When wrapping up the year 2013 in the world of lesbian and queer literature, one word comes to mind: variety. It was a great year in non-fiction; graphic novels once again made their way to the forefront; heavy-hitter lesbian authors released new fiction, including Michelle Tea, Ali Liebegott and Jeanette Winterson; and straight authors increasingly took up the mantle of writing more and more queer characters into the mix.
Transgender writer and activist Julia Serano published her first work since 2007’s Whipping Girl with Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive, published this fall from Seal Press. This is a topic that always needs more attention, and Julia Serano is the perfect person to do it.
Queens of Noise: The Real Story of The Runaways by Evelyn McDonnell took an in-depth look at the too-short-lived female punk rock band of the 1970s that helped pave the way for the riot grrrls decades later. Including interviews with most of the former members of The Runaways, McDonnell documents well an important and perhaps overlooked portion of queer musical and social history.
It seems there’s always at least a couple of outstanding memoirs each year in our world, and in 2013 two that stood out were Kelli Dunham’s Freak of Nurture and Amber Dawn’s How Poetry Saved My Life. Duham’s collection of essays is consistently funny and inspiringly optimistic, while Dawn’s tale, told through both poetry and prose, shows some of her darkest days hustling on the streets of Vancouver, BC, and how she scraped her way to a better life.
Fiction & YA
Michelle Tea, of Rent Girl and Sister Spit fame, has spent the last few years both delving into YA and returning to her Chelsea, Massachusetts roots, and she continued the trend with her release this year of Mermaid in Chelsea Creek, gorgeously published by McSweeney’s. Lemony Snicket blurbed it, and his words are always much better than mine could ever be: “The novel has everything terrific about Michelle Tea, with the grit and the wit and the girls in trouble loving each other fierce and true, and then it has all the juice of a terrific fantasy novel, with the magic and the creatures and the otherworldly sense of something lurking underneath each artifact of our ordinary lives.”
Another Sister Spit alum, poet Ali Liebegott released the aching Cha-Ching!, which is, as Sarah Schulman put it, a “deeply romantic story about a fucked-up dyke, her pit bull, her search for love, her tenuous grasp on hope, a pretty girl and the literal spin of the wheel” as she makes her way from San Francisco to New York City, navigating her way through addiction and poverty.
Susan Choi also got a lot of attention with My Education, a novel about graduate student Regina Gottlieb who gets too wrapped up not just in the life of her male professor, but also that of his wife.
While Jeanette Winterson’s dark tale of witchcraft and lesbians in early 17th Century England, The Daylight Gate, was actually released in the UK last year, it had its first release in the States in 2013.
Nicola Griffith, author of lesbian and feminist novels such as Ammonite and Slow River, came out with a sweeping historical novel of a kickass woman living in the Middle Ages, Hild, dealing with all the violence and ruthlessness of the age. Hild becomes an essential asset to her uncle, who’s plotting to overthrow the king. She acts as a “seer,” and how she chooses to use her power can have serious consequences.
We also saw the conclusion of bisexual Reese Holloway’s alien adventures in Malinda Lo’s Inheritance, sequel to her sci-fi thriller of last year, Adaptation, including seeing how things turned out with her dual love interests of Amber and David. While I loved these stories from Lo, along with a few other YA novels with lesbian protagonists, such as e.E. Charlton-Trujillo’s Fat Angie, overall I felt like there were fewer blockbusters in this category this year than there were last year. Perhaps that’s because of statistics that Malinda Lo so wonderfully wrapped up about LGBT YA lit in 2013, where she found that cisgender male main characters were dominant, and also that mainstream publishers published less LGBT lit this year than last. She did even more number crunching in looking at trends over the last ten years, however, and those results were definitely brighter.