Celebrating Pride: Must-Read Books by LGBTQ+ Ohio Authors

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Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Pride Month is currently celebrated each year in the month of June to honor the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan. The Stonewall Uprising, which began on June 28, 1969, was a tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States. In the United States the last Sunday in June was initially celebrated as “Gay Pride Day,” but the actual day was flexible. In major cities across the nation the “day” soon grew to encompass a month-long series of events. Today, celebrations include pride parades, picnics, parties, workshops, symposia and concerts, and LGBTQ+ Pride Month events attract millions of participants around the world. Memorials are held during this month for those members of the community who have been lost to hate crimes or HIV/AIDS. The purpose of the commemorative month is to recognize the impact that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, and members of the extended community who identify under the LGBTQ+ spectrum, have had on history locally, nationally, and internationally.

For this Pride Month, Ohioana would like to share a chronological list of books from among our state’s most noted LGBTQ+ voices, past and present.

White Buildings – 1926, Hart Crane (Garrettsville)

This first book of poems by hart Crane, one of his three major collections, was originally published in 1926. The themes in White Buildings are abstract and metaphysical, but Crane’s associations and images spring from the American scene. Crane associated his sexuality with his vocation as a poet. Raised in the Christian Science tradition of his mother, he never ceased to view himself as a social pariah. Though he was only semi-public with his homosexuality, as necessitated by the mores of the time, Crane was clear with his intentions in poems like “The Broken Tower,” and “My Grandmother’s Love Letters.” Crane tragically took his own life at the very young age of 32, leaving behind a legacy of poetry that is sadly underappreciated today. Though he is not well known now, Crane was admired in the early 20th Century by many poets and playwrights, including Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams, whose play Steps Must Be Gentle was based on Crane’s relationship with his mother.

A Boy’s Own Story – 1982, Edmund White (Cincinnati)

A Boy’s Own Story is the first of a trilogy of novels, describing a boy’s coming of age and documenting a young man’s experience of homosexuality in the 1950s in Cincinnati, Chicago and Michigan. The trilogy continued with The Beautiful Room Is Empty (1988) and The Farewell Symphony (1997), which brought the setting up to the 1990s. These semi-autobiographical novels were a deeply personal journey for Cincinnati’s Edmund White, written, in part, because of his own reading journey as a child. White has said, “As a young teenager I looked desperately for things to read that might excuse me or assure me I wasn’t the only one, that might confirm an identity I was unhappily piecing together.” He decided that, since he could not find any books to read about people like himself, he would create them on his own. Considered an icon in the world of LGBTQ+ literature, White has gone on to write over 50 novels, plays, and essays over his career, most of them featuring same-sex themes, and has won multiple awards, including the 2019 National Book Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award.

Dream Work – 1986, Mary Oliver (Cleveland)

Mary Oliver was born and raised in Maple Hills Heights, a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. She would retreat from a difficult home to the nearby woods, where she would build huts of sticks and grass and write poems. Oliver’s nature-focused poetry won numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, 2 Ohioana Book Awards, and a Lannan Literary Award for lifetime achievement. Reviewing Dream Work for the Nation, critic Alicia Ostriker numbered Oliver among America’s finest poets, as “visionary as [Ralph Waldo] Emerson.” Though notoriously secret about her private life, Oliver lived on Cape Cod with her partner, Molly Malone Cook, for more than 40 years.

Thomas the Rhymer – 1990, Ellen Kushner (Shaker Heights)

Award-winning author and radio personality Ellen Kushner’s inspired retelling of an ancient legend weaves myth and magic into a vivid contemporary novel about the mysteries of the human heart. Brimming with ballads, riddles, and magical transformations, this World Fantasy Award-winner is the timeless tale of a charismatic bard whose talents earn him a two-edged otherworldly gift. A graduate of Barnard College, Ellen Kushner also attended Bryn Mawr College, and grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. She began her career in publishing as a fiction editor in New York City, but left to write her first novel Swordspoint, which has become a cult classic, hailed as the progenitor of the “mannerpunk” (or “Fantasy of Manners”) school of urban fantasy. Swordspoint was followed by Thomas the Rhymer, and two more novels in her “Riverside” series, including The Fall of The Kings (2002), written with her wife Delia Sherman. Kushner has been praised as a vanguard of positive depictions of bisexual characters and relationships in fantasy fiction.

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio – 2005, Terry Ryan (Defiance)

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio introduces Evelyn Ryan, an enterprising woman who kept poverty at bay with wit, poetry, and perfect prose during the “contest era” of the 1950s and 1960s. Stepping back into a time when fledgling advertising agencies were active partners with consumers, and everyday people saw possibility in every coupon, Terry Ryan tells how her mother kept the family afloat by writing jingles and contest entries. Ryan’s signature wit and verve made this story so popular it was turned into a successful film. With artist Sylvia Mollick, Ryan was also the co-creator of the long-running cartoon T. O. Sylvester in the San Francisco Chronicle. She was married to her long-time partner, Pat Holt, by San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom on St Valentine’s Day 2004. Her account of her wedding, titled We Do!, was published by Chronicle Books. Sadly Ryan was diagnosed with cancer not long after her big success, and passed away on May 16, 2007.

Bright Felon – 2009 Kazim Ali (Oberlin)

Poet, editor, and prose writer Kazim Ali was born in the United Kingdom to Muslim parents of Indian descent. He received a BA and MA from the University of Albany-SUNY, and an MFA from New York University. In 2003 Ali co-founded Nightboat Books and served as the press’s publisher until 2007. He has received an Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council, and his poetry has been featured in Best American Poetry. In this follow up to his Ohioana Book Award winner Sky Ward, which won the 2015 Ohioana Book Award for Poetry, Ali details the struggle of coming of age between cultures, overcoming personal and family strictures to talk about private affairs and secrets long held. The text is comprised of sentences that alternate in time, ranging from discursive essay to memoir to prose poetry. Art, history, politics, geography, love, sexuality, writing, and religion, and the role silence plays in each, are its interwoven themes. Bright Felon is literally “autobiography” because the text itself becomes a form of writing the life, revealing secrets, and then, amid the shards and fragments of experience, dealing with the aftermath of such revelations.

The Last Nude – 2012, Ellis Avery (Columbus)

The only writer ever to have received the American Library Association Stonewall Award for Fiction twice, Ellis Avery was the author of two novels, a memoir, and a book of poetry. Her novels, The Last Nude (Riverhead 2012) and The Teahouse Fire (Riverhead 2006) received Lambda, Golden Crown, and Ohioana Book awards, and her work was translated into six languages. She taught fiction writing at Columbia University and the University of California, Berkeley. Ellis was raised in Columbus, where she discovered a love of theater, anthropology, and religion that she interwove into her works of fiction. Avery was also considered to be at the forefront of a queer historical fiction movement in which the historical setting is, among other things, an allegory for the queer child awakening to her identity in a household that cannot recognize or name her existence. In her later work, through her struggles with cancer and reactive arthritis, Avery became interested in medical narratives by both those afflicted with illness and medical professionals, and in 2018 led a narrative medicine storytelling and writing workshop at Harvard Medical School. Ellis Avery passed away on February 15, 2019, at the age of 46.

The Last Place You Look – 2017, Kristen Lepionka (Columbus)

Kristen Lepionka is the author of the Roxane Weary mystery series. Her debut, The Last Place You Look, won the Shamus Award for Best First P.I. novel and was also nominated for Anthony and Macavity Awards. This novel is a throwback, of sorts, to hard-boiled PI detectives of old, only Roxane Weary is a very modern character. A deeply troubled, but also deeply empathetic (often to her own detriment), person, Roxane juggles her grief over her father’s death alongside her alcoholism, her juggling of her relationships with men and women, and her mentorship of a young queer teen as she navigates life as a PI in Columbus. With each installment Roxane grows as a character and Lepionka’s incredible writing talent shines. Lepionka is also the co-host of the podcast “Unlikeable Female Characters,” featuring feminist thriller writers in conversation about “female characters who don’t give a damn if you like them.”

How We Fight for Our Lives – 2019, Saeed Jones (Columbus)

Saeed Jones is a relatively recent transplant to Columbus, but not a new name in the world of poetry. Jones has been a winner of the Pushcart Prize, the Joyce Osterwell Award for Poetry from the PEN Literary Awards, and the Stonewall Book Award-Barbara Gittings Award for Literature, and a nominee for the 2014 Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry. In 2019 he published his first memoir, How We Fight for Our Lives, an unflinching story of his coming-of-age as a young, gay, Black man in the South. Jones draws readers into his boyhood and adolescence—into tumultuous relationships with his family, into passing flings with lovers, friends, and strangers. Each piece builds into a larger examination of race and queerness, power and vulnerability, love and grief: a portrait of what we all do for one another—and to one another—as we fight to become ourselves. The book earned Jones the Lambda, the Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction in 2019, and the Literary Award for Gay Memoir/Biography, in 2020.

The Gravity of Us – 2020, Phil Stamper (Dayton)

Phil Stamper’s debut YA novel, The Gravity of Us, is the story of two teens, Cal and Leon, who are brought together when their parents are both selected for a new NASA mission to Mars. Stamper balances the boys’ burgeoning relationship against a backdrop that brings the space race into the 21st century. In a 2020 interview, Stamper, who was raised just outside of Dayton, says, “I’ve always felt that we need all sorts of queer stories and experiences out there. I built this book in a world where homophobia is just not acknowledged, and I wanted this story to be a safe space for queer teens who always feel like they have to keep their guards up when reading a book.”

If you are looking for more on the history of Pride Month itself, you may also enjoy Love Wins: The Lovers and Lawyers Who Fought the Landmark Case for Marriage Equality, the story of Ohioans Jim Obergefell and John Arthur and their fight for marriage equality, written by Obergefell and Debbie Cenziper. Today is the fifth anniversary of the ruling of Obergefell v. Hodges, in which the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Readers may also enjoy LGBT ColumbusLGBT Cincinnati, and LGBT Cleveland, written by 2020 Ohioana Book Festival author Ken Schneck, and published by Arcadia, and How to Survive a Summer, the acclaimed debut novel by Columbus author Nick White, as well as the works of e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, Ruth Awad, Berenice Abbott, and P. Craig Russell. 

Of course, this list is merely the tip of the iceberg. There are so many, many more LGBTQ+ authors, and their voices have too often been marginalized. We hope that perhaps this brief summary will encourage you to explore other gifted LGBTQ+ writers, not just from Ohio, but everywhere.

And for more Pride Month celebration, please check out our interview with Alex DiFrancesco, the first trans and non-binary Ohioana Book Award finalist, published here:
http://www.ohioana.org/an-interview-with-alex-difrancesco/