Fall is one of the biggest seasons for publishers, so there are always lots of new books to get excited about. But how many of these books exist outside of the white, cisgender, heterosexual norm? The answer continues to be, “not enough.”
However, there are still a lot of compelling titles being released over the next few months from LGBTQIA+ writers for those of us who seek broader representation in literature. There’s a sports anthology that bursts with poetry and a decolonization narrative; there are memoirs about aging; short stories; novels that take place in Uruguay and Portland, Oregon, and Brooklyn, New York; new books from debut authors and old favorites of the queer literary canon. It’s an exciting time for queer readers: Although we have a long way to go toward diversifying the publishing industry, more of our stories are being given space to be told. Here are some highlights coming up.
Elissa Altman, Motherland (Ballantine, 8/6)
Elissa Altman is the author of two previous memoirs, including Poor Man’s Feast: A Love Story of Comfort, Desire, and the Art of Simple Cooking, born of her James Beard Award-winning blog of the same name. In this new memoir, Altman explores her codependent relationship with her mother, a glamorous Manhattan singer named Rita. Growing up, Elissa didn’t fit her mother’s high-femme standards of makeup, dresses, and generally keeping up appearances. Her identity as a lesbian was also a source of tension between them. As an adult, Elissa moved to New England, where she lived with her wife, Susan, forging her own identity away from her mother. But when Rita has a fall that results in physical disability, Elissa finds herself taking care of her mother again and coming to terms with the reality of caring for an aging parent. With poignant and often very funny prose, Motherland makes for a wonderful addition to the narrow canon of stories about queer women caring for their aging mothers. Another great memoir in this vein is Cherríe Moraga’s Native Country of the Heart (FSG, 2019).
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Kimberly King Parsons, Black Light (Vintage, 8/13)
If you pay attention to best-of book lists, Black Light has probably come across your radar. The prose in this debut short-story collection is richly detailed in describing both the characters—who are weird, flawed, and so human—and the settings they’re in; its lyricism feels like a delicate dance and a gut-punch at once. The book isn’t marketed as queer, but there is a lot of queer content here; Parsons is particularly strong in writing about the complicated intimacies between teenage girls.
Carolina de Robertis, Cantoras (Knopf, 9/3)
The new novel from the author of The Gods of Tango (which also features a protagonist who explores their fluid gender and sexuality), Cantoras begins in 1970s Uruguay as five young queer women come together on an island for a getaway. Over the course of about 40 years, it follows their lives together and apart, including under the Uruguayan dictatorship during the ’70s and early ’80s. This is another multi character-driven epic, both painful and beautiful to read, with vivid prose. Also, it has one of the best opening paragraphs this reviewer has seen in a while.
Carley Moore, The Not Wives (Feminist Press, 9/10)
In this debut novel, Carley Moore (author of the essay collection 16 Pills) transports the reader right into the heart of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Brimming with details that will bring anyone who remembers the early 2010s right back to that era (from fashion, to the way people talked about politics and queerness), this story follows a sprawling cast of characters, almost all of whom are queer: the protagonist, Stevie, her young daughter Sasha, her friends Mel and Jenny, a young runaway named Johanna, and a number of others. Moore deftly captures the atmosphere of Zuccotti Park as well as the political atmosphere around the movement, which spurred people all over the world to renew discussions about class, race, gender, and social structures.
Gabby Rivera, Juliet Takes a Breath (Penguin Teen re-release, 9/19)
This debut novel from Gabby Rivera—who also wrote Marvel’s America—was originally published in 2016. An instant queer YA classic, it is now getting the wide distribution it deserves with a reprint from Penguin Teen. It follows maybe one of the best characters ever written, Juliet Milagros Palante, a young queer Latinx woman from the Bronx who spends a summer interning for fictional white feminist icon author Harlowe Brisbane in Portland, Oregon. The ways in which Juliet grapples with coming out, unlearning colonialist and white supremacist ideas, and discovering her own values give this novel teeth. But the real joy of this story is Juliet herself, a character whose self-doubt is rivaled by her self-confidence; whose big heart and book-nerd brain envelop the reader; and whose relationships with the fascinating characters around her make for one of this fall’s most satisfying reads.
Jacqueline Woodson, Red at the Bone (Riverhead, 9/17)
Jaqueline Woodson is an award-winning author of many YA novels, including Another Brooklyn and Brown Girl Dreaming. She’s now bringing her signature spare and poetic prose to this adult novel set in Brooklyn. The book opens with the seemingly lighthearted scene of 16-year-old Melody’s coming-of-age ceremony, which happens to the orchestral tunes of Prince. From there, the story moves back and forth in time, spanning the events faced by three generations of Melody’s family. Red at the Bone has one explicitly queer character, but isn’t really about being queer. In that way, it’s a beautiful example of queerness being a part of everyday life, in families and friendships. The book touches on class, gender, sexuality, age, race in the United States—all within a tender story of love in its many forms. It’s a perfect one- or two-sitting read for a crisp fall day, one that will stay with you long after it’s over.
Jeanette Winterson, Frankissstein (Grove Atlantic, 10/1)
Jeanette Winterson is well-known to many queer readers from her prolific work, notably Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Written on the Body, The Passion, and Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? Her latest novel delivers a reinterpretation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Multiple “Frankensteins” are being produced and experimented with in this novel: Shelley is creating her novel in the fictionalized chapters about her; scientist Victor Stein is creating an AI in the very near future, while trans nonbinary scientist Ry is falling in love with him; a creepy foundation in Arizona called Alcor Life Extension is scheming to create live humans from body parts; and a man named Ron Lord is creating the “next generation” of sex dolls. It’s a wacky ride about what it means to be human and what it means to be alive, and it will not disappoint Winterson fans.
Natalie Díaz & Hannah Ensor, eds., Bodies Built for Game (University of Nebraska Press, 10/1)
You might recognize Natalie Díaz’ name from her professional basketball career, or her poetry collection When My Brother Was an Aztec (she’s also got one forthcoming in March called Postcolonial Love Poem); and Hannah Ensor’s from her collection Love Dream With Television or her recent Lambda Literary 2019 Judith A. Markowitz Award for Emerging Writers win. But if you don’t, rest assured that they are a dream team for bringing together this unique and innovative anthology of sports writing. With an array of writers (including Danez Smith, Fatimah Asghar, and Hanif Abdurraqib, among others), this book picks apart the meaning of sport from the perspective of people who are not cis straight white men. From participation in sports (team or otherwise) to sports fandom; from analyzing the metaphor of sport to examining modern sports’ oppressive, exploitative, and colonialist roots; from exploring the intersections of identity (including gender and sexuality) and sports to grappling with the corporeal demands of athletics; his anthology breaks all kinds of barriers. And although it includes essay, fiction, and creative nonfiction, the book centers poetry as the dominant form, which is unusual for sports anthologies. This is definitely a must-read before that NFL game on Thanksgiving Day.
Edie Windsor and Joshua Lyon, A Wild and Precious Life (St. Martin’s, 10/8)
Edie Windsor’s case against the United States led to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned the Defense of Marriage Act. This, in turn, paved the way for Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized marriage equality nationwide in 2015. But Windsor was more than these headlines, and more than her constant presence at rallies and protests. This memoir, begun by Windsor and completed by her co-writer Joshua Lyon after her death in 2017, chronicles her life beginning with her childhood in Philadelphia and moving through her young adulthood in 1950s Greenwich Village, her life with her partner of 44 years, Thea Spyer, and her fascinating rise in the ranks of computing at IBM. Windsor was a queer woman who believed in her right to take up space and be seen, which makes for an uplifting and inspiring story in which Lyons does an excellent job of making sure Windsor’s stirring and joyful voice shines through.
Jaquira Díaz, Ordinary Girls (Algonquin, 10/29)
Every once in a while a truly electric debut memoir comes along, and this fall, Ordinary Girls is it. As a young person, Díaz’ life was upended many times by physical and emotional violence. Longing for family and sometimes finding it—in her sister, her grandmother, her friends—Díaz writes her story in a musical prose that plays with future and past tense, putting the reader in the narrator’s shoes as she navigates unreliable memories and unknown futures. Díaz’ narrative starts in Puerto Rico, goes to Miami Beach, into schools and juvenile detention centers, into stronger-than-blood relationships with friends, lovers and family; it goes into the navy, into familial legacy and colonial history. It’s the story of an ordinary girl; it’s the story of all of the extraordinary girls. Díaz is a skilled writer who strongly layers micro details with the macro structures of identity, white supremacy, colonialism, and brown, queer, and femme resilience and resistance.
Cyrus Grace Dunham, A Year Without a Name (Little, Brown, 10/15)
A Year Without a Name, an honest account of one person’s journey with gender, identity, and mental illness, is Cyrus Grace Dunham’s snapshot of a recent two-year span in which they become a changing adult in a changing world. It’s a quick read, but punchy—nearly every sentence is sharp, full of importance, at once deeply intellectual and ethereal. Dunham navigates how confusing gender is: how useless it can be while also existing as an essential facet of identity. They’re extremely self-aware, which at times feels like more of a burden than a gift. Dunham stays true to their unfinished story by packing a lot of meaning into just 176 pages but never reaching concrete conclusions. But the concrete would be antithetical to the story; Dunham lives in the truth that all of us are unfinished, forever growing and learning. This in itself is a very queer frame of thought.
Carmen Maria Machado, In the Dream House (Graywolf, 11/5)
Carmen Maria Machado became everyone’s gay aunt, thank goodness, when she Mary Poppins’d into our hearts with her genre-bending, brutal, gorgeous, queer, wild debut story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, in 2017. Her debut memoir, In The Dream House, is a firecracker of a follow-up—a story that is as scary as it is playful, as intellectual as it is emotional, as personal as it is universal. It’s the story of Machado’s relationship with an abusive partner and how it, along with her upbringing and beliefs imposed by society, affected her growth as a person. It brings to the page something that is sorely lacking in mainstream literature: the reality of abuse in queer relationships, especially lesbian ones. Machado uses her characteristic wit and fearlessness to shed light on love, terror, history, culture, narrative structure, and representation from multiple angles. It’s a must-read, haunting story for the dark months ahead.
Tommy Pico, Feed (Tin House, 11/5)
The final installment of Tommy Pico’s Teebs tetrology (preceeded by IRL, Nature Poem, and Junk), this collection from the superstar queer Indigenous writer-hero returns us to the character of Teebs, a kind of alter-ego. Like his previous volumes, Feed is full of irreverent humor, razor-sharp stanzas, and stream-of-consciousness philosophy. Pico explores uncertainty and seasonality, the horror and ubiquity of today’s headlines, friendship and dating, food and aliens, and of course, a few signature dick jokes. Nothing is quite like the experience of reading Pico’s work—it’s a simultaneously heady and grounding adventure.