We’re going into 2018 strong for LGBTQ representation in books and I am overjoyed. Every year, my reading challenge is ‘read all the queer stuff.’ It’s an easy challenge to complete, because there is still a drought, but it’s also becoming more exciting each year because the quality and range of LGBTQ titles that are being published is awesome. 2018 brings us more rep for queer POC and for trans and non-binary people across a wide genre spectrum. Superheroes are coming out, and the focus has been turned more towards marginalised voices from underrepresented parts of the globe. There is still a long way to go, but looking at the list below I think we can high-five independent publishing this year, and we can even do a firm thumbs-up for publishing in general.
Heartland is a pulpy, uproarious word-party of a novel by Lesbian Avengers co-founder Ana Simo. As I write this I’m about ten pages in. It really sucks your brain in. It’s about a thwarted writer who is suffering from a broken heart and terrible writer’s block. And there is only one solution for that – murder. Specifically the murder of the woman who stole her girlfriend. Heartland is trashy and smart and wonderful and, frankly, an electric book to kick off queer lit in 2018.
In Vol. 1, Kevin Keller does what most queers do as soon as they are able – he leaves his small town for the excitement of the big city. In Kevin’s case, he leaves Riverdale for New York. Trying to juggle dating with a high-pressure journalism job, Kevin must try to make his New York dream come true before the city eats him alive (as if). Hot on the heels of the super-popular Riverdale TV show on Netflix, this new collection by Dan Parent is a real treat for Kevin fans. And he has many – he was the first ever fictional GLAAD anti-bullying ambassador, to give you an idea how popular he is.
Andrea Gibson is one of the most influential spoken word artists out there. Their poems focus on gender, politics, social reforms and LGBTQ rights and activism. Take Me with You is a pocket-sized book of poems, quotes and fragments that are split into three sections: love, the world, and becoming. Gibson, who identifies as genderqueer, is an influential spokesperson for the LGBTQ community whose fans include Margaret Cho and Tig Notaro. Head over to their YouTube channel to listen to their poems.
The Diamond Setter follows Fareed, who crosses illegally into Israel to try and find out more about his past. He takes with him a famous blue diamond with the intention of finding its rightful owner. Fareed ends up in Israel’s vibrant gay scene. He falls in love with both an Israeli soldier and his boyfriend, who is the narrator of the book, and reveals the story of his family’s past: a tale of forbidden love that connects Fareed with the owner of the diamond. Next in a much-needed, quietly-growing canon of queer Middle-Eastern literature, The Diamond Setter will appeal to anyone who loved Saleem Haddad’s bestselling 2016 novel Guapa.
This is one of the books I am most excited about in 2018. It stars Sandra Pankhurst; husband and father, drag queen, gender reassignment patient, sex worker, small businesswoman, trophy wife and now trauma cleaner (which is exactly what it sounds like). Author Sarah Krasnostein follows Sandra as she clears up after deaths and crime, caring for both the living and the dead. It’s pegged as the compelling story of a fascinating life among lives of desperation, and an affirmation that, as isolated as we may feel, we are all in this together. I cannot wait.
N’Tyse is one of the few street lit authors who writes LGBTQ fiction. Street lit tends to be pulpy, fun and fast-paced and the plot of Stud Princess ticks all those boxes. It’s about two women who find themselves blackmailed into working as escorts for Queen-Pin Chyna, and then having to go against the grain to prove their love for one another, bearing in mind whose turf they are treading on.
As well as being a strong contender for ‘cover of the year’, The Night Ocean just sounds really great. It’s about a man named Charlie who has become obsessed with H.P. Lovecraft, specifically one episode in the legendary horror writer’s life: in the summer of 1934, the ‘old gent’ lived for two months with a gay teenage fan named Robert at his family home in central Florida. Against his wife Marina’s wishes, Charlie is desperate to find out what the two men were up to. Just when he thinks he’s solved the puzzle, a new scandal erupts, and he disappears. The police say it’s suicide. Marina doesn’t believe them. As a heartbroken Marina follows her missing husband’s trail, the novel moves across the decades and along the length of the continent, from a remote Ontario town, through New York and Florida to Mexico City.
La Bastarda by Trifonia Melibea Obono (translated by Lawrence Schimel)
La Bastarda is the story of orphaned teen Okomo. Forbidden from seeking out her father, she enlists the help of other village outcasts: her gay uncle and a gang of mysterious girls revelling in their so-called indecency. Drawn into their illicit trysts, Okomo finds herself falling in love with their leader and rebelling against the rigid norms of Fang culture. I don’t even need to tell you how amazing, vital, and exciting this one sounds. Roll on April, please.
When he discovered his past self currently living in the present was gay, Iceman realised he might not be being entirely honest with himself. Now he finds himself not only having to juggle his social life with his superhero one, but also having to come out to his parents all over again for a completely different reason. But as a founding member of the X-Men, he’s more than ready for the struggle.
Michelle Tea has been a hero of mine ever since I read Valencia as a teenager. She is awesome, and if I were to meet her I’d probably get shy. Especially after the recent Black Wave, which is the queerest book I have read. Against Memoir, out in the UK in May, is a collection of essays about ‘all things artistic, romantic, and neurotic.’ It also features dykes on bikes. YES PLEASE. (As a side note, Against Memoir is the next book in the Feminist Press’s Amethyst Editions imprint, which is curated by Michelle Tea and champions emerging queer writers. You can read more about the imprint here).
Disoriental by Negar Djavadi (translated by Tina Kover)
I was lucky enough to get an early proof of this (thanks, Daniela!) and I loved it. The story takes place in a Parisian fertility clinic where Kimia is waiting to find out if she is pregnant. During her wait, she thinks back to how she got there, tracing back her ancestors and her own childhood in Iran. A queer punk-rock fan, Kimia is also a master storyteller; we learn about her great grandfather and his 52 wives, and then her own parents, radicals and fierce opponents of Iran’s new regime. The book offers a fascinating look at a different side to Iran, and adds another LGBTQ voice to the growing canon of Middle-Eastern queer lit. I especially enjoyed the parts about Kimia’s coming out and childhood gender-confusion, which is relatable in many ways no matter where the story takes place.
The original cast of the Runaways return in Rainbow Rowell’s Marvel debut, illustrated by fan-favourite artist Kris Anka. The heart of the team, Gert, has returned from the dead – did her love for Chase survive? Meanwhile, emotional landmines abound as Karolina and Nico figure out how to navigate their feelings for one another while trying to keep their friendship intact.
Sodom Road Exit is described as ‘a family melodrama and a lesbian supernatural thriller written by a Lambda Literary Award winner’ and also ‘as riveting as Siouxsie and the Banshee’s Spellbound’ and I’m not sure you would need any other reason to look forward to this. Set in the summer of 1990, it takes place in the small town of Crystal Beach and its abandoned amusement park. When Starla returns to the town as a debt-riddled university drop-out, she starts hearing inexplicable sounds and seeing unimaginable sights. But she is far from a conventional protagonist: when others might feel fear, she feels lust and queer desire. I am giddy.
Casey Plett is another Lambda Award-winner, this time for transgender fiction. If you read McSweeny’s you might have come across her writing before – she wrote a column on transitioning. Little Fish is her first novel, and it sounds so, so good. It follows Wendy Reimer, a 30 year-old transwoman living in Winnipeg who comes across evidence that her late grandfather may have been trans himself, leading Wendy to unravel the mystery of his life against the challenges of her own life, from sex work to alcoholism to suicide. Like Sodom Road Exit, Little Fish is published by Arsenal Pulp Press, who are doing amazing things for LGBTQ literature.
Sweet and Low is a collection of short stories ‘that tackles issues of masculinity, identity, sexuality and place.’ It’s by Nick White, whose How to Survive a Summer was one of my favourite LGBTQ books of 2017. White’s work has been described as ‘southern gothic with a contemporary edge’, which is a genre (is southern Gothic even a genre?) that I am very keen on. His prose is dark, witty, and often uncomfortable, and he writes about social issues with a sharp eye. I’ve always really enjoyed short fiction and am glad it’s a growing trend at the moment. Hopefully Sweet and Low will get some traction in the UK. Plus, the book cover is a real heartthrob.
Another offering from Aresenal Pulp Press, Forward is a graphic novel about two women who are trying to put the pieces of their lives back together after trauma. Rayanne has closed herself off after a terrible breakup. She has crushes, but she prides herself on being able to resist them. Then, unexpectedly, one of her crushes begins to affect her more than the others and threatens to upset her carefully controlled existence. Ali, meanwhile, is numb and lost after losing her wife to cancer. One day she is ambushed by her attraction to another woman, an attraction that is both invigorating and fantastically inappropriate. In the same vein as Blue is the Warmest Color, Forward is a beautifully executed, heartbreaking and poignant comic with moments of startling humour.
Technically this came out in 2017, but the shiny new paperback will be available in 2018 and I am including it because it’s good. Protagonist Lucky is married to Kris, and both of them are gay. Their marriage is a means of hiding their sexuality from their conservative Sri Lankan families. But when Lucky’s high school crush Nisha appears back in her life, Lucky finds it harder and harder to hide who she is. SJ Sindu is a Sri Lankan-American author and it’s great to see her adding her voice to the LGBTQ lit canon. I’m really looking forward to seeing what she writes next.
The Waterfront Journals is made up of the fictional monologues of the outcasts and hustlers that David Wojnarowicz’ encountered on the streets of New York City during the 1980s. It’s a visceral portrait of life on the margins of America, showing the desires and downfalls of people who, as Phillip Hoare writes in his introduction to the book, ‘are what the ‘straight’ world has dumped over a fence’. The stories belong to gay men during the height of the AIDS crisis, runaways, and self-proclaimed feral beings, who are living in a decaying carnival of sex and art and thievery. Maybe not a lighthearted read, but one that reeks of life.
Queer Africa is much-needed collection of ‘unapologetic, tangled, tender, bruising and brilliant stories about the many way we love each other’ by African writers, about Africa. Honestly I can’t believe this is only just being published in the UK now, in 2018, and would like to shout out to the excellent New Internationalist for giving it to us. As New Internationalist puts it, ‘there is an urgent need for writing that challenges the hateful rhetoric of religious and political leaders and that encourages open dialogue.’ The full list of stories and authors hasn’t been released yet, and I can’t link to it as it is not finalised, but I know it contains fiction from Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, South Africa Botswana, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe.
As a child, Vivek Shraya learnt how to perform masculinity to survive. When she was growing up as a boy, the men in her life violently disapproved of Vivek’s feminine qualities and sought to rip them from her. It has taken her years to reclaim herself and her inherent femininity, but even now she is haunted by the past and afraid to dress the way that she wants to or express herself in public. I’m Afraid of Men is the culmination of years of reflection on gender and masculinity, in a multifaceted study that looks toward the future with hope.
The first volume of this phenomenal comic was my absolute favourite release of 2017. I loved everything about it: the art, the writing, the characters, the story. It was a truly mind-blowing reading experience, unlike anything I’d read before. So obviously the 2018 publication of Volume 2 has me tipsy. At the end of the first book, we saw Karen come out to her brother, and I can’t wait to see where Ferris goes with that story line. I wrote enthusiastically about Volume 1 here if you need a recap.
Tillie Walden’s follow up to her lyrical graphic novel I Love This Part shifts between the surreal and the everyday, in a poetic exploration of growing older. A City Inside recounts one woman’s life, from her childhood home to her first love, and on as she learns how to build an identity that she can comfortably grow old inside.
Also from Tillie Walden comes the story of a rebellious schoolgirl turned crew member on the space ship Aktis, who rebuilds beautiful, ruined structures in the deepest reaches of space. Part love story, part space epic, On A Sunbeam tells Mia’s story in two interwoven timelines that together create an inventive, breath-taking tale of queer love and friendship. It started life as a webcomic, and was too glorious not to print, so hats off to Avery Hill for making it into a tangible, touchable, 500-page epic paper comic! (And if you’re going to Thought Bubble this year you will be around for the official launch).
In Sarah Schulman’s first pulp novel since 1988’s After Delores, former police detective Maggie Terry’s addictions jeopardise a murder case. Fresh out of rehab, Maggie wants to keep her head down and get her life back on track so that she can be reunited with her daughter. Unable to return to the police force, she takes on work as a Private Investigator, immediately landing the case of a strangled actress which could jeopardise all her best laid plans.
Jonny Appleseed has seven days before he has to go back to the reservation for his stepfather’s funeral. A two-spirit indigiqueer person, Jonny has been living in the city and making his way as a cybersex worker. With the funeral looming and the past always at his back, Jonny’s week is filled with love, sex, trauma, kinship, and ambition. This book is Joshua Whitehead’s debut novel, and has been nominated for the 2018 Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBTQ Emerging Writers in Canada.
This one is a queer classic. In this new edition of Gary Indiana’s 1993 novel Gone Tomorrow, a broke and nameless narrator is in no position to ask questions when a friend casts him in art-house film set in Colombia. But when he steps out of Bogota airport and directly into a policeman beating a beggar within an inch of his life, it seems like a blatant omen that he isn’t about to be the bohemian hero he had hoped.
Here’s another one from ‘the pink poet’ – a reissue of Gary Indiana’s debut. Horse Crazy tells the story of a 35 year old New York City arts and culture writer who falls in love with the handsome, charming, possibly heroin-addicted, and almost certifiably insane Gregory Burgess. As the narrator wanders through a fog of passion while the AIDS crisis spreads through the city, Indiana weaves a tale where the only morals are that thwarted passion is the truest passion, and love is a hallucination.
Jennie Wood’s ambitious and critically acclaimed indie graphic novel focuses on a shape-shifting teen after the girl of her dreams. Chaos ensues when Lily pretends to be someone she’s not, shape-shifting into a boy to get the girl. Trying to come to terms with who she is and what she’s done, and with her loved ones in danger, Lily rushes home to protect her family. But when she gets stuck in the form of her estranged mother while shape-shifting, she must accept that she’ll never live a “normal” life.
The superhero-teen-drama continues in the second volume of Rainbow Rowell’s Runaways stint. The pressure is on for Molly, who – despite being in middle school – once again takes on the perilous role of being the Runaways’ guardian. Matters are further complicated when Karolina’s girlfriend, Julie Power of the Power Pack, turns up, and some of the team have mixed feelings about her arrival. Even still, it turns out that the Runaways’ greatest enemy might not be the supernatural deals or fearsome villains, or even their own emotions — it could actually be the well-meaning outsiders trying to help them.
21 year old queen Alexa is drawn to the drugged-out exploits of Boston’s mid-90s queer scene in Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore’s new novel Sketchtasy. In a culture of conformity, clubs, and practised apathy, and with the spectre of AIDS looming overhead, Alexa and her friends grapple with growing up in a time when gay desire and death are two sides of the same coin.
“What if, instead of discovering our sexuality only once, during puberty, we discover it again later – and then again, after that? What if our sexuality reinvents itself every time our desire shifts, every time the object of our desire changes?” asks Carolin Emcke, in this extended and enthralling essay about the landscape of desire. How We Desire examines how prejudice against homosexuality has persisted even in a supposedly progressive society, and draws back the veil on the experience of desire regardless of sexual orientation.
Tiger Flu by Larissa Lai
In Larissa Lai’s first novel in sixteen years, an exiled community of parthenogenic women wage war on disease, technology, and an economic system that threatens them with extinction. The Tiger Flu is a cautionary tale and a cyberpunk thriller rolled into one, following doctor apprentice Kirilow as she tries to find another woman who can save her community after the death of her girlfriend Peristrophe.
Care Work by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
In their long-awaited new collection of essays, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha explores the realities of disability justice, focusing on the lives and leadership of sick and disabled queer, trans, black, and brown people. Leah writes passionately and personally about creating spaces by and for sick and disabled queer people of colour, and creative “collective access” in our communities and political movements. Equipped with knowledge gained from their years of cultural and activist work, Piepzna-Samarasinha explores everything from the economics of queer femme emotional labour, to suicide in queer and trans communities, to the realities of touring as a disabled queer artist of colour.
We’re pretty shouty about queer literature, and write about them often on this blog. So if you’d like some reading recommendations for books that are already published and available, have a read of these posts: