn (2017)

Capturing the distinct rhythms of Jamaican life and dialect, Nicole Dennis- Benn pens a tender hymn to a world hidden among pristine beaches and the wide expanse of turquoise seas. At an opulent resort in Montego Bay, Margot hustles to send her younger sister, Thandi, to school. Taught as a girl to trade her sexuality for survival, Margot is ruthlessly determined to shield Thandi from the same fate. When plans for a new hotel threaten their village, Margot sees not only an opportunity for her own financial independence but also perhaps a chance to admit a shocking secret: her forbidden love for another woman. As they face the impending destruction of their community, each woman―fighting to balance the burdens she shoulders with the freedom she craves―must confront long-hidden scars. From a much-heralded new writer, Here Comes the Sun offers a dramatic glimpse into a vibrant, passionate world most outsiders see simply as paradise.

Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado (2017)

A wife refuses her husband’s entreaties to remove the green ribbon from around her neck. A woman recounts her sexual encounters as a plague slowly consumes humanity. A salesclerk in a mall makes a horrifying discovery within the seams of the store’s prom dresses. One woman’s surgery-induced weight loss results in an unwanted houseguest. And in the bravura novella “Especially Heinous,” Machado reimagines every episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, a show we naïvely assumed had shown it all, generating a phantasmagoric police procedural full of doppelgängers, ghosts, and girls with bells for eyes. Earthy and otherworldly, antic and sexy, queer and caustic, comic and deadly serious, Her Body and Other Parties swings from horrific violence to the most exquisite sentiment. In their explosive originality, these stories enlarge the possibilities of contemporary fiction.

Read our interview with Carmen Maria Machado!

Sodom Road Exit, Amber Dawn (2018)

It’s the summer of 1990 and Crystal Beach has lost its beloved, long-running amusement park, leaving the lakeside village a virtual ghost town. It is back to this fallen community that Starla Mia Martin must return to live with her overbearing mother after dropping out of university and racking up significant debt. But an economic downturn, mother-daughter drama, and Generation X disillusionment soon prove to be to be the least of Starla’s troubles. A mysterious and salacious force begins to dog her; inexplicable sounds in the night and indescribable sights spotted in the periphery. Soon enough, Starla must confront the unresolved traumas that haunt Crystal Beach.

Freshwater, Akwaeke Emezi (2018)

Ada begins her life in the south of Nigeria as a troubled baby and a source of deep concern to her family. Her parents, Saul and Saachi, successfully prayed her into existence, but as she grows into a volatile and splintered child, it becomes clear that something went terribly awry. When Ada comes of age and moves to America for college, the group of selves within her grows in power and agency. A traumatic assault leads to a crystallization of her alternate selves: Asụghara and Saint Vincent. As Ada fades into the background of her own mind and these selves―now protective, now hedonistic―move into control, Ada’s life spirals in a dark and dangerous direction.

Little Fish, Casey Plett (2018)

In this extraordinary debut novel by the author of the Lambda Literary Award-winning story collection A Safe Girl to Love, Wendy Reimer is a thirty-year-old trans woman who comes across evidence that her late grandfather—a devout Mennonite farmer—might have been transgender himself. At first she dismisses this revelation, having other problems at hand, but as she and her friends struggle to cope with the challenges of their increasingly volatile lives—from alcoholism, to sex work, to suicide—Wendy is drawn to the lost pieces of her grandfather’s life, becoming determined to unravel the mystery of his truth. Alternately warm-hearted and dark-spirited, desperate and mirthful, Little Fish explores the winter of discontent in the life of one transgender woman as her past and future become irrevocably entwined.

Memoir

HAMMER!: Making Movies Out of Sex and Life, Barbara Hammer (2010)

HAMMER! is the first book by influential filmmaker Barbara Hammer, whose life and work have inspired a generation of queer, feminist, and avant-garde artists and filmmakers. The wild days of non-monogamy in the 1970s, the development of a queer aesthetic in the 1980s, the fight for visibility during the culture wars of the 1990s, her search for meaning as she contemplates mortality in the past ten years—HAMMER! includes texts from these periods, new writings, and fully contextualized film stills to create a memoir as innovative and disarming as her work has always been.

The Chronology of Water, Lidia Yuknavitch (2011)

This is not your mother’s memoir. In The Chronology of Water, Lidia Yuknavitch expertly moves the reader through issues of gender, sexuality, violence, and the family from the point of view of a lifelong swimmer turned artist. In writing that explores the nature of memoir itself, her story traces the effect of extreme grief on a young woman’s developing sexuality that some define as untraditional because of her attraction to both men and women. Her emergence as a writer evolves at the same time and takes the narrator on a journey of addiction, self-destruction, and ultimately survival that finally comes in the shape of love and motherhood.

When We Were Outlaws, Jeanne Cordova (2011)

A sweeping memoir, a raw and intimate chronicle of a young activist torn between conflicting personal longings and political goals. When We Were Outlaws offers a rare view of the life of a radical lesbian during the early cultural struggle for gay rights, Women’s Liberation, and the New Left of the 1970s. By turns provocative and daringly honest, Cordova renders emblematic scenes of the era—ranging from strike protests to utopian music festivals, to underground meetings with radical fugitives—with period detail and evocative characters. For those who came of age in the ‘70s, and for those who weren’t around but still ask ‘What was it like?’ –Outlaws takes you back to re-live it. It also offers insights about ethics, decision making and strategy, still relevant today.

Read our review of When We Were Outlaws!

How Poetry Saved My Life, Amber Dawn (2013)

Lambda Award winner Amber Dawn’s sophomore book reveals a poignant and personal landscape—the terrain of sex work, queer identity, and survivor pride. This memoir told in prose and poetry offers a frank, multifaceted portrait of the author’s experience, from hustling the streets of Vancouver in the mid-90s to her present life as an outspoken feminist storyteller.

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal, Jeannette Winterson (2013)

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is a memoir about a life’s work to find happiness. It is a book full of stories: about a girl locked out of her home, sitting on the doorstep all night; about a religious zealot disguised as a mother who has two sets of false teeth and a revolver in the dresser, waiting for Armageddon; about growing up in a north England industrial town now changed beyond recognition; about the universe as a cosmic dustbin. It is the story of how a painful past, which Winterson thought she had written over and repainted, rose to haunt her later in life, sending her on a journey into madness and out again, in search of her biological mother. It is also a book about other people’s literature, one that shows how fiction and poetry can form a string of guiding lights, a life raft that supports us when we are sinking.

Are You My Mother?, Alison Bechdel (2013)

Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home was a pop culture and literary phenomenon. Now, a second thrilling tale of filial sleuthery, this time about her mother: voracious reader, music lover, passionate amateur actor. Also a woman, unhappily married to a closeted gay man, whose artistic aspirations simmered under the surface of Bechdel’s childhood . . . and who stopped touching or kissing her daughter good night, forever, when she was seven. Poignantly, hilariously, Bechdel embarks on a quest for answers concerning the mother-daughter gulf. It’s a richly layered search that leads readers from the fascinating life and work of the iconic twentieth-century psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, to one explosively illuminating Dr. Seuss illustration, to Bechdel’s own (serially monogamous) adult love life. And, finally, back to Mother—to a truce, fragile and real-time, that will move and astonish all adult children of gifted mothers.

Gentrification of the Mind, Sarah Schulman (2013)

In this gripping memoir of the AIDS years (1981–1996), Sarah Schulman recalls how much of the rebellious queer culture, cheap rents, and a vibrant downtown arts movement vanished almost overnight to be replaced by gay conservative spokespeople and mainstream consumerism. Schulman takes us back to her Lower East Side and brings it to life, filling these pages with vivid memories of her avant-garde queer friends and dramatically recreating the early years of the AIDS crisis as experienced by a political insider. Interweaving personal reminiscence with cogent analysis, Schulman details her experience as a witness to the loss of a generation’s imagination and the consequences of that loss.

Redefining Realness, Janet Mock (2014)

With unflinching honesty and moving prose, Janet Mock relays her experiences of growing up young, multiracial, poor, and trans in America, offering readers accessible language while imparting vital insight about the unique challenges and vulnerabilities of a marginalized and misunderstood population. Though undoubtedly an account of one woman’s quest for self at all costs, Redefining Realness is a powerful vision of possibility and self-realization, pushing us all toward greater acceptance of one another—and of ourselves—showing as never before how to be unapologetic and real.

Eating Fire: My Life as a Lesbian Avenger, Kelly Cogswell (2014)

At once streetwise and wistful, Eating Fire is a witty and urgent coming-of-age memoir spanning two decades, from the Culture War of the early 1990s to the War on Terror. Cogswell’s story is an engaging blend of picaresque adventure, how-to activist handbook, and rigorous inquiry into questions of identity, resistance, and citizenship. It is also a compelling, personal recollection of friendships and fallings-out and of finding true love—several times over. After the Lesbian Avengers imploded, Cogswell describes how she became a pioneering citizen journalist, cofounding the Gully online magazine with the groundbreaking goal of offering “queer views on everything.”

Read more about the Lesbian Avengers!

Tomboy, Liz Prince (2014)

Growing up, Liz Prince wasn’t a girly girl, but she wasn’t exactly one of the guys either (as she learned when her little league baseball coach exiled her to the distant outfield). She was somewhere in between. But with the forces of middle school, high school, parents, friendship, and romance pulling her this way and that, the middle wasn’t an easy place to be. Tomboy follows award-winning author and artist Liz Prince through her early years and explores―with humor, honesty, and poignancy―what it means to “be a girl.” From staunchly refuting “girliness” to the point of misogyny, to discovering through the punk community that your identity is whatever you make of it, Tomboy offers a sometimes hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking account of self-discovery in modern America.

Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around: Forty Years of Movement Building with Barbara Smith; Alethia Jones, Virginia Eubanks, Barbara Smith (2014)

As an organizer, writer, publisher, scholar-activist, and elected official, Barbara Smith has played key roles in multiple social justice movements, including Civil Rights, feminism, lesbian and gay liberation, anti-racism, and Black feminism. Her four decades of grassroots activism forged collaborations that introduced the idea that oppression must be fought on a variety of fronts simultaneously, including gender, race, class, and sexuality. By combining hard-to-find historical documents with new unpublished interviews with fellow activists, this book uncovers the deep roots of today’s “identity politics” and “intersectionality” and serves as an essential primer for practicing solidarity and resistance.

Read our interview with Barbara Smith!

The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson (2015)

Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts is a genre-bending memoir, a work of “autotheory” offering fresh, fierce, and timely thinking about desire, identity, and the limitations and possibilities of love and language. At its center is a romance: the story of the author’s relationship with the artist Harry Dodge. This story, which includes Nelson’s account of falling in love with Dodge, who is fluidly gendered, as well as her journey to and through a pregnancy, offers a firsthand account of the complexities and joys of (queer) family-making.

How to Grow Up, Michelle Tea (2015)

In How to Grow Up, Tea shares her awkward stumble towards the life of a Bona Fide Grown-Up: healthy, responsible, self-aware, and stable. She writes about passion, about her fraught relationship with money, about adoring Barney’s while shopping at thrift stores, about breakups and the fertile ground between relationships, about roommates and rent, and about being superstitious (“why not, it imbues this harsh world of ours with a bit of magic”). At once heartwarming and darkly comic, How to Grow Up proves that the road less traveled may be a difficult one, but if you embrace life’s uncertainty and dust yourself off after every screw up, slowly but surely, you just might make it to adulthood.

Dirty River, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (2015)

Before Alex Marzano-Lesnevich begins a summer job at a law firm in Louisiana, working to help defend men accused of murder, they think their position is clear. The child of two lawyers, they are staunchly anti-death penalty. But the moment convicted murderer Ricky Langley’s face flashes on the screen as they review old tapes―the moment they hear him speak of his crimes — they are overcome with the feeling of wanting him to die. Shocked by their reaction, they dig deeper and deeper into the case. Despite their vastly different circumstances, something in his story is unsettlingly, uncannily familiar.
Crime, even the darkest and most unsayable acts, can happen to any one of us. As Alex pores over the facts of the murder, they find themself thrust into the complicated narrative of Ricky’s childhood. And by examining the details of Ricky’s case, they are forced to face their own story, to unearth long-buried family secrets, and reckon with a past that colors their view of Ricky’s crime.

Mean, Myriam Gurba (2017)

True crime, memoir, and ghost story, Mean is the bold and hilarious tale of Myriam Gurba’s coming of age as a queer, mixed-race Chicana. Blending radical formal fluidity and caustic humor, Gurba takes on sexual violence, small towns, and race, turning what might be tragic into piercing, revealing comedy. This is a confident, intoxicating, brassy book that takes the cost of sexual assault, racism, misogyny, and homophobia deadly seriously.

Read an excerpt from Mean here, and a review here!

I’m Just a Person, Tig Notaro (2017)

In the span of four months in 2012, Tig Notaro was hospitalized for a debilitating intestinal disease called C. diff, her mother unexpectedly died, she went through a breakup, and then she was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer. Hit with this devastating barrage, Tig took her grief onstage. Days after receiving her cancer diagnosis, she broke new comedic ground, opening an unvarnished set with the words: “Good evening. Hello. I have cancer. How are you? Hi, how are you? Is everybody having a good time? I have cancer.” The set went viral instantly and was ultimately released as Tig’s sophomore album, Live, which sold one hundred thousand units in just six weeks and was later nominated for a Grammy.
Now, the wildly popular star takes stock of that no good, very bad year—a difficult yet astonishing period in which tragedy turned into absurdity and despair transformed into joy. An inspired combination of the deadpan silliness of her comedy and the open-hearted vulnerability that has emerged in the wake of that dire time, I’m Just a Person is a moving and often hilarious look at this very brave, very funny woman’s journey into the darkness and her thrilling return from it.

I’m Afraid of Men, Vivek Shraya (2018)

Vivek Shraya has reason to be afraid. Throughout her life she’s endured acts of cruelty and aggression for being too feminine as a boy and not feminine enough as a girl. In order to survive childhood, she had to learn to convincingly perform masculinity. As an adult, she makes daily compromises to steel herself against everything from verbal attacks to heartbreak.

Now, with raw honesty, Shraya delivers an important record of the cumulative damage caused by misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia, releasing trauma from a body that has always refused to assimilate. I’m Afraid of Men is a journey from camouflage to a riot of colour and a blueprint for how we might cherish all that makes us different and conquer all that makes us afraid.

When They Call You a Terrorist, Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele (2018)

Raised by a single mother in an impoverished neighborhood in Los Angeles, Patrisse Khan-Cullors experienced firsthand the prejudice and persecution Black Americans endure at the hands of law enforcement. For Patrisse, the most vulnerable people in the country are Black people. Deliberately and ruthlessly targeted by a criminal justice system serving a white privilege agenda, Black people are subjected to unjustifiable racial profiling and police brutality. In 2013, when Trayvon Martin’s killer went free, Patrisse’s outrage led her to co-found Black Lives Matter with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi.
Condemned as terrorists and as a threat to America, these loving women founded a hashtag that birthed the movement to demand accountability from the authorities who continually turn a blind eye to the injustices inflicted upon people of Black and Brown skin. Championing human rights in the face of violent racism, Patrisse is a survivor. She transformed her personal pain into political power, giving voice to a people suffering inequality and a movement fueled by her strength and love to tell the country―and the world―that Black Lives Matter.

Read our book club discussion of When They Call You a Terrorist!

In the Dream House, Carmen Maria Machado (2019)

In the Dream House is Carmen Maria Machado’s engrossing and wildly innovative account of a relationship gone bad, and a bold dissection of the mechanisms and cultural representations of psychological abuse. Tracing the full arc of a harrowing relationship with a charismatic but volatile woman, Machado struggles to make sense of how what happened to her shaped the person she was becoming. And it’s that struggle that gives the book its original structure: each chapter is driven by its own narrative trope―the haunted house, erotica, the bildungsroman―through which Machado holds the events up to the light and examines them from different angles. She looks back at her religious adolescence, unpacks the stereotype of lesbian relationships as safe and utopian, and widens the view with essayistic explorations of the history and reality of abuse in queer relationships.

Read our review of In the Dream House!

Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls, T Kira Madden (2019)

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. As a child, Madden lived a life of extravagance, from her exclusive private school to her equestrian trophies and designer shoe-brand name. But under the surface was a wild instability. The only child of parents continually battling drug and alcohol addictions, Madden confronted her environment alone. Facing a culture of assault and objectification, she found lifelines in the desperately loving friendships of fatherless girls. With unflinching honesty and lyrical prose, spanning from 1960s Hawai’i to the present-day struggle of a young woman mourning the loss of a father while unearthing truths that reframe her reality, Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls is equal parts eulogy and love letter. It’s a story about trauma and forgiveness, about families of blood and affinity, both lost and found, unmade and rebuilt, crooked and beautiful.

Read our interview with T Kira Madden about the book!

High School, Tegan and Sara (2019)

High School is the revelatory and unique coming-of-age story of Sara and Tegan Quin, identical twins from Calgary, Alberta, who grew up at the height of grunge and rave culture in the nineties, well before they became the celebrated musicians and global LGBTQ icons we know today. While grappling with their identity and sexuality, often alone, they also faced academic meltdown, their parents’ divorce, and the looming pressure of what might come after high school. Written in alternating chapters from both Tegan’s and Sara’s points of view, the book is a raw account of the drugs, alcohol, love, music, and friendship they explored in their formative years.

Read our review of the memoir and our roundtable inspired by it!

I Hope We Choose Love, Kai Cheng Thom (2019)

In a heartbreaking yet hopeful collection of personal essays and prose poems, blending the confessional, political, and literary, Kai Cheng Thom dives deep into the questions that haunt social movements today. With the author’s characteristic eloquence and honesty, I Hope We Choose Love proposes heartfelt solutions on the topics of violence, complicity, family, vengeance, and forgiveness. Taking its cues from contemporary thought leaders in the transformative justice movement such as adrienne maree brown and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, this provocative book is a call for nuance in a time of political polarization, for healing in a time of justice, and for love in an apocalypse.

Nonfiction

Inseparable: Desire Between Women in Literature, Emma Donoghue (2011)

Emma Donoghue examines how desire between women in English literature has been portrayed, from schoolgirls and vampires to runaway wives, from cross-dressing knights to contemporary murder stories. She looks at the work of those writers who have addressed the “unspeakable subject,” examining whether same-sex desire is freakish or omnipresent, holy or evil, as she excavates a long-obscured tradition of (inseparable) friendship between women, one that is surprisingly central to our cultural history. Donoghue explores the writing of Sade, Balzac, Hardy, Wilkie, Sayers, Highsmith and more to reveal the half-dozen contrasting girl-girl plots that have been told and retold over the centuries; the paranormal identities assigned to women who desire other women; the ubiquity of same-sex attraction in crime fiction; and the contemporary narratives of coming out privately and publicly. Inseparable is a revelation of a centuries-old literary tradition — brilliant, amusing, and until now, deliberately overlooked.

Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme, Ivan Coyote and Zena Sharman (2011)

In the summer of 2009, butch writer and storyteller Ivan Coyote and gender researcher and femme dynamo Zena Sharman wrote down a wish-list of their favourite queer authors; they wanted to continue and expand the butch-femme conversation. The result is Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme. The stories in these pages resist simple definitions. The people in these stories defy reductive stereotypes and inflexible categories. The pages in this book describe the lives of an incredible diversity of people whose hearts also pounded for some reason the first time they read or heard the words “butch” or “femme.”

Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-Spirit Literature; Qwo-Li Driskill, Daniel Heath Justice, Deborah Miranda, and Lisa Tatonetti (2011)

Two-Spirit people, identified by many different tribally specific names and standings within their communities, have been living, loving, and creating art since time immemorial. It wasn’t until the 1970s, however, that contemporary queer Native literature gained any public notice. Even now, only a handful of books address it specifically, most notably the 1988 collection Living the Spirit: A Gay American Indian Anthology. Since that book’s publication twenty-three years ago, there has not been another collection published that focuses explicitly on the writing and art of Indigenous Two-Spirit and Queer people.

This landmark collection strives to reflect the complexity of identities within Native Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Two-Spirit (GLBTQ2) communities. Gathering together the work of established writers and talented new voices, this anthology spans genres (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and essay) and themes (memory, history, sexuality, indigeneity, friendship, family, love, and loss) and represents a watershed moment in Native American and Indigenous literatures, Queer studies, and the intersections between the two.

Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America, Lillian Faderman (2012)

As Lillian Faderman writes, there are “no constants with regard to lesbianism,” except that lesbians prefer women. In this groundbreaking book, she reclaims the history of lesbian life in twentieth-century America, tracing the evolution of lesbian identity and subcultures from early networks to more recent diverse lifestyles. She draws from journals, unpublished manuscripts, songs, media accounts, novels, medical literature, pop culture artifacts, and oral histories by lesbians of all ages and backgrounds, uncovering a narrative of uncommon depth and originality.

Excluded: Making Queer and Feminist Movements Inclusive, Julia Serano (2013)

As a trans woman, bisexual, and femme activist, Julia Serano has spent much of the last ten years challenging various forms of exclusion within feminist and queer/LGBTQ movements. In Excluded, she chronicles many of these instances of exclusion and argues that marginalizing others often stems from a handful of assumptions that are routinely made about gender and sexuality. These false assumptions infect theories, activism, organizations, and communities–and worse, they enable people to vigorously protest certain forms of sexism while simultaneously ignoring and even perpetuating others.

The B Word: Bisexuality in Contemporary Film and Television, Maria San Filippo (2013)

Often disguised in public discourse by terms like “gay,” “homoerotic,” “homosocial,” or “queer,” bisexuality is strangely absent from queer studies and virtually untreated in film and media criticism. Maria San Filippo aims to explore the central role bisexuality plays in contemporary screen culture, establishing its importance in representation, marketing, and spectatorship. By examining a variety of media genres including art cinema, sexploitation cinema and vampire films, “bromances,” and series television, San Filippo discovers “missed moments” where bisexual readings of these texts reveal a more malleable notion of subjectivity and eroticism. San Filippo’s work moves beyond the subject of heteronormativity and responds to “compulsory monosexuality,” where it’s not necessarily a couple’s gender that is at issue, but rather that an individual chooses one or the other. The B Word transcends dominant relational formation (gay, straight, or otherwise) and brings a discursive voice to the field of queer and film studies.

Sexual Futures, Queer Gestures, And Other Latina Longings, Juana Maria Rodriguez (2014)

Centered on the sexuality of racialized queer female subjects, the book’s varied archive―which includes burlesque border crossings, daddy play, pornography, sodomy laws, and sovereignty claims―seeks to bring to the fore alternative sexual practices and machinations that exist outside the sightlines of mainstream cosmopolitan gay male culture. Situating articulations of sexual subjectivity between the interpretive poles of law and performance, Rodríguez argues that forms of agency continually mediate among these various structures of legibility―the rigid confines of the law and the imaginative possibilities of the performative. She reads the strategies of Puerto Rican activists working toward self-determination alongside sexual performances on stage, in commercial pornography, in multi-media installations, on the dance floor, and in the bedroom. Rodríguez examines not only how projections of racialized sex erupt onto various discursive mediums but also how the confluence of racial and gendered anxieties seeps into the gestures and utterances of sexual acts, kinship structures, and activist practices.

Queer and Trans Artists of Color, Nia King, Terra Mikalson, Jessica Glennon-Zukoff (2014)

A collection of sixteen unique and honest conversations you won’t read anywhere else… Mixed-race queer art activist Nia King left a full-time job in an effort to center her life around making art. Grappling with questions of purpose, survival, and compromise, she started a podcast called We Want the Airwaves in order to pick the brains of fellow queer and trans artists of color about their work, their lives, and “making it” – both in terms of success and in terms of survival. In this collection of interviews, Nia discusses fat burlesque with Magnoliah Black, queer fashion with Kiam Marcelo Junio, interning at Playboy with Janet Mock, dating gay Latino Republicans with Julio Salgado, intellectual hazing with Kortney Ryan Ziegler, gay gentrification with Van Binfa, getting a book deal with Virgie Tovar, the politics of black drag with Micia Mosely, evading deportation with Yosimar Reyes, weird science with Ryka Aoki, gay public sex in Africa with Nick Mwaluko, thin privilege with Fabian Romero, the tyranny of “self-care” with Lovemme Corazón, “selling out” with Miss Persia and Daddie$ Pla$tik, the self-employed art activist hustle with Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarsinha, and much, much more. Welcome to the future of QPOC art activism.

Queer Brown Voices: Personal Narratives of Latina/o LGBT Activism, Uriel Quesada, Letitia Gomez, Salvador Vidal-Ortiz (2015)

In the last three decades of the twentieth century, LGBT Latinas/os faced several forms of discrimination. The greater Latino community did not often accept sexual minorities, and the mainstream LGBT movement expected everyone, regardless of their ethnic and racial background, to adhere to a specific set of priorities so as to accommodate a “unified” agenda. To disrupt the cycle of sexism, racism, and homophobia that they experienced, LGBT Latinas/os organized themselves on local, state, and national levels, forming communities in which they could fight for equal rights while simultaneously staying true to both their ethnic and sexual identities. Yet histories of LGBT activism in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s often reduce the role that Latinas/os played, resulting in misinformation, or ignore their work entirely, erasing them from history.
Queer Brown Voices is the first book published to counter this trend, documenting the efforts of some of these LGBT Latina/o activists. Comprising essays and oral history interviews that present the experiences of fourteen activists across the United States and in Puerto Rico, the book offers a new perspective on the history of LGBT mobilization and activism. The activists discuss subjects that shed light not only on the organizations they helped to create and operate, but also on their broad-ranging experiences of being racialized and discriminated against, fighting for access to health care during the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and struggling for awareness.

Conflict Is Not Abuse, Sarah Schulman (2016)

This deep, brave, and bold work reveals how punishment replaces personal and collective self-criticism, and shows why difference is so often used to justify cruelty and shunning. Rooting the problem of escalation in negative group relationships, Schulman illuminates the ways cliques, communities, families, and religious, racial, and national groups bond through the refusal to change their self-concept. She illustrates how Supremacy behavior and Traumatized behavior resemble each other, through a shared inability to tolerate difference. This important and sure to be controversial book illuminates such contemporary and historical issues of personal, racial, and geo-political difference as tools of escalation towards injustice, exclusion, and punishment, whether the objects of dehumanization are other individuals in our families or communities, people with HIV, African Americans, or Palestinians. Conflict Is Not Abuse is a searing rejection of the cultural phenomenon of blame, cruelty, and scapegoating, and how those in positions of power exacerbate and manipulate fear of the “other” to achieve their goals.

Read our conversation with Sarah Schulman about the book!

Lavender and Red: Liberation and Solidarity in the Gay and Lesbian Left (American Crossroads), Emily Hobson (2016)

LGBT activism is often imagined as a self-contained struggle, inspired by but set apart from other social movements. Lavender and Red recounts a far different story: a history of queer radicals who understood their sexual liberation as intertwined with solidarity against imperialism, war, and racism. This politics was born in the late 1960s but survived well past Stonewall, propelling a gay and lesbian left that flourished through the end of the Cold War. The gay and lesbian left found its center in the San Francisco Bay Area, a place where sexual self-determination and revolutionary internationalism converged. Across the 1970s, its activists embraced socialist and women of color feminism and crafted queer opposition to militarism and the New Right. In the Reagan years, they challenged U.S. intervention in Central America, collaborated with their peers in Nicaragua, and mentored the first direct action against AIDS. Bringing together archival research, oral histories, and vibrant images, Emily K. Hobson rediscovers the radical queer past for a generation of activists today.

Emergent Strategy, adrienne maree brown (2017)

Inspired by Octavia Butler’s explorations of our human relationship to change, Emergent Strategy is radical self-help, society-help, and planet-help designed to shape the futures we want to live. Change is constant. The world is in a continual state of flux. It is a stream of ever-mutating, emergent patterns. Rather than steel ourselves against such change, this book invites us to feel, map, assess, and learn from the swirling patterns around us in order to better understand and influence them as they happen. This is a resolutely materialist “spirituality” based equally on science and science fiction, a visionary incantation to transform that which ultimately transforms us.

Living a Feminist Life, Sara Ahmed (2017)

In Living a Feminist Life Sara Ahmed shows how feminist theory is generated from everyday life and the ordinary experiences of being a feminist at home and at work. Building on legacies of feminist of color scholarship in particular, Ahmed offers a poetic and personal meditation on how feminists become estranged from worlds they critique—often by naming and calling attention to problems—and how feminists learn about worlds from their efforts to transform them. Ahmed also provides her most sustained commentary on the figure of the feminist killjoy introduced in her earlier work while showing how feminists create inventive solutions—such as forming support systems—to survive the shattering experiences of facing the walls of racism and sexism. The killjoy survival kit and killjoy manifesto, with which the book concludes, supply practical tools for how to live a feminist life, thereby strengthening the ties between the inventive creation of feminist theory and living a life that sustains it.

Sisters in the Life: A History of Out African American Lesbian Media-Making, Yvonne Welbon and Alexandra Juhasz (2018)

From experimental shorts and web series to Hollywood blockbusters and feminist porn, the work of African American lesbian filmmakers has made a powerful contribution to film history. But despite its importance, this work has gone largely unacknowledged by cinema historians and cultural critics. Assembling a range of interviews, essays, and conversations, Sisters in the Life tells a full story of African American lesbian media-making spanning three decades. In essays on filmmakers including Angela Robinson, Tina Mabry and Dee Rees; on the making of Cheryl Dunye’s The Watermelon Woman (1996); and in interviews with Coquie Hughes, Pamela Jennings, and others, the contributors center the voices of black lesbian media makers while underscoring their artistic influence and reach as well as the communities that support them. Sisters in the Life marks a crucial first step in narrating the history and importance of these compelling yet unsung artists.

Written on the Body: Letters from Trans and Non-Binary Survivors of Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, Lexie Bean (2018)

Written by and for trans and non-binary survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, Written on the Body offers support, guidance and hope for those who struggle to find safety at home, in the body, and other unwelcoming places.
This collection of letters written to body parts weaves together narratives of gender, identity, and abuse. It is the coming together of those who have been fragmented and often met with disbelief. The book holds the concerns and truths that many trans people share while offering space for dialogue and reclamation.
Written with intelligence and intimacy, this book is for those who have found power in re-shaping their bodies, families, and lives.

Against Memoir: Complaints, Confessions, & Criticisms, Michelle Tea (2018)

The razor-sharp but damaged Valerie Solanas, a doomed lesbian biker gang, recovering alcoholics, and teenagers barely surviving at an ice creamery: these are some of the larger-than-life, yet all-too-human figures populating America’s fringes. Rife with never-ending fights and failures, theirs are the stories we too often try to forget. But in the process of excavating and documenting these queer lives, Michelle Tea also reveals herself in unexpected and heartbreaking ways.
Delivered with her signature honesty and dark humor, this is Tea’s first-ever collection of journalistic writing. As she blurs the line between telling other people’s stories and her own, she turns an investigative eye to the genre that’s nurtured her entire career—memoir—and considers the price that art demands be paid from life.

Looking for Lorraine, Imani Perry (2018)

Lorraine Hansberry, who died at thirty-four, was by all accounts a force of nature. Although best-known for her work A Raisin in the Sun, her short life was full of extraordinary experiences and achievements, and she had an unflinching commitment to social justice, which brought her under FBI surveillance when she was barely in her twenties. While her close friends and contemporaries, like James Baldwin and Nina Simone, have been rightly celebrated, her story has been diminished and relegated to one work—until now. In 2018, Hansberry will get the recognition she deserves with the PBS American Masters documentary “Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart” and Imani Perry’s multi-dimensional, illuminating biography, Looking for Lorraine.

The Lesbian South, Jaime Harker (2018)

In this book, Jaime Harker uncovers a largely forgotten literary renaissance in southern letters. Anchored by a constellation of southern women, the Women in Print movement grew from the queer union of women’s liberation, civil rights activism, gay liberation, and print culture. Broadly influential from the 1970s through the 1990s, the Women in Print movement created a network of writers, publishers, bookstores, and readers that fostered a remarkable array of literature.

With the freedom that the Women in Print movement inspired, southern lesbian feminists remade southernness as a site of intersectional radicalism, transgressive sexuality, and liberatory space. Including in her study well-known authors—like Dorothy Allison and Alice Walker—as well as overlooked writers, publishers, and editors, Harker reconfigures the southern literary canon and the feminist canon, challenging histories of feminism and queer studies to include the south in a formative role.

Read our review of The Lesbian South!

Poetry

15 Ways to Stay Alive, Daphne Gottlieb (2011)

Broken hearts, scattered dreams, postpunk politics, and postmodern cut-up collages spiral and flow in award-winning poet Daphne Gottlieb’s latest collection of startling new works that explore survival after personal or communal disasters and the renewal that follows. Whether she’s writing about unanticipated outcomes (“After the Midway Ride Collapsed”), her mother’s passing (“Somewhere, Over”), or absurd situations (“Preoccupation”), Gottlieb’s deeply personal insights into the complex areas where life and contemporary culture collide offer readers a unique, thought-provoking perspective.

Head Off and Split, Nikky Finney (2011)

The poems in Nikky Finney’s breathtaking new collection Head Off & Split sustain a sensitive and intense dialogue with emblematic figures and events in African American life: from civil rights matriarch Rosa Parks to former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, from a brazen girl strung out on lightning to a terrified woman abandoned on a rooftop during Hurricane Katrina. Finney’s poetic voice is defined by an intimacy that holds a soft yet exacting eye on the erotic, on uncanny political and family events, like her mother’s wedding waltz with South Carolina senator Strom Thurmond, and then again on the heartbreaking hilarity of an American president’s final State of the Union address.

Sea and Fog, Etel Adnan (2012)

These interrelated meditations explore the nature of the individual spirit and the individual spiritedness of the natural world. As skilled a philosopher as she is a poet, in Sea & Fog, Adnan weaves multiple sonic, theoretical, and syntactic pleasures at once.

When My Brother Was an Aztec, Natalie Diaz (2012)

“I write hungry sentences,” Natalie Diaz once explained in an interview, “because they want more and more lyricism and imagery to satisfy them.” This debut collection is a fast-paced tour of Mojave life and family narrative: A sister fights for or against a brother on meth, and everyone from Antigone, Houdini, Huitzilopochtli, and Jesus is invoked and invited to hash it out. These darkly humorous poems illuminate far corners of the heart, revealing teeth, tails, and more than a few dreams.

Rise in the Fall, Ana Božičević (2013)

Ana Božičević is both a poet’s poet and the people’s poet. RISE IN THE FALL, her second full-length collection, is a revolutionary book and an ars poetica for the polis in which she excludes nothing. Navigating literary history, gender, sexuality, economics, family and friends, she is at ease employing both the universal political statement and the lyric “I.” A Croatian émigré, Božičević approaches the English language with a playful objectivity, bouncing back and forth from the conversational to the grand: “This is the whitest shit / I’ve ever written” she notes in her half-myth “About Nietzsche.” Her critique of our time and place is at once empathetic and crude, tender and grotesque. Lucky for us, “beauty [wins] in all its casual terror and pain.”

Mysterious Acts by My People, Valerie Wetlaufer (2014)

Mysterious Acts by My People is a fearless exploration of love, grief, violence, and humor. Wetlaufer documents the search for comfort and deliverance in language rich with materiality and great pleasure. The lyrical vivacity of these poems reveals a world where bodies are capable of miracles and deterioration, tremendous loss, and grace.

Like a Beggar, Ellen Bass (2014)

Ellen Bass brings a deft touch as she continues her ongoing interrogations of crucial moral issues of our times, while simultaneously delighting in endearing human absurdities. From the start of Like a Beggar, Bass asks her readers to relax, even though “bad things are going to happen,” because the “bad” gets mined for all manner of goodness.

Life in a Box Is a Pretty Life, Dawn Lundy Martin (2015)

Life in a Box Is a Pretty Life continues leading American poet Dawn Lundy Martin’s investigation into what is produced in the interstices between the body, experience, and language, and how alternative narratives can yield some other knowledge about what it means to be black & queer in contemporary America.

I Must Be Living Twice, Eileen Myles (2015)

I Must Be Living Twice brings together selections from the poet’s previous work with a set of bold new poems that reflect her sardonic, unapologetic, and fiercely intellectual literary voice. Steeped in the culture of New York City, Myles’ milieu, I Must Be Living Twice is a prism refracting a radical world and a compelling life.

There Should Be Flowers, Joshua Jennifer Espinoza (2016)

As described by Ocean Vuong, “Espinoza’s debut is a searing interrogation of the world and the self at once. Here, the body is a fixation–as if to look away from it, even briefly, is to risk having it erased. As such, this is a book of unblinking human preservation, and how we trespass ourselves seeking safer spaces. “There is nothing I love more than an honest storm,” Espinoza writes. There Should Be Flowers is a storm to ravage and rearrange us from our crushing certainties. This book doesn’t need a blurb. It simply needs to be read.”

Read our review of There Should Be Flowers and interview with Joshua Jennifer Espinoza!

play dead, francine j. Harris (2016)

Lyrically raw and dangerously unapologetic, play dead challenges us to look at our cultivated selves as products of circumstance and attempts to piece together patterns amidst dissociative chaos. harris unearths a ruptured world dictated by violence—a place of deadly what ifs, where survival hangs by a thread. Getting by is carrying bruises and walking around with “half a skull.”

even this page is white, Vivek Shraya (2016)

Vivek Shraya’s debut collection of poetry is a bold and timely interrogation of skin—its origins, functions, and limitations. Poems that range in style from starkly concrete to limber break down the barriers that prevent understanding of what it means to be racialized. Shraya paints the face of everyday racism with words, rendering it visible, tangible and undeniable.

Read an excerpt from even this page is white!

Bestiary, Donika Kelly (2016)

Across this remarkable first book are encounters with animals, legendary beasts, and mythological monsters–half human and half something else. Donika Kelly’s Bestiary is a catalogue of creatures–from the whale and ostrich to the pegasus and chimera to the centaur and griffin. Among them too are poems of love, self-discovery, and travel, from “Out West” to “Back East.” Lurking in the middle of this powerful and multifaceted collection is a wrenching sequence that wonders just who or what is the real monster inside this life of survival and reflection. Selected and with an introduction by the National Book Award winner Nikky Finney, Bestiary questions what makes us human, what makes us whole.

Don’t Call Us Dead, Danez Smith (2017)

Award-winning poet Danez Smith is a groundbreaking force, celebrated for deft lyrics, urgent subjects, and performative power. Don’t Call Us Dead opens with a heartrending sequence that imagines an afterlife for black men shot by police, a place where suspicion, violence, and grief are forgotten and replaced with the safety, love, and longevity they deserved here on earth. Smith turns then to desire, mortality―the dangers experienced in skin and body and blood―and a diagnosis of HIV positive. “Some of us are killed / in pieces,” Smith writes, “some of us all at once.” Don’t Call Us Dead is an astonishing and ambitious collection, one that confronts, praises, and rebukes America―“Dear White America”―where every day is too often a funeral and not often enough a miracle.

Black Queer Hoe, Britteney Black Rose Kapri (2018)

Black Queer Hoe is a refreshing, unapologetic intervention into ongoing conversations about the line between sexual freedom and sexual exploitation. Women’s sexuality is often used as a weapon against them. In this powerful debut, Britteney Black Rose Kapri lends her unmistakable voice to fraught questions of identity, sexuality, reclamation, and power, in a world that refuses Black Queer women permission to define their own lives and boundaries.

If They Come for Us, Fatimah Asghar (2018)

From a co-creator of the Emmy-nominated web series Brown Girls comes an imaginative, soulful debut poetry that collection captures the experiences of being a young Pakistani Muslim woman in contemporary America. Orphaned as a child, Fatimah Asghar grapples with coming of age and navigating questions of sexuality and race without the guidance of a mother or father. These poems at once bear anguish, joy, vulnerability, and compassion, while also exploring the many facets of violence: how it persists within us, how it is inherited across generations, and how it manifests itself in our relationships. In experimental forms and language both lyrical and raw, Asghar seamlessly braids together marginalized people’s histories with her own understanding of identity, place, and belonging.

Holy Wild, Gwen Benaway (2018)

In her third collection of poetry, Holy Wild, Gwen Benaway explores the complexities of being an Indigenous trans women in expansive lyric poems. She holds up the Indigenous trans body as a site of struggle, liberation, and beauty. A confessional poet, Benaway narrates her sexual and romantic intimacies with partners as well as her work to navigate the daily burden of transphobia and violence. She examines the intersections of Indigenous and trans experience through autobiographical poems and continues to speak to the legacy of abuse, violence, and colonial erasure that defines Canada. Her sparse lines, interwoven with English and Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe), illustrate the wonder and power of Indigenous trans womanhood in motion. Holy Wild is not an easy book, as Benaway refuses to give any simple answers, but it is a profoundly vibrant and beautiful work filled with a transcendent grace.

Be Recorder, Carmen Gimenez Smith (2019)

Be Recorder offers readers a blazing way forward into an as yet unmade world. The many times and tongues in these poems investigate the precariousness of personhood in lines that excoriate and sanctify. Carmen Giménez Smith turns the increasingly pressing urge to cry out into a dream of rebellion―against compromise, against inertia, against self-delusion, and against the ways the media dream up our complacency in an America that depends on it. This reckoning with self and nation demonstrates that who and where we are is as conditional as the fact of our compliance: “Miss America from sea to shining sea / the huddled masses have a question / there is one of you and all of us.” Be Recorder is unrepentant and unstoppable, and affirms Giménez Smith as one of the most vital and vivacious poets of our time.

In 1996, poet Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha ran away from America with two backpacks and ended up in Canada, where she discovered queer anarchopunk love and revolution, yet remained haunted by the reasons she left home in the first place. This passionate and riveting memoir is a mixtape of dreams and nightmares, of immigration court lineups and queer South Asian dance nights; it reveals how a disabled queer woman of color and abuse survivor navigates the dirty river of the past and, as the subtitle suggests, “dreams her way home.”

Read our review of Dirty River!

Tranny, Laura Jane Grace and Dan Ozzi (2016)

Tranny is the intimate story of Against Me!’s enigmatic founder, weaving the narrative of the band’s history, as well as Grace’s, with dozens of never-before-seen entries from the piles of journals Grace kept. More than a typical music memoir about sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll-although it certainly has plenty of that-Tranny is an inside look at one of the most remarkable stories in the history of rock.

The Fact of a Body, Alex Marzano-Lesnevich (2017)

Before Alex Marzano-Lesnevich begins a summer job at a law firm in Louisiana, working to help defend men accused of murder, they think their position is clear. The child of two lawyers, they are staunchly anti-death penalty. But the moment convicted murderer Ricky Langley’s face flashes on the screen as they review old tapes―the moment they hear him speak of his crimes — they are overcome with the feeling of wanting him to die. Shocked by their reaction, they dig deeper and deeper into the case. Despite their vastly different circumstances, something in his story is unsettlingly, uncannily familiar.
Crime, even the darkest and most unsayable acts, can happen to any one of us. As Alex pores over the facts of the murder, they find themself thrust into the complicated narrative of Ricky’s childhood. And by examining the details of Ricky’s case, they are forced to face their own story, to unearth long-buried family secrets, and reckon with a past that colors their view of Ricky’s crime.

Mean, Myriam Gurba (2017)

True crime, memoir, and ghost story, Mean is the bold and hilarious tale of Myriam Gurba’s coming of age as a queer, mixed-race Chicana. Blending radical formal fluidity and caustic humor, Gurba takes on sexual violence, small towns, and race, turning what might be tragic into piercing, revealing comedy. This is a confident, intoxicating, brassy book that takes the cost of sexual assault, racism, misogyny, and homophobia deadly seriously.

Read an excerpt from Mean here, and a review here!

I’m Just a Person, Tig Notaro (2017)

In the span of four months in 2012, Tig Notaro was hospitalized for a debilitating intestinal disease called C. diff, her mother unexpectedly died, she went through a breakup, and then she was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer. Hit with this devastating barrage, Tig took her grief onstage. Days after receiving her cancer diagnosis, she broke new comedic ground, opening an unvarnished set with the words: “Good evening. Hello. I have cancer. How are you? Hi, how are you? Is everybody having a good time? I have cancer.” The set went viral instantly and was ultimately released as Tig’s sophomore album, Live, which sold one hundred thousand units in just six weeks and was later nominated for a Grammy.
Now, the wildly popular star takes stock of that no good, very bad year—a difficult yet astonishing period in which tragedy turned into absurdity and despair transformed into joy. An inspired combination of the deadpan silliness of her comedy and the open-hearted vulnerability that has emerged in the wake of that dire time, I’m Just a Person is a moving and often hilarious look at this very brave, very funny woman’s journey into the darkness and her thrilling return from it.

I’m Afraid of Men, Vivek Shraya (2018)

Vivek Shraya has reason to be afraid. Throughout her life she’s endured acts of cruelty and aggression for being too feminine as a boy and not feminine enough as a girl. In order to survive childhood, she had to learn to convincingly perform masculinity. As an adult, she makes daily compromises to steel herself against everything from verbal attacks to heartbreak.

Now, with raw honesty, Shraya delivers an important record of the cumulative damage caused by misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia, releasing trauma from a body that has always refused to assimilate. I’m Afraid of Men is a journey from camouflage to a riot of colour and a blueprint for how we might cherish all that makes us different and conquer all that makes us afraid.

When They Call You a Terrorist, Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele (2018)

Raised by a single mother in an impoverished neighborhood in Los Angeles, Patrisse Khan-Cullors experienced firsthand the prejudice and persecution Black Americans endure at the hands of law enforcement. For Patrisse, the most vulnerable people in the country are Black people. Deliberately and ruthlessly targeted by a criminal justice system serving a white privilege agenda, Black people are subjected to unjustifiable racial profiling and police brutality. In 2013, when Trayvon Martin’s killer went free, Patrisse’s outrage led her to co-found Black Lives Matter with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi.
Condemned as terrorists and as a threat to America, these loving women founded a hashtag that birthed the movement to demand accountability from the authorities who continually turn a blind eye to the injustices inflicted upon people of Black and Brown skin. Championing human rights in the face of violent racism, Patrisse is a survivor. She transformed her personal pain into political power, giving voice to a people suffering inequality and a movement fueled by her strength and love to tell the country―and the world―that Black Lives Matter.

Read our book club discussion of When They Call You a Terrorist!

In the Dream House, Carmen Maria Machado (2019)

In the Dream House is Carmen Maria Machado’s engrossing and wildly innovative account of a relationship gone bad, and a bold dissection of the mechanisms and cultural representations of psychological abuse. Tracing the full arc of a harrowing relationship with a charismatic but volatile woman, Machado struggles to make sense of how what happened to her shaped the person she was becoming. And it’s that struggle that gives the book its original structure: each chapter is driven by its own narrative trope―the haunted house, erotica, the bildungsroman―through which Machado holds the events up to the light and examines them from different angles. She looks back at her religious adolescence, unpacks the stereotype of lesbian relationships as safe and utopian, and widens the view with essayistic explorations of the history and reality of abuse in queer relationships.

Read our review of In the Dream House!

Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls, T Kira Madden (2019)

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. As a child, Madden lived a life of extravagance, from her exclusive private school to her equestrian trophies and designer shoe-brand name. But under the surface was a wild instability. The only child of parents continually battling drug and alcohol addictions, Madden confronted her environment alone. Facing a culture of assault and objectification, she found lifelines in the desperately loving friendships of fatherless girls. With unflinching honesty and lyrical prose, spanning from 1960s Hawai’i to the present-day struggle of a young woman mourning the loss of a father while unearthing truths that reframe her reality, Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls is equal parts eulogy and love letter. It’s a story about trauma and forgiveness, about families of blood and affinity, both lost and found, unmade and rebuilt, crooked and beautiful.

Read our interview with T Kira Madden about the book!

High School, Tegan and Sara (2019)

High School is the revelatory and unique coming-of-age story of Sara and Tegan Quin, identical twins from Calgary, Alberta, who grew up at the height of grunge and rave culture in the nineties, well before they became the celebrated musicians and global LGBTQ icons we know today. While grappling with their identity and sexuality, often alone, they also faced academic meltdown, their parents’ divorce, and the looming pressure of what might come after high school. Written in alternating chapters from both Tegan’s and Sara’s points of view, the book is a raw account of the drugs, alcohol, love, music, and friendship they explored in their formative years.

Read our review of the memoir and our roundtable inspired by it!

I Hope We Choose Love, Kai Cheng Thom (2019)

In a heartbreaking yet hopeful collection of personal essays and prose poems, blending the confessional, political, and literary, Kai Cheng Thom dives deep into the questions that haunt social movements today. With the author’s characteristic eloquence and honesty, I Hope We Choose Love proposes heartfelt solutions on the topics of violence, complicity, family, vengeance, and forgiveness. Taking its cues from contemporary thought leaders in the transformative justice movement such as adrienne maree brown and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, this provocative book is a call for nuance in a time of political polarization, for healing in a time of justice, and for love in an apocalypse.

Nonfiction

Inseparable: Desire Between Women in Literature, Emma Donoghue (2011)

Emma Donoghue examines how desire between women in English literature has been portrayed, from schoolgirls and vampires to runaway wives, from cross-dressing knights to contemporary murder stories. She looks at the work of those writers who have addressed the “unspeakable subject,” examining whether same-sex desire is freakish or omnipresent, holy or evil, as she excavates a long-obscured tradition of (inseparable) friendship between women, one that is surprisingly central to our cultural history. Donoghue explores the writing of Sade, Balzac, Hardy, Wilkie, Sayers, Highsmith and more to reveal the half-dozen contrasting girl-girl plots that have been told and retold over the centuries; the paranormal identities assigned to women who desire other women; the ubiquity of same-sex attraction in crime fiction; and the contemporary narratives of coming out privately and publicly. Inseparable is a revelation of a centuries-old literary tradition — brilliant, amusing, and until now, deliberately overlooked.

Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme, Ivan Coyote and Zena Sharman (2011)

In the summer of 2009, butch writer and storyteller Ivan Coyote and gender researcher and femme dynamo Zena Sharman wrote down a wish-list of their favourite queer authors; they wanted to continue and expand the butch-femme conversation. The result is Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme. The stories in these pages resist simple definitions. The people in these stories defy reductive stereotypes and inflexible categories. The pages in this book describe the lives of an incredible diversity of people whose hearts also pounded for some reason the first time they read or heard the words “butch” or “femme.”

Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-Spirit Literature; Qwo-Li Driskill, Daniel Heath Justice, Deborah Miranda, and Lisa Tatonetti (2011)

Two-Spirit people, identified by many different tribally specific names and standings within their communities, have been living, loving, and creating art since time immemorial. It wasn’t until the 1970s, however, that contemporary queer Native literature gained any public notice. Even now, only a handful of books address it specifically, most notably the 1988 collection Living the Spirit: A Gay American Indian Anthology. Since that book’s publication twenty-three years ago, there has not been another collection published that focuses explicitly on the writing and art of Indigenous Two-Spirit and Queer people.

This landmark collection strives to reflect the complexity of identities within Native Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Two-Spirit (GLBTQ2) communities. Gathering together the work of established writers and talented new voices, this anthology spans genres (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and essay) and themes (memory, history, sexuality, indigeneity, friendship, family, love, and loss) and represents a watershed moment in Native American and Indigenous literatures, Queer studies, and the intersections between the two.

Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America, Lillian Faderman (2012)

As Lillian Faderman writes, there are “no constants with regard to lesbianism,” except that lesbians prefer women. In this groundbreaking book, she reclaims the history of lesbian life in twentieth-century America, tracing the evolution of lesbian identity and subcultures from early networks to more recent diverse lifestyles. She draws from journals, unpublished manuscripts, songs, media accounts, novels, medical literature, pop culture artifacts, and oral histories by lesbians of all ages and backgrounds, uncovering a narrative of uncommon depth and originality.

Excluded: Making Queer and Feminist Movements Inclusive, Julia Serano (2013)

As a trans woman, bisexual, and femme activist, Julia Serano has spent much of the last ten years challenging various forms of exclusion within feminist and queer/LGBTQ movements. In Excluded, she chronicles many of these instances of exclusion and argues that marginalizing others often stems from a handful of assumptions that are routinely made about gender and sexuality. These false assumptions infect theories, activism, organizations, and communities–and worse, they enable people to vigorously protest certain forms of sexism while simultaneously ignoring and even perpetuating others.

The B Word: Bisexuality in Contemporary Film and Television, Maria San Filippo (2013)

Often disguised in public discourse by terms like “gay,” “homoerotic,” “homosocial,” or “queer,” bisexuality is strangely absent from queer studies and virtually untreated in film and media criticism. Maria San Filippo aims to explore the central role bisexuality plays in contemporary screen culture, establishing its importance in representation, marketing, and spectatorship. By examining a variety of media genres including art cinema, sexploitation cinema and vampire films, “bromances,” and series television, San Filippo discovers “missed moments” where bisexual readings of these texts reveal a more malleable notion of subjectivity and eroticism. San Filippo’s work moves beyond the subject of heteronormativity and responds to “compulsory monosexuality,” where it’s not necessarily a couple’s gender that is at issue, but rather that an individual chooses one or the other. The B Word transcends dominant relational formation (gay, straight, or otherwise) and brings a discursive voice to the field of queer and film studies.

Sexual Futures, Queer Gestures, And Other Latina Longings, Juana Maria Rodriguez (2014)

Centered on the sexuality of racialized queer female subjects, the book’s varied archive―which includes burlesque border crossings, daddy play, pornography, sodomy laws, and sovereignty claims―seeks to bring to the fore alternative sexual practices and machinations that exist outside the sightlines of mainstream cosmopolitan gay male culture. Situating articulations of sexual subjectivity between the interpretive poles of law and performance, Rodríguez argues that forms of agency continually mediate among these various structures of legibility―the rigid confines of the law and the imaginative possibilities of the performative. She reads the strategies of Puerto Rican activists working toward self-determination alongside sexual performances on stage, in commercial pornography, in multi-media installations, on the dance floor, and in the bedroom. Rodríguez examines not only how projections of racialized sex erupt onto various discursive mediums but also how the confluence of racial and gendered anxieties seeps into the gestures and utterances of sexual acts, kinship structures, and activist practices.

Queer and Trans Artists of Color, Nia King, Terra Mikalson, Jessica Glennon-Zukoff (2014)

A collection of sixteen unique and honest conversations you won’t read anywhere else… Mixed-race queer art activist Nia King left a full-time job in an effort to center her life around making art. Grappling with questions of purpose, survival, and compromise, she started a podcast called We Want the Airwaves in order to pick the brains of fellow queer and trans artists of color about their work, their lives, and “making it” – both in terms of success and in terms of survival. In this collection of interviews, Nia discusses fat burlesque with Magnoliah Black, queer fashion with Kiam Marcelo Junio, interning at Playboy with Janet Mock, dating gay Latino Republicans with Julio Salgado, intellectual hazing with Kortney Ryan Ziegler, gay gentrification with Van Binfa, getting a book deal with Virgie Tovar, the politics of black drag with Micia Mosely, evading deportation with Yosimar Reyes, weird science with Ryka Aoki, gay public sex in Africa with Nick Mwaluko, thin privilege with Fabian Romero, the tyranny of “self-care” with Lovemme Corazón, “selling out” with Miss Persia and Daddie$ Pla$tik, the self-employed art activist hustle with Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarsinha, and much, much more. Welcome to the future of QPOC art activism.

Queer Brown Voices: Personal Narratives of Latina/o LGBT Activism, Uriel Quesada, Letitia Gomez, Salvador Vidal-Ortiz (2015)

In the last three decades of the twentieth century, LGBT Latinas/os faced several forms of discrimination. The greater Latino community did not often accept sexual minorities, and the mainstream LGBT movement expected everyone, regardless of their ethnic and racial background, to adhere to a specific set of priorities so as to accommodate a “unified” agenda. To disrupt the cycle of sexism, racism, and homophobia that they experienced, LGBT Latinas/os organized themselves on local, state, and national levels, forming communities in which they could fight for equal rights while simultaneously staying true to both their ethnic and sexual identities. Yet histories of LGBT activism in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s often reduce the role that Latinas/os played, resulting in misinformation, or ignore their work entirely, erasing them from history.
Queer Brown Voices is the first book published to counter this trend, documenting the efforts of some of these LGBT Latina/o activists. Comprising essays and oral history interviews that present the experiences of fourteen activists across the United States and in Puerto Rico, the book offers a new perspective on the history of LGBT mobilization and activism. The activists discuss subjects that shed light not only on the organizations they helped to create and operate, but also on their broad-ranging experiences of being racialized and discriminated against, fighting for access to health care during the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and struggling for awareness.

Conflict Is Not Abuse, Sarah Schulman (2016)

This deep, brave, and bold work reveals how punishment replaces personal and collective self-criticism, and shows why difference is so often used to justify cruelty and shunning. Rooting the problem of escalation in negative group relationships, Schulman illuminates the ways cliques, communities, families, and religious, racial, and national groups bond through the refusal to change their self-concept. She illustrates how Supremacy behavior and Traumatized behavior resemble each other, through a shared inability to tolerate difference. This important and sure to be controversial book illuminates such contemporary and historical issues of personal, racial, and geo-political difference as tools of escalation towards injustice, exclusion, and punishment, whether the objects of dehumanization are other individuals in our families or communities, people with HIV, African Americans, or Palestinians. Conflict Is Not Abuse is a searing rejection of the cultural phenomenon of blame, cruelty, and scapegoating, and how those in positions of power exacerbate and manipulate fear of the “other” to achieve their goals.

Read our conversation with Sarah Schulman about the book!

Lavender and Red: Liberation and Solidarity in the Gay and Lesbian Left (American Crossroads), Emily Hobson (2016)

LGBT activism is often imagined as a self-contained struggle, inspired by but set apart from other social movements. Lavender and Red recounts a far different story: a history of queer radicals who understood their sexual liberation as intertwined with solidarity against imperialism, war, and racism. This politics was born in the late 1960s but survived well past Stonewall, propelling a gay and lesbian left that flourished through the end of the Cold War. The gay and lesbian left found its center in the San Francisco Bay Area, a place where sexual self-determination and revolutionary internationalism converged. Across the 1970s, its activists embraced socialist and women of color feminism and crafted queer opposition to militarism and the New Right. In the Reagan years, they challenged U.S. intervention in Central America, collaborated with their peers in Nicaragua, and mentored the first direct action against AIDS. Bringing together archival research, oral histories, and vibrant images, Emily K. Hobson rediscovers the radical queer past for a generation of activists today.

Emergent Strategy, adrienne maree brown (2017)

Inspired by Octavia Butler’s explorations of our human relationship to change, Emergent Strategy is radical self-help, society-help, and planet-help designed to shape the futures we want to live. Change is constant. The world is in a continual state of flux. It is a stream of ever-mutating, emergent patterns. Rather than steel ourselves against such change, this book invites us to feel, map, assess, and learn from the swirling patterns around us in order to better understand and influence them as they happen. This is a resolutely materialist “spirituality” based equally on science and science fiction, a visionary incantation to transform that which ultimately transforms us.

Living a Feminist Life, Sara Ahmed (2017)

In Living a Feminist Life Sara Ahmed shows how feminist theory is generated from everyday life and the ordinary experiences of being a feminist at home and at work. Building on legacies of feminist of color scholarship in particular, Ahmed offers a poetic and personal meditation on how feminists become estranged from worlds they critique—often by naming and calling attention to problems—and how feminists learn about worlds from their efforts to transform them. Ahmed also provides her most sustained commentary on the figure of the feminist killjoy introduced in her earlier work while showing how feminists create inventive solutions—such as forming support systems—to survive the shattering experiences of facing the walls of racism and sexism. The killjoy survival kit and killjoy manifesto, with which the book concludes, supply practical tools for how to live a feminist life, thereby strengthening the ties between the inventive creation of feminist theory and living a life that sustains it.

Sisters in the Life: A History of Out African American Lesbian Media-Making, Yvonne Welbon and Alexandra Juhasz (2018)

From experimental shorts and web series to Hollywood blockbusters and feminist porn, the work of African American lesbian filmmakers has made a powerful contribution to film history. But despite its importance, this work has gone largely unacknowledged by cinema historians and cultural critics. Assembling a range of interviews, essays, and conversations, Sisters in the Life tells a full story of African American lesbian media-making spanning three decades. In essays on filmmakers including Angela Robinson, Tina Mabry and Dee Rees; on the making of Cheryl Dunye’s The Watermelon Woman (1996); and in interviews with Coquie Hughes, Pamela Jennings, and others, the contributors center the voices of black lesbian media makers while underscoring their artistic influence and reach as well as the communities that support them. Sisters in the Life marks a crucial first step in narrating the history and importance of these compelling yet unsung artists.

Written on the Body: Letters from Trans and Non-Binary Survivors of Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, Lexie Bean (2018)

Written by and for trans and non-binary survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, Written on the Body offers support, guidance and hope for those who struggle to find safety at home, in the body, and other unwelcoming places.
This collection of letters written to body parts weaves together narratives of gender, identity, and abuse. It is the coming together of those who have been fragmented and often met with disbelief. The book holds the concerns and truths that many trans people share while offering space for dialogue and reclamation.
Written with intelligence and intimacy, this book is for those who have found power in re-shaping their bodies, families, and lives.

Against Memoir: Complaints, Confessions, & Criticisms, Michelle Tea (2018)

The razor-sharp but damaged Valerie Solanas, a doomed lesbian biker gang, recovering alcoholics, and teenagers barely surviving at an ice creamery: these are some of the larger-than-life, yet all-too-human figures populating America’s fringes. Rife with never-ending fights and failures, theirs are the stories we too often try to forget. But in the process of excavating and documenting these queer lives, Michelle Tea also reveals herself in unexpected and heartbreaking ways.
Delivered with her signature honesty and dark humor, this is Tea’s first-ever collection of journalistic writing. As she blurs the line between telling other people’s stories and her own, she turns an investigative eye to the genre that’s nurtured her entire career—memoir—and considers the price that art demands be paid from life.

Looking for Lorraine, Imani Perry (2018)

Lorraine Hansberry, who died at thirty-four, was by all accounts a force of nature. Although best-known for her work A Raisin in the Sun, her short life was full of extraordinary experiences and achievements, and she had an unflinching commitment to social justice, which brought her under FBI surveillance when she was barely in her twenties. While her close friends and contemporaries, like James Baldwin and Nina Simone, have been rightly celebrated, her story has been diminished and relegated to one work—until now. In 2018, Hansberry will get the recognition she deserves with the PBS American Masters documentary “Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart” and Imani Perry’s multi-dimensional, illuminating biography, Looking for Lorraine.

The Lesbian South, Jaime Harker (2018)

In this book, Jaime Harker uncovers a largely forgotten literary renaissance in southern letters. Anchored by a constellation of southern women, the Women in Print movement grew from the queer union of women’s liberation, civil rights activism, gay liberation, and print culture. Broadly influential from the 1970s through the 1990s, the Women in Print movement created a network of writers, publishers, bookstores, and readers that fostered a remarkable array of literature.

With the freedom that the Women in Print movement inspired, southern lesbian feminists remade southernness as a site of intersectional radicalism, transgressive sexuality, and liberatory space. Including in her study well-known authors—like Dorothy Allison and Alice Walker—as well as overlooked writers, publishers, and editors, Harker reconfigures the southern literary canon and the feminist canon, challenging histories of feminism and queer studies to include the south in a formative role.

Read our review of The Lesbian South!

Poetry

15 Ways to Stay Alive, Daphne Gottlieb (2011)

Broken hearts, scattered dreams, postpunk politics, and postmodern cut-up collages spiral and flow in award-winning poet Daphne Gottlieb’s latest collection of startling new works that explore survival after personal or communal disasters and the renewal that follows. Whether she’s writing about unanticipated outcomes (“After the Midway Ride Collapsed”), her mother’s passing (“Somewhere, Over”), or absurd situations (“Preoccupation”), Gottlieb’s deeply personal insights into the complex areas where life and contemporary culture collide offer readers a unique, thought-provoking perspective.

Head Off and Split, Nikky Finney (2011)

The poems in Nikky Finney’s breathtaking new collection Head Off & Split sustain a sensitive and intense dialogue with emblematic figures and events in African American life: from civil rights matriarch Rosa Parks to former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, from a brazen girl strung out on lightning to a terrified woman abandoned on a rooftop during Hurricane Katrina. Finney’s poetic voice is defined by an intimacy that holds a soft yet exacting eye on the erotic, on uncanny political and family events, like her mother’s wedding waltz with South Carolina senator Strom Thurmond, and then again on the heartbreaking hilarity of an American president’s final State of the Union address.

Sea and Fog, Etel Adnan (2012)

These interrelated meditations explore the nature of the individual spirit and the individual spiritedness of the natural world. As skilled a philosopher as she is a poet, in Sea & Fog, Adnan weaves multiple sonic, theoretical, and syntactic pleasures at once.

When My Brother Was an Aztec, Natalie Diaz (2012)

“I write hungry sentences,” Natalie Diaz once explained in an interview, “because they want more and more lyricism and imagery to satisfy them.” This debut collection is a fast-paced tour of Mojave life and family narrative: A sister fights for or against a brother on meth, and everyone from Antigone, Houdini, Huitzilopochtli, and Jesus is invoked and invited to hash it out. These darkly humorous poems illuminate far corners of the heart, revealing teeth, tails, and more than a few dreams.

Rise in the Fall, Ana Božičević (2013)

Ana Božičević is both a poet’s poet and the people’s poet. RISE IN THE FALL, her second full-length collection, is a revolutionary book and an ars poetica for the polis in which she excludes nothing. Navigating literary history, gender, sexuality, economics, family and friends, she is at ease employing both the universal political statement and the lyric “I.” A Croatian émigré, Božičević approaches the English language with a playful objectivity, bouncing back and forth from the conversational to the grand: “This is the whitest shit / I’ve ever written” she notes in her half-myth “About Nietzsche.” Her critique of our time and place is at once empathetic and crude, tender and grotesque. Lucky for us, “beauty [wins] in all its casual terror and pain.”

Mysterious Acts by My People, Valerie Wetlaufer (2014)

Mysterious Acts by My People is a fearless exploration of love, grief, violence, and humor. Wetlaufer documents the search for comfort and deliverance in language rich with materiality and great pleasure. The lyrical vivacity of these poems reveals a world where bodies are capable of miracles and deterioration, tremendous loss, and grace.

Like a Beggar, Ellen Bass (2014)

Ellen Bass brings a deft touch as she continues her ongoing interrogations of crucial moral issues of our times, while simultaneously delighting in endearing human absurdities. From the start of Like a Beggar, Bass asks her readers to relax, even though “bad things are going to happen,” because the “bad” gets mined for all manner of goodness.

Life in a Box Is a Pretty Life, Dawn Lundy Martin (2015)

Life in a Box Is a Pretty Life continues leading American poet Dawn Lundy Martin’s investigation into what is produced in the interstices between the body, experience, and language, and how alternative narratives can yield some other knowledge about what it means to be black & queer in contemporary America.

I Must Be Living Twice, Eileen Myles (2015)

I Must Be Living Twice brings together selections from the poet’s previous work with a set of bold new poems that reflect her sardonic, unapologetic, and fiercely intellectual literary voice. Steeped in the culture of New York City, Myles’ milieu, I Must Be Living Twice is a prism refracting a radical world and a compelling life.

There Should Be Flowers, Joshua Jennifer Espinoza (2016)

As described by Ocean Vuong, “Espinoza’s debut is a searing interrogation of the world and the self at once. Here, the body is a fixation–as if to look away from it, even briefly, is to risk having it erased. As such, this is a book of unblinking human preservation, and how we trespass ourselves seeking safer spaces. “There is nothing I love more than an honest storm,” Espinoza writes. There Should Be Flowers is a storm to ravage and rearrange us from our crushing certainties. This book doesn’t need a blurb. It simply needs to be read.”

Read our review of There Should Be Flowers and interview with Joshua Jennifer Espinoza!

play dead, francine j. Harris (2016)

Lyrically raw and dangerously unapologetic, play dead challenges us to look at our cultivated selves as products of circumstance and attempts to piece together patterns amidst dissociative chaos. harris unearths a ruptured world dictated by violence—a place of deadly what ifs, where survival hangs by a thread. Getting by is carrying bruises and walking around with “half a skull.”

even this page is white, Vivek Shraya (2016)

Vivek Shraya’s debut collection of poetry is a bold and timely interrogation of skin—its origins, functions, and limitations. Poems that range in style from starkly concrete to limber break down the barriers that prevent understanding of what it means to be racialized. Shraya paints the face of everyday racism with words, rendering it visible, tangible and undeniable.

Read an excerpt from even this page is white!

Bestiary, Donika Kelly (2016)

Across this remarkable first book are encounters with animals, legendary beasts, and mythological monsters–half human and half something else. Donika Kelly’s Bestiary is a catalogue of creatures–from the whale and ostrich to the pegasus and chimera to the centaur and griffin. Among them too are poems of love, self-discovery, and travel, from “Out West” to “Back East.” Lurking in the middle of this powerful and multifaceted collection is a wrenching sequence that wonders just who or what is the real monster inside this life of survival and reflection. Selected and with an introduction by the National Book Award winner Nikky Finney, Bestiary questions what makes us human, what makes us whole.

Don’t Call Us Dead, Danez Smith (2017)

Award-winning poet Danez Smith is a groundbreaking force, celebrated for deft lyrics, urgent subjects, and performative power. Don’t Call Us Dead opens with a heartrending sequence that imagines an afterlife for black men shot by police, a place where suspicion, violence, and grief are forgotten and replaced with the safety, love, and longevity they deserved here on earth. Smith turns then to desire, mortality―the dangers experienced in skin and body and blood―and a diagnosis of HIV positive. “Some of us are killed / in pieces,” Smith writes, “some of us all at once.” Don’t Call Us Dead is an astonishing and ambitious collection, one that confronts, praises, and rebukes America―“Dear White America”―where every day is too often a funeral and not often enough a miracle.

Black Queer Hoe, Britteney Black Rose Kapri (2018)

Black Queer Hoe is a refreshing, unapologetic intervention into ongoing conversations about the line between sexual freedom and sexual exploitation. Women’s sexuality is often used as a weapon against them. In this powerful debut, Britteney Black Rose Kapri lends her unmistakable voice to fraught questions of identity, sexuality, reclamation, and power, in a world that refuses Black Queer women permission to define their own lives and boundaries.

If They Come for Us, Fatimah Asghar (2018)

From a co-creator of the Emmy-nominated web series Brown Girls comes an imaginative, soulful debut poetry that collection captures the experiences of being a young Pakistani Muslim woman in contemporary America. Orphaned as a child, Fatimah Asghar grapples with coming of age and navigating questions of sexuality and race without the guidance of a mother or father. These poems at once bear anguish, joy, vulnerability, and compassion, while also exploring the many facets of violence: how it persists within us, how it is inherited across generations, and how it manifests itself in our relationships. In experimental forms and language both lyrical and raw, Asghar seamlessly braids together marginalized people’s histories with her own understanding of identity, place, and belonging.

Holy Wild, Gwen Benaway (2018)

In her third collection of poetry, Holy Wild, Gwen Benaway explores the complexities of being an Indigenous trans women in expansive lyric poems. She holds up the Indigenous trans body as a site of struggle, liberation, and beauty. A confessional poet, Benaway narrates her sexual and romantic intimacies with partners as well as her work to navigate the daily burden of transphobia and violence. She examines the intersections of Indigenous and trans experience through autobiographical poems and continues to speak to the legacy of abuse, violence, and colonial erasure that defines Canada. Her sparse lines, interwoven with English and Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe), illustrate the wonder and power of Indigenous trans womanhood in motion. Holy Wild is not an easy book, as Benaway refuses to give any simple answers, but it is a profoundly vibrant and beautiful work filled with a transcendent grace.

Be Recorder, Carmen Gimenez Smith (2019)

Be Recorder offers readers a blazing way forward into an as yet unmade world. The many times and tongues in these poems investigate the precariousness of personhood in lines that excoriate and sanctify. Carmen Giménez Smith turns the increasingly pressing urge to cry out into a dream of rebellion―against compromise, against inertia, against self-delusion, and against the ways the media dream up our complacency in an America that depends on it. This reckoning with self and nation demonstrates that who and where we are is as conditional as the fact of our compliance: “Miss America from sea to shining sea / the huddled masses have a question / there is one of you and all of us.” Be Recorder is unrepentant and unstoppable, and affirms Giménez Smith as one of the most vital and vivacious poets of our time.

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Rachel is Autostraddle's Managing Editor and the editor who presides over news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1133 articles for us.

12 Comments

  1. Has anyone read ”alice isn’t dead”? It’s by one of the guys behind the ”nightvale” podcast and Jasika Nicole had a hand in it. It’s reallllllly creepy, bits of gore but not much, and the lead character is a gay black woman. It’s also filled with allusions to ‘real’ horror ( bigotry, poverty etc) and as well as being creepy as hell it’s emotional and moving and I don’t even LIKE ”horror” type books but the imagery and the feelings hit me HARD.

  2. Great list and more to read as always.

    I also recommend:

    -Sally Rugg – How Powerful We are (memoir of one of Australia’s leading activists during our marriage equality postal vote shitshow)
    -Ariel Levy – The Rules Do Not Apply (memoir)
    -Chely Wright – Like Me (memoir)
    -Ellen Forney – Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me (graphic memoir)
    -Nicole Forney – Calling Dr. Laura (graphic memoir)
    -Carol Anshaw – Carry the One (fiction)
    -Ellen Forney – By Blood (fiction)
    -Melina Marchetta – Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil (fiction with only a small lesbian storyline but it was lovely and the book was fantastic)
    -Tille Wilden – On a Sunbeam (graphic novel)
    -Andrea Gibson – Take Me With You (poetry)

  3. BRB, making a new shelf on Goodreads just for this list.

    PS, The Miseducation of Cameron Post is the book I wish I’d had to read when I was a teenager. If anyone here has not yet read it, move it to the top of your list. It’s so wonderful.

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