After a scorching ninety-degree afternoon in New York City, the evening of May 31 finally began to cool as the nineteenth annual Lambda Literary Awards kicked off at FIT’s Katie Murphy Amphitheater. Among those gathered at the sold-out ceremony — which celebrates everything the LGBT writing and publishing community has to offer — were special guest Kate Clinton, Marijane Meaker (Highsmith: A Romance of the 1950s), Radclyff (Bold Strokes Books), Rachel Pepper (The Ultimate Guide to Pregnancy for Lesbians), Alison Bechdel (Fun House), Alison Smith (Name All the Animals), Kim Wallace (Erik & Isabella: Junior Year at Foresthill), Hilary Carlip (Queen of the Oddballs), Ellis Avery (The Teahouse Fire) and Michelle Tea (Rose of No Man’s Land).
presenter Alison Smith and awardee Alison Bechdel
Executive director Charles Flowers hosted the event, which featured twenty-five award categories — including, for the first time, bisexual and anthology books. Kate Clinton, described as a “faith-based, tax-paying, American-loving political humorist and family entertainer,” got the ball rolling with the opening “I’m so excited to be here, I’m wearing an astronaut diaper.” Mary Cheney was the brunt of many jokes, with Clinton announcing her nomination for the book Self Made Man and a very funny Christopher Rice (Anne Rice’s son and author of several best sellers) including Cheney’s Now It’s My Turn in the list of best Lesbian Romances.
Kate Clinton with contributor Heather A. O’Neill
Rachel Pepper presented the Pioneer Award to Martin Duberman, who rightly concluded that this was no time for “couch potatoes,” as the mainstream still has strides to make in recognizing the unique perspective of many LGBT writers. Alison Bechdel presented a Pioneer Award to Marijane Meaker, who in her acceptance speech admitted that she was thrilled and honored to meet the celebrated cartoonist — “I’ve been watching out for that dyke for years.”
Here’s a breakdown of some of the winners:
Arts & Culture: GAY L.A., Lillian Faderman & Stuart Timmons (Basic Books)
Bisexual: The Bisexual Guide to the Universe, Michael Szymanski & Nicole Kristal (Alyson)
Children’s/ Young Adult (tie): Between Mom & Jo, Julie Anne Peters (Little Brown)
LGBT Nonfiction (tie): Different Daughters, Marcia M. Gallo (Carroll & Graft)
Lesbian Debut Fiction: The Teahouse Fire, Ellis Avery (Riverhead)
Lesbian Fiction: The Night Watch, Sarah Waters (Riverhead Books)
Lesbian Mystery: The Art of Detection, Laurie R. King (Bantam)
Lesbian Memoir & Biography: Fun Home, Alison Bechdel (Houghton Mifflin)
Lesbian Poetry: Lemon Hound, Sina Queyras (Coach House Books)
Lesbian Romance: Fresh Tracks, Georgia Beers (Bold Strokes)
The support and pride in the room were both tangible and admirable. Alison Bechdel said it best in her acceptance speech for best Lesbian Memoir & Biography. She compared the fame she’s recently received for Fun House to a scuba diver getting the bends when rising too quickly out of the water. This award, she said (to continue the metaphor), is like fresh air.
The ceremony ran a little too long — perhaps because of the lengthy summaries provided for each nominated book — but overall, it was a night to applaud two things that deserve more attention: the value of literature in our lives and the LGBT perspective as a whole.