This past spring, I facilitated a Johnston Center for Integrative Studies seminar entitled Queer Literary Resistance. We read a number of works by LGBTQ writers—poets, novelists, and playwrights. As we mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots—a series of now-iconic confrontations between police and the gay rights activists in Manhattan beginning on June 28, 1969—I share some of the works we enjoyed the most.
Hieu Minh Nguyen’s volume of poems Not Here (2018) searches through a wide field of heartfelt experiences, in language that’s rhythmic, colloquial, and startling. He has great slam-poetry performances, such as "Notes on Staying,"on YouTube as well.
We discovered other current poets, too: Tommy Pico, Junk (2018); Joshua Whitehead, Full-Metal Indigiqueer (2018); Chen Chen, When I Grow Up I want to Be a List of Further Possibilities (2017); and Alok Vaid-Menon, Femme in Public (2017).
Lately I’ve been so captivated by Ocean Vuong’s extraordinary poetic gift that I’ll be teaching Night Sky with Exit Wounds (2016) in my Johnston seminar this fall. His poems are so erotic, so despairing, falling into strangely surreal clusters of impressions. Look for “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” online to feel the shock of his daring verse. He has just come out with an autobiographical novel of the same title that’s winning readers fast; the tale—in the form a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read—unearths the family’s history that began before he was born.
Early in the seminar we read Chinelo Okparanta’s novel Under the Udala Trees (2016). In lovely plain writing Okparanta tells the remarkable story of an Igbo woman in Nigeria who falls in love with another woman, against all the social and legal forces arrayed against her.
Then we reverted to Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel The Price of Salt (Carol), which follows the involvement of a young woman with a captivating older married woman. In the 2015 movie, the older woman, Carol (played so brilliantly by Kate Blanchet), seems to propose the affair. But the book carries us into the turnings of Therese’s mind as she embarks on an adventure into unexpected desire.
We also took great pleasure in Audre Lorde’s Zami: A New Spelling of My Name: A Biomythography (1982). The way she renders her embrace of her blackness and her love of women is so honest that each of us felt she was telling our story.
I’d be glad hear what LGBTQ books you’ve found fascinating. You’re welcome to write me by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Happy summer reading!