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Which Queer Midwest Writer To Read Based on Your Favorite Chappell Roan Song

I personally have been bumping Chappell Roan’s “Pink Pony Club” since it appeared on my Discover Weekly playlist in 2019, and yes, I do regret not making more of an effort to see her in concert back then. I was cynical enough to think a lesbian pop star would never have the critical success Chappell has — and I am both so happy to be wrong and so frustrated with my past self. But I digress.

Not only is Chappell a fabulous representation of a lesbian voice in the music industry, but she is pointing attention as well towards an oft-forgotten region of the country. Titling her debut The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess off the bat addresses an important pillar of Chappell’s identity: Growing up in a Missouri trailer park, Chappell has been outspoken about the Midwest as a center of cultural revolution. In a video interview with TIME, she discusses how she views the Midwest as a place of revolutionary fashion, music, and culture, even if the rest of the country may not deem it “valuable.” She also makes a crucial point — a point many queer folks agree with — that the assumption of the Midwest as a conservative conglomerate is incorrect. “There are gay people everywhere,” she says, that “feel the same type of passion for queerness” as a gay person in a larger city.

As a Midwesterner myself (also Missouri, woo!), I couldn’t agree more with this view from Chappell, and couldn’t be happier for someone to bring that attention forth. The queer Midwest is very real and a very powerful space to occupy. And as a writer, and a lesbian, I find many of those voices come alive in contemporary literature.

Similar to my Taylor Swift list that came out a few months ago, for those of you who love Chappell and love to read, here’s a curated (but by no means complete) guide to contemporary queer Midwestern writers based on your favorite Chappell track. Let’s go!

Now, when I say Midwest for these folks, that could fall into any or all of the following categories: born and raised in the Midwest, currently live in the Midwest, and/or include significant Midwesternisms into their work. Feel free to drop any recommendations in the comments!


It feels only right to open this article with an author who describes herself as an “eternal midwesterner.” If you’re a fan of YA, you’ve likely seen Leah Johnson around (in a manner of speaking): Her debut You Should See Me in a Crown was featured on numerous best-of-the-year lists when it was released, including being listed as one of the 100 Best YA Books of All Time by TIME. Johnson is a star of YA and middle-grade books, featuring beautiful and necessary stories of Black queer girlhood. Her latest book, Ellie Engle Saves Herself, which features a young Black queer girl suddenly imbued with life-generating superpowers, was recently a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in LGBTQ+ Middle Grade. Outside of writing she also operates the bookstore Loudmouth Books in her home of Indianapolis, so if you’re ever in town, go buy some books and sick merch! Johnson is also a certified Chappell fan and was featured in our story about Chappell’s queer fans in the Midwest and South.

Red Wine Supernova

The delightful campiness of “Red Wine Supernova” could be condensed in book format and find itself a part of Rochelle Hurt’s work. Though currently teaching in Florida, Hurt’s home state of Ohio is as much a character in her works as anything else. The cross-genre The J Girls (published by Midwest-based Indiana University Press) features five working-class girls navigating sexuality “with campy performances of monologues, soap opera clips, mock interviews, talk shows, commercials, and even burlesque.” Her poetry book The Rusted City likewise positions Cleveland as a beating heart with each poem as a crucial artery to an experience wholly rooted in Rust Belt livelihood. Ohio is as resilient and captivating a topic as gender and sexuality across Hurt’s books.

After Midnight

“After Midnight” has a lot to live up to as the third track, following such powerhouses as “Femininomenon” and “Red Wine Supernova.” But the song has a general vibe of being  unconcerned with what people may think of it.In the verses, Chappell admits to having lived a lifetime under others’ thumbs, and no longer wants to take it. This brings me to Ashley C. Ford’s fabulous nonfiction. Ford’s work is unafraid to tackle topics from all realms of the personal, most specifically her experiences as a Black queer woman. In addition to her best-selling memoir Somebody’s Daughter, detailing her relationship with her incarcerated father, Ford has written widely for publications such as OUT Magazine, Slate, The New York Times, and more. She has hosted numerous podcasts as well, including 112BK, Lovecraft Country Radio, and The Chronicles of Now. A true jack of all trades, Ford is as much of a go-getter as the song’s speaker, who declares “This is what I wanted, this is what I like” as the only mantra necessary for a life.


I admittedly had a hard time finding a way to connect this poet to a track, just because their work is so complex, crucial, and evocative that it almost feels demeaning to try to reduce it to a single pop track (sorry, Chappell). The best I can find is “Coffee” — a ballad of all things! — in that it is a song of regret and resilience. It is a song that requires a deep combatant bravery on the part of the speaker, an understanding of themselves in the face of difficult odds. In this way, I am able to justify Tarik Dobbs for this track. Dobbs is a Lebanese-American poet from Michigan, whose experimental aesthetics chaperone a thorough, devastating eye through the United States’ complicity in racial trauma and international warfare.  An example of what I mean: their poem “Poem Where Every Bird Is a Drone” is visually constructed like that of a tree, balanced on a stanza as its ground/foundation. The poem itself is an expressionist examination on modern warfare and the use of military drones to inflict a sinister punishment even more detached from humanity than usual warfare. Utilizing these unique visualizations, Dobbs heightens the complexity and intensity of their work tenfold. Their collection Nazar Boy, and Dearbornistan is on its way. Also, much of their poetry can be found across the Internet.


Chappell’s “Casual” was a viral TikTok sound long before the success she currently occupies. Its vulnerable frustration with the speaker’s love interest, a girl who can’t bear to admit the complexity of a queer relationship, resonated with queer women and lesbians across spectrums. If you’re looking for a work of contemporary fiction to capture that same soft brutality, Sarah Thankam Mathews’ All This Could Be Different may be for you. Set in Milwaukee, Mathews’ book follows first-generation Indian immigrant Sneha as she begins a new corporate job and begins a torrid romance with a woman for the first time. However, as the book progresses, Sneha struggles with the necessary intimacy of being known by other people, akin to “Casual’s” subject. An Autostraddle book club pick, this story is sure to engage you.

Super Graphic Ultra Modern Girl

“Super Graphic Ultra Modern Girl” is a title not many can claim. It is akin to the title of a king or the Pope (with the same amount of f-slurs), and is not a mantle that should be taken up lightly. But if you’ve read Great Exodus, Great Wall, Great Party by Chessy Normile, you may agree she comes close. The poems in this collection never cease to astound me with their careful control of humor and devastation. When Dolly says, “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap,” I think of Normile — simply put, she makes it look easy. But it is so clear the balancing act of laughter and sorrow in this collection comes from a dedicated honing of one’s craft. The cast of casual characters in these poems are treated with a reverence reserved for gods, and the otherworldly, near-supernatural occurrences are treated with the gracelessness of an ordinary bird. There is a flip of words and expectations here, though at the end of each poem you come away realizing you’ve been bamboozled: You think none of the poem is important, and yet, by the end, you realize poetry is the only thing in the world that matters.


The feverish foolishness is what makes up the charm of “HOT TO GO!” It’s stupid in the most purposeful, delightful manner — “stupid” in the sense that it puts playfulness first, unapologetically, and in that way, is putting the necessary act of queer joy first. This reminds me all too well of Chicago-based Sam Herschel Wein. Self-described as a “lollygagging plum of a poet,” Wein is the author of three chapbooks: Butt Stuff Flower Bush, Fruit Mansion, and GESUNDHEIT!, the last of which being a collaboration between them and Chen Chen. Their poetry is radiant with queer tomfoolery, but not at the expense of solemnity: their poem “People say I look cute in my purple bike helmet and I believe them” describes the queerness of their body and their actions. One line asks, “You ever been / rimmed underneath a tree / older than your grandma?” Their poems often include such infectious lines as this, but the poem is not merely funny: it is a tender reckoning of the queer body, of being able to see oneself as bright as “the sun glint / from the lake.” Other poems by Wein use a similar approach, talking filthily of the speaker picking their vegan collar up from a hookup’s house, as a means of validating the magic of queer sex and self-acceptance. I highly suggest picking up a copy of any of their work or reading their work online — I’m sure it’ll be hot to go.

My Kink Is Karma

It feels right that the writer for this song should be one whose career is so full of a vast extreme of successes that surely it can only be good karma (listen, it’s hard to pair songs up sometimes). Kay Ulanday Barrett’s resume could be such an example of good karmic retribution, but more clearly, is an example of determined, hard, passionate creative work. Defined on their website as “queer. pilipinx. poet. activist. educator. snack eater,” Barrett’s catalog of worth does not allow itself to be categorized easily. Their work is as varied as the identities they write toward: poetry, food writing, and disability advocacy are just a small taste. They have worked with a flock of community and interdisciplinary theatre organizations, and prioritize intersectionality heavily in their workshops. They have written the poetry collections When the Chant Comes and More Than Organs, had work featured in the anthology Outside the XY: Queer Black & Brown Masculinity, and were named one of Chicago’s LGBTQ 30 Under 30.

Picture You

While “Picture You” is a salacious track about, uh, thinking about someone while doing something else…it did get me thinking about what it means to perceive another person, and to expect or receive their perception of you in turn. What does it mean, too, to ask for that perception — or to reject it? Dior Stephens, who defines themselves as a “proud Midwestern pisces poet” (after my own heart), also brings these questions to my mind as I read their collection CRUEL/CRUEL. A hybrid examination of post-2020 queer Black life, Stephens thrusts us through a contemporary archive of feeling. From the surveillance state to inner reflection, how we see and are seen are the knife at the throat of Stephens’ delicious debut.


Chappell’s ballads are underappreciated in the shadow of her campier, sluttier anthems. “Kaleidoscope” is a love song, charged with a prescient sorrow and a gorgeous near-galactic observation on the ever-rotating nature of love. For this track, one of my favorite love poems comes to mind, and thereafter its poet. “When I Tell My Husband I Miss the Sun, He Knows” by Paige Lewis has for a long time been my personal go-to for love poems, but the rest of their work is so much more than this one piece of it. The author of Space Struck, Lewis’ poems are deeply engaged with the universe around them, exploring “the wonders and cruelties occurring within the realms of nature, science, and religion.” Like Chappell’s song, their collection pursues the human spirit as a “kaleidoscope,” a menagerie of lights and colors that echo out into one another like an endless beacon. Described as “silky and gruesome” (which is how I’d like everything about me to be described as from now on), their work will have the sun melting in your mouth.

Pink Pony Club

While typically I get annoyed by those who attempt to gatekeep artists, saying they liked them before they were cool, I did like Chappell before she was cool. I danced to “Pink Pony Club” during 2020, in an abandoned field with my one COVID bubble friend, and yes, I am better than you. But I digress. The reason “Pink Pony Club” stood out to me when I first heard it was the purity of its queer revelry: a place where you can be your queerest self, “just having fun,” something many queer people long for but don’t always have. And especially not during the thick of the initial days of COVID. A poet whose work I believe prioritizes such feelings of community amidst tragedy is Minnesota’s Danez Smith. Smith is the author of three poetry collections: Homie, Don’t Call Us Dead, and Black Movie. They were also a co-host of the Poetry Foundation’s VS podcast alongside Franny Choi. Their work prioritizes the necessity of chosen family — especially for queer Black folks — amidst the rubble of a country overrun by violence. Like how “Pink Pony Club” seeks the joy of dancing “on a stage in my heels” despite the overwhelming negative voice of one’s biological family, Smith’s work reminds us that as loud as the evil voices are, we can make ours louder.

Naked in Manhattan

“Naked in Manhattan” remains a personal favorite Chappell track of mine, mostly for its reference to Chappell’s Piscean nature (which we share; her birthday is actually the day before mine!). Though not set in the Midwest, there are interesting questions posed in the song that Midwesterners moving to either coast may be familiar with: trying new things, getting outside of your comfort zone, kissing girls for the first time. Melissa Faliveno’s Tomboyland comes to mind when I hear this track. This collection of essays is as Midwestern as a tornado — which is what the collection opens with! Tomboyland is as rooted in the Midwest as it is in queerness and womanhood, in the questions that pervade a working-class gay woman’s background. What does it mean that you sometimes have to leave the only place you know to become who you are? This collection explores that question deftly and with grace.


Despite its title, Chappell’s “California” is perhaps her most Midwestern song. While Chappell doesn’t want to return to her Missouri roots, she laments being so far from the place that raised her, and in her opinion, defines so much of her. In this way, Lori Ostlund’s After the Parade comes to mind. Set in the shadow of the thriving metropolis of Mortonville, Minnesota, Ostlund’s protagonist reconciles with all he has left behind in the Midwest as he moves to California. Despite his escape to San Francisco, he cannot truly let go of his past until he faces it, which includes an estranged missing mother, an older partner, and a carousel of “larger-than-life misfits” who remind him coming home, not running from it, is the way to let it all go.

Guilty Pleasure

What would you define as a guilty pleasure without any of the guilt? Sam Irby’s oeuvre, maybe. Irby, born in Evanston and residing currently in Kalamazoo, Michigan, is the author of numerous essay collections that contend with the ridiculousness of modern life. Irby has a contentious wit and unapologetic approach to the weirdest her life has to offer, from writing for the Sex and the City reboot to scattering her father’s ashes. Every topic is handled with humor, but more importantly, a graceful gracelessness, a guilt-free kindness for the tragic and the comic. If you’re interested, check out Meaty, Quietly Hostile, Wow, No Thank You., or We Are Never Meeting in Real Life.

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Gabrielle Grace Hogan

Gabrielle Grace Hogan (she/her) received her MFA from the University of Texas at Austin. Her poetry has been published by TriQuarterly, CutBank, Salt Hill, and others, and has been supported by the James A. Michener Fellowship and the Ragdale Foundation. In the past, she has served as Poetry Editor of Bat City Review, and as Co-Founder/Co-Editor of You Flower / You Feast, an anthology of work inspired by Harry Styles. She lives in Austin, Texas. You can find her on Instagram @gabriellegracehogan, her website www.gabriellegracehogan.com, or wandering a gay bar looking lost.

Gabrielle has written 13 articles for us.

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