Eight LGBTQ+ Writers Share Their Favourite Books

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Modern Nature by Derek Jarman
Modern Nature by Derek Jarman

To celebrate Pride, Amelia Abraham asked eight queer writers for their favourite, most radical book recommendations – with work by Derek Jarman, David Wojnarowicz and James Baldwin all included

In celebration of Pride month, journalist and author Amelia Abraham called upon a host of queer writers to recommend one book that changed the way they think – whether about love, race, humour, spirituality, gender, or the Aids epidemic. Abraham is better suited to this task than most; her latest book, We Can Do Better Than This (2021), posed the question: “how do we shape a better world for LGBTQ+ people?” and featured answers from the likes of Wolfgang Tillmans, Beth Ditto and Shon Faye.

Tom Rasmussen: Modern Nature by Derek Jarman

“It’s a cliche, but Derek Jarman is the best. Honest, salty, and utterly brilliant. By setting Modern Nature against the backdrop of his garden in Dungeness, Jarman made his battle with HIV, and with the national press who were responsible for creating so much stigma – for which Jarman was used as a totem – both beautiful and a beautiful metaphor: For all the beauty – which is the love in his life, and his garden – growing from arid soil. It’s one of the few books I’ve read where I’ve wondered if I am truly in love with the writer.”

Madison Moore: All I Could Bare: My Life in the Strip Clubs of Gay Washington, DC by Craig Seymour

All I Could Bare is a memoir about a PhD student in Washington, DC who is researching gay male strip clubs in the area, himself later becoming a stripper. I love this book and teach it in my queer nightlife seminar because it paints such an exciting, red-hot picture of queer nightlife, sex work, race and sexuality. A lot of the venues he writes about no longer exist, which adds a layer of memory and history, too. Don’t be fooled by the institutional facade of DC as a seat of global power – Washington, DC is a kinky town!”

Amelia Abraham: Nevada by Imogen Binnie

“First published in 2013, and just newly republished by Picador in the UK and FSG in the US, Nevada follows the story of punk protagonist Maria Griffiths, a New Yorker who has just been dumped and lost her job in a bookstore – along with the fallout. The book opens midway through a kinky but complicated trans lesbian sex scene, a meditation on faking pleasure, and thus starts as it means to go on: uncompromisingly queer and darkly funny in an acerbic kind of way. Fellow fans of Michelle Tea or Torrey Peters ought to appreciate this book as much as I did.”

Juliet Jacques: Four Plays by Copi

“Described by Le Figaro as “sinister, inept, indecent, odious, nauseating and dishonest”, Argentine writer Copi’s play about Eva Perón caused an uproar on its first performance in Paris in 1970, and not just because it stipulated that the deceased wife of his home country’s president should be played by a drag queen. Influenced by queer playwrights such as Jean Cocteau and Jean Genet, its melodramatic take on Perón's relationship – with Evita as a manipulative hypochondriac and Juan as a brutal misogynist who hypocritically presents her as a saint as soon as she dies – remains riotously funny and bitingly satirical.”

Juno Roche: Close to Knives by David Wojnarowicz

“With queer and unadulterated pace, David Wojnarowicz’s Close to the Knives drags everything in; seemingly inconsequential details, dates and places; rooms, vast political landscapes, really sexy sex, Aids, lovers, punters and us. It’s a vivid creature of a book that consumed me and I’m all the better for it. Hugely important.”

Bobbi Salvör Menuez: The Way of Tenderness: Awakening through Race, Sexuality and Gender by Zenju Earthlyn Manuel

“As a queer and trans person, with a committed meditation practice, I am often disappointed by the ways spiritual communities try skipping over identity politics. In The Way of Tenderness, Zenju Earthlyn Manuel so personally and lovingly attends to this essential integration of our worldly identities, with our work of dissolving and transcending – through – these selves (and beyond this world). Allowing space for and even naming as essential our queer rage, along the path toward more expansive ways – not just to love – but to show up as love.”

Travis Alabanza: Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin 

“I think any chance to get people into the world of James Baldwin is a welcome opportunity, and this is my favourite starting point. He changed the way I thought about writing and myself, partly because he wrote so explicitly into queerness and race, but more so that it was so clear he cared about writing as a craft first. I adore him.”

Kate Bornstein: Sex Is A Funny Word by Cory Silverberg

“In an age of serious antagonism about sex, sexuality, and gender, Sex Is A Funny Word is a cool breeze, a refreshing drink of water. Always welcoming, never confrontational, filled with joy and love and fun, this book was banned in parts of the US by the far right. But honestly, if any of the far-right would actually read the book, they’d walk away as LGBTQIA allies. This is the book that says it all to all ages – now that’s what I’d call radical.”