Queer Literature has existed for as long as people have been penning their thoughts into stories and poetry. Ancient mythology told stories of homoerotic lovers, very often queer Gods, Goddess and Greek artists (special shoutout to 6th Century BCE Sappho who, is thought to be, the earliest documented lesbian). Eventually, in the Middle-Ages, Christianity swept in and abolished the consensus that homoesexuality was ok, but of course this didn’t stop LGBTQ+ writers. Antonio Rocco, Francis Lathom, Oscar Wilde and Virginia Woolf are only a handful of queer people in history taking to plays, poetry and novels to articulate their homosexual desires.
We are now at a point in history where Modern and contemporary literature is rife with LGBTQ+ representation. Here is a short collection of prose, poetry and a playscript to get you started with your own queer reading list, representing lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender and non-binary stories.
Rubyfruit Jungle – Rita Mae Brown
Published in 1973, Rubyfruit Jungle follows the life of Molly Bolt as she explores her own queerness as an American teenager, rejecting the paths she is expected to follow. The novel truly was one of the first of its kind, and Brown’s writing combines humour and tenderness against the backdrop of New York’s fascinating LGBTQ+ community.
Oranges are not the only fruit – Jeanette Winterson
Emotional and dark, this 1985 novel explores the life of a young lesbian living in a Pentecostal community in England. Written with subtlety and powerful dialogue, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit grapples with Religion-based homophobia within a coming-of-age framework. Definitely to be consumed with a big cup of tea on a rainy afternoon.
Conversations with Friends – Sally Rooney
A more modern and perhaps lighthearted story than the prior two, Conversations with Friends has a bisexual woman, Francis, as its protagonist. Rooney’s observations of contemporary Ireland are sharp, and she portrays Francis’ bisexuality carefully whilst avoiding tokenism, as she dives into a tantalizing love affair.
Mr Loverman – Bernadine Evaristo
If you’d like an entertaining and tender read, Mr Loverman is perfect for you. The 2013 novel tells the story of Barrington Walker, a seventy-four-year-old Antiguan living his life in London as a closeted gay man. Barry is funny, perceptiive, loving, and it’s through his eyes that Evaristo tells a deeply important story of sexuality, family and society.
Girl, Woman, Other – Bernadine Evaristo
I’ve already mentioned Evaristo but I guess it’s because she’s just so good! Girl, Woman, Other took the literary world by storm last year, and for good reason. It follows the stories of 12 women and non-binary individuals as they deal with sexism, racism, immigration, family, love and the changing landscape of contemporary England. I’ve said it before, but I could truly read Evaristo’s opinion on everything.
Trumpet – Jackie Kay
The 1998 novel was inspired by the real Jazz musician, Billy Tipton, who, upon his death, was outed as transgender to his family, friends and fans. Kay relays the trans experience with tact and energy, exploring grief, family and powerful, irrevocable love. Her writing style is lyrical and warm whilst always being resolutely honest.
To Find A Kiss of Yours – Federico Garcia Lorca
Lorca was, I would argue, one of the most powerful writers of the 20th Century. A Spanish poet, playwright and director, he was a forerunner in many arts movements (futurism and symbolism just to name a few). Holding Socialist views, it is thought he was assassinated by Nationalist Milita during the Spanish Civil War. This poem about a sweet and simple kiss, describes queer love with tenderness alongside ecclesiastical and divine imagery.
Having a Coke With You – Frank O’Hara
Written in 1960, this free verse poem chronicles an afternoon spent with a lover, comparing him to fine art pieces which he surpasses in the writer’s eyes. Like Lorca, O’Hara was part of an avant-garde writing and arts moment, and explored the world around him through deliciously experimental portrayals of daily life.
Want – Joan Larkin
Larkin’s work in the literary world has been powerfully unapologetic. She has written extensively about LGBTQ+ issues in prose and plays, but it is this 1997 poem that welcomed her onto this list. Playing with repetition and the whimsical power of the mundane, Want illustrates the deep yearning of a long distance lesbian relationship.
Angels in America – Tony Kushner
This award-winning play (premiered in two parts in 1991 and ‘93) is on almost every essential queer reading list, and for good reason. Focusing on the AIDS crisis of the 1980s in a New York setting, Angels in America is raunchy, garish and funny whilst remaining a key voice in the pivotal tragedy for the queer community. Best viewed onstage (there’s a fantastic 2017 National Theatre adaptation!) but the play script itself is also definitely worth a read.
Queer Intentions – Amelia Abraham
I picked up this book on a whim in an art gallery and was not disappointed. Queer Intentions is a deep dive into a personal yet encompassing journey of LGTBQ+ learning, outlining history and contemporary queer culture worldwide. The book is packed with nuanced yet critical information whilst maintaining a humour and tenderness that renders it a real page-turner.
An article by Kate McCaughey
Kate is an English Literature and Theatre Studies graduate from the University of Leeds. Now living and working in the North East of England as a writer, Kate is Passionate about current socials inequalities and focus much of her work on LGBTQ+ issues, class and women’s rights. These range of skills in copy editing, zine editing, spoken word and theatre makes Kate an incredible addition for Proudly.Blog.