LGBTQ History Month is celebrated during the month of October. Let's honor LGBTQ history by reading a diverse group of authors and poets who have helped shape literature and culture.
Oscar Wilde was an Irish playwright and novelist, best known for his essays on art, aestheticism, as well as his biting insights into the social codes of his time. Wilde was a scintillating and colorful figure, well disposed towards conversation and the occasional scandal, the largest and most tragic being his 1895 arrest for “posing sodomite.” Wilde vigorously fought the charges, claiming libel; he was, however, still sent to prison. After his release, Wilde spent the rest of his life in France, where he is buried today.
Major works: Importance of Being Earnest, Picture of Dorian Gray
James Baldwin was an American novelist and essayist who narrated the struggle of being black and queer in America at a time when neither of those identities were much valued. Ever incisive, Baldwin wrote about the lives of gay and bisexual men long before the gay liberation movement gathered steam in the 1960s. Today, Baldwin is a staple of American, African American, and LGBTQ+ studies classes in universities across the country.
Major Works: Giovanni’s Room, The Fire Next Time
Janet Mock is a writer, TV host, and trans rights activist whose bestselling memoir, Redefining Realness, documented her life both before and after her transition and added a much-needed perspective on the “female experience.” Mock makes it clear to her readers that there is no single, universal experience of womanhood, opting instead for an intersectional view of femininity. Mock has worked for publications such as Marie Claire and People and currently writes for the FX series, Pose, becoming the first transgender television writer in the medium’s history.
Major Work: Redefining Realness
W.H. Auden was a British-American poet who wrote about a variety of subjects, including love, loss, humor, and violence. From 1941 to 1942, Auden was a professor at the University of Michigan and offered a class entitled “Fate and the Individual,” a two credit course that required almost six thousand pages of reading. Auden’s influence is far-reaching, inspiring the Nobel Prize-winning Joseph Brodsky, another U-M affiliated poet. W.H. Auden’s poems are considered timeless classics and are still enjoyed by many today.
Major Poems: “Funeral Blues,” “September 1, 1939”
Danez Smith is a black, queer, non-binary poet and graduate of U-M’s Helen Zell Writer’s Program. Their work touches on the intersection of race, class, gender, and sexuality. In addition to winning a Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry, Smith was also a finalist for the National Book Award in 2017 for their book, Don’t Call us Dead: Poems. They went on to win a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts that same year.
Major Work: Don’t Call Us Dead
American playwright and screenwriter, Tony Kushner, does not shy away from politics in his extensive body of work. His Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Angels in America, took on everything from the Reagan administration, the American healthcare system, and the plight of gay men in New York fighting for survival and connection in the shadow of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The most recent revival of the play by the Royal National Theater starred Nathan Lane and Andrew Garfield, and was highly acclaimed, winning the 2016 Tony award for Best Revival of a Play.
Major Works: Angels in America, Lincoln
Sarah Waters is a British novelist whose work often revolves around women and lesbian relationships in Victorian England. Her novels, incredibly detailed and wildly popular, have been adapted for screens across the world both big and small: her book, Fingersmith, became both a 2008 British television series as well as a 2016 South Korean film. Waters has twice been nominated for the prestigious Man Booker prize.
Major Works: Fingersmith, Tipping the Velvet
You’ve probably heard of the Bechdel test, an easy check of a film’s treatment of its female characters. Its originator, Alison Bechdel, however, is not a film critic, but an acclaimed graphic novelist and comic book artist. Bechdel’s work, which often revolves around gay and lesbian characters, is considered some of the finest in the graphic novel genre. Her best-known book is her graphic memoir, Fun Home, which recounts the story of Bechdel’s dysfunctional childhood home, encounters with her sexual orientation, and struggles with mental health. In 2015, Fun Home was adapted into a Tony-award winning Broadway musical.
Major Works: Fun Home, Are You My Mother?
Tanwi Nandini Islam
Tanwi Nandini Islam is a Bangladeshi-American novelist whose work often touches on themes of immigration, family, traditional, girlhood, and sexuality. Her debut novel, Bright Lines, a family narrative about queer South Asian women and Bangladeshi immigrants in Brooklyn, was nominated for several honors, including the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize and the Edmund White award. Islam is also the creator and owner of Hi Wildflower Botanica, a beauty and fragrance company based in New York.
Major Work: Bright Lines