On Monday night, LGBTQ organization Lambda Literary awarded nominees in 24 categories during their annual ceremony, which is now in its 27th year. The nominees were chosen from a record-breaking 818 submissions (there were 746 last year) submitted by more than 400 publishers. With an aim to recognize books of high literary achievement that are often overlooked by the mainstream literary world, the Lambda Literary Awards, or Lammys, awards authors of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender writing.
Out of the more than 800 books submitted, what makes this crop of nominees particularly special is the diversity of voices represented. From debut authors to those who have been publishing for decades, Monday night’s nominees offered a wide range of perspectives and experiences and prove Lambda’s mission that LGBTQ writing is “fundamental to the preservation of our culture.”
Nominees Represented Talent Across Multiple Art Forms, Not Just Literature
Between nominees Alan Cumming (nominated for Bisexual Nonfiction) and Janet Mock (nominated for Transgender Nonfiction), honorary award winner John Waters, and an appearance by Alison Bechdel, the ceremony celebrated the LGBTQ community’s impact across mediums. Cumming brought the glamour of Broadway and Waters represented a long and thriving directorial career (Cry Baby, Hairspray). Both wrote books this year: Cumming wrote his memoir Not My Father’s Son and Waters wrote Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America, and both represent the LGBTQ community thriving in Hollywood.
Janet Mock had a breakout year in 2014 with the release of her memoir, Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love, and So Much More, accepting an editorial position at Marie Claire, and hosting her own MSNBC show, So Popular! Cartoonist Alison Bechdel helped graphic novels continue to rise not only in popularity but in critical esteem. The musical adaptation of her memoir Fun Home recently started a run on Broadway, and she was awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant. Bechdel, Mock, and others prove that LGBTQ stories can and should be told through all forms.
There’s A Great Representation of People of Color
Best Transgender Fiction nominee Kim Fu’s For Today I Am A Boy chronicles the journey of Chinese immigrant Peter Huang as he transitions and faces the disapproval of his father, who works hard to make a new life for himself and his family in a predominantly white town in Ontario while simultaneously working to erase his Chinese heritage. Mexican-American novelist Ana Castillo (a Feminist Press author!) won for Best Bisexual Fiction for her eighth novel, Give It To Me. Her many works of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction represent important contributions to Latino literature.
The Best Gay Poetry category had some particularly important voices represented, including Saeed Jones, who was nominated for his collection Prelude to Bruise. In an interview with Lambda last fall, he addressed the political nature of his work and noted that, “my decision to write poems that engage the violence and deadly silences black men encounter in the midst of coming-of-age in the American South is a political decision.” In the fight for civil rights within our country, the rights of colored people, of women, of the LGBTQ community, and other groups facing discrimination often converge in and out of the political arena. Art, especially literature, is a medium that has the power to highlight this intersectionality.
Lambda Honored Outspoken Icon Rita Mae Brown
Brown is a legend in the lesbian writing community. Her multifaceted writing career includes the seminal classic Rubyfruit Jungle, some two dozen mystery novels, and an impressive number of books focusing on her love of fox hunting. But there is one piece of writing those who aren’t horror film fanatics might not know: she wrote the screenplay for 1980s horror film and cult classic The Slumber Party Massacre.
She was awarded the Pioneer Award for her contributions to literature. She is greatly deserving of the honor, but perhaps more interestingly, she doesn’t care for the distinction all that much. In an interview with The Washington Post, she explains: “I love language, I love literature, I love history, and I’m not even remotely interested in being gay. I find that one of those completely useless and confining categories. Those are definitions from our oppressors, if you will. I would use them warily. I would certainly not define myself — ever — in the terms of my oppressor.” Honoring an author for her LGBTQ writing who doesn’t necessarily want to be singled out because she is a LGBTQ writer added an interesting layer to the night’s festivities–and made for an interesting acceptance speech!
Nominees Represent Publishing’s Growing Inclusion of LGBTQ Voices
LGBTQ voices are no longer being confined to small presses or specifically LGBTQ publishers. The Lesbian General Fiction category includes some of last year’s biggest critical darlings. Sarah Waters was nominated for The Paying Guests, which was shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 earned veteran author Francine Prose copious praise. Shelly Oria’s debut short story collection New York 1, Tel Aviv 0 garnered praise from Pulitzer Prize nominated author Karen Russell, who called the collection “dazzling and daring” and Oria “extraordinary.” The three authors, among others nominated, were published by the Big Five publishers, including HarperCollins and Penguin Random House.
Author and activist Malinda Lo has been tracking the publishing industry’s inclusion of LGBTQ protagonists in young adult books for the last three years. By her count, “In 2014, mainstream publishers published 47 LGBT YA books. This is a 59% increase from 2013, when only 29 LGBT YA books were published by mainstream publishers.” While there appears to be no count (yet) of adult fiction with LGBTQ characters, organizations like the Over The Rainbow Reading Project, sponsored in part by the American Library Association, are collecting and listing each year’s best LGBTQ writing with a mission to “create a bibliography of books that exhibit commendable literary quality and significant authentic GLBT content.” Between the Lambda Literary Awards and the LGBTQ community tracking their inclusion in mainstream publishing, the industry is now being held to a higher level of accountability than ever before.
The goal of the Lambda Literary Awards is to “affirm that LGBTQ stories are part of the literature of the world.” Many of this year’s nominees show that the mainstream publishing industry is finally embracing this notion.