Any time is a great time to brush up on LGBTQ+ history. For your next book club meeting, perhaps choose some queer literature. Spanning across all genres, losing yourself in a book is a great way to learn the stories that have shaped queer art, culture, and history today.
1. “Giovanni’s Room” By James Baldwin
James Baldwin is one of the most prolific LGBTQ+ authors in American history. His groundbreaking novel “Giovanni’s Room” is the epitome of queer literature. The story is set among the bohemian bars and nightclubs of 1950s Paris, France. Baldwin tells a tale of love and the fear of love through a passionate account of the intricate complexities of love, morality, and the human condition.
2. “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” By Ocean Vuong
“On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” is Ocean Vuong’s debut novel about a shattering portrait of a family, an explosive first love, and the redemptive power of storytelling. Vuong writes with a mix of intelligent urgency and composed grace, converting the complexity of finding oneself caught between multiple worlds and identities. Vuong’s work asks an important question: how do we heal and rescue one another before forsaking who we are?
3. “Boy Erased” By Garrard Conley
In his memoir “Boy Erased,” Garrard Conley chronicles his experience in a 12-step gay conversion therapy program. Conley was raised in a fundamentalist home in Arkansas. Upon learning he was gay, Conley’s family forced him to choose between familial disownment and gay conversion therapy that promised to “cure” his sexual orientation. Conley’s book described the harm he endured in the program, detailing the counseling and intervention he received. “Boy Erased” was adapted into an Academy Award-nominated film in 2018.
4. “Sister Outsider” By Audre Lorde
Audre Lorde is a prolific black lesbian poet whose writing is essential to queer canon. “Sister Outsider” is a collection of fifteen essays and speeches on racism, sexism, homophobia, and class. Lorde’s nonfiction prose has had a groundbreaking effect on contemporary feminist theory. Her writing explores several issues with careful thought, consideration, and hope for the future. “Sister Outsider” embraces intersectionality and leads to higher social consciousness and understanding.
5. “Destransition, Baby” By Torrey Peters
Torrey Peter’s provocative debut novel “Detransition, Baby” fearlessly explores the taboos of sex, gender, identity, and relationships through thoughtful, witty, and original prose.
Peters tells a story of the queer community, complex relationships, and creating a world we want to live in. This novel has been hailed as the first great trans realist novel. The story follows three women, both transgender and cisgender, whose lives collide after an unexpected pregnancy. Together, they must confront their innermost thoughts on sex, motherhood, and the true meaning of desire.
6. “Stung With Love” By Sappho
“Stung With Love” is the entire surviving poetry collection by one of the original lesbian poets, Sappho. Taking place more or less 150 years after Homer’s “Iliad,” Sappho lived on the island of Lesbos, near what is present-day Turkey. Sappho’s writing once lived in the great library of Alexandria, and although little remains today, this collection is what has survived. Filled with lyrical poetry of provocation, spite, desire, celebration, resignation, and remembrance, Stung With Love gives access to the mind and heart of one of the first and foremost voices of LGBTQ writing.
7. “Wow, No Thank You” By Samantha Irby
Not all queer literature needs to be serious to be influential. Samantha Irby is by far one of the funniest writers of contemporary American literature.
Her latest essay collection, “Wow, No Thank You,” explores the newest chapter of Irby’s life. This includes falling in love and marrying a woman, becoming a stepmother, being courted by Hollywood, and leaving Chicago to live in a small town in Michigan. Irby is unflinchingly honest in her point of view, which will no doubt leave you laughing out loud and wishing you were her friend.
8. “Stonewall” By Martin Duberman
Martin Duberman is a renowned historian and LGBTQ rights activist. In “Stonewall,” Duberman takes us back to the Stonewall Riots. His writing weaves together different character’s narratives, showing multiple points of view as the historic events unfold. This story is an unforgettable portrait of the repression leading up to the riots and how this pivotal moment changed history for LGBTQ rights. The book finishes with the first pride march of 1970, an event commemorating the Stonewall Riots and cementing the tradition of pride marches for the future.
9. “The Price Of Salt” By Patricia High Smith
You might recognize the story of “The Price of Salt” in the recent Academy Award-nominated feature film adaptation, “Carol”. Based on Patricia High Smith’s own experience, “The Price of Salt” chronicles the entrancing drama of Therese Belivet, a routine-bound store clerk whose life is changed forever when she meets Carol Aird, a customer who comes into the store to buy her daughter a Christmas present. “The Price of Salt” is celebrated for the boldness of its time, centering and celebrating a lesbian romance that does not end in devastating tragedy or going back to the men in their lives. This book gives the reader hope that finding queer love, community, and creativity is possible and within reach.
10. “Orlando” By Virginia Woolf
“Orlando” by Virginia Woolf was initially published in 1928. The book tells the story of one person’s transition from male to female. This book has stood the literature test of time. Orlando’s internal journey is beautiful, thoughtful, and complex that laid the groundwork for today’s cultural landscape and understanding of sexual and gender identity.
11. “The Prophets” By Robert Jones Jr.
“The Prophets” by Robert Jones Jr. connects the reader to both their strongest and softest self. An original and stunning debut novel, “The Prophet” is a new novel that deserves to be indoctrinated into classic queer literature. The story follows two enslaved young men, Samuel and Isaiah, who live on a Deep South plantation and form a forbidden union. They find refuge from the terrors of slavery in each other’s arms, fostering intimacy and sincere love in a world of vicious cruelty.
12. “The Color Purple” By Alice Walker
A classic through and through, “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker is an LGBTQ masterpiece about the love between women. Made into a Broadway musical and award-winning feature film, the story follows two sisters leading very different lives and their unbreakable bond. “The Color Purple” is a cultural phenomenon. It won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and National Book Award for Fiction.
13. “Tales Of The City: A Novel” By Armistead Maupin
The first in a series that later became a popular television show (and Netflix remake!), “Tales of the City” explores the daily goings-on in an apartment at San Francisco's 28 Barbary Lane. This is the first of nine novels that are both comedies and thoughtful character portraits. The series spans from 1978 to 2014. The stories were originally serialized in newspapers before taking final form in novel structure.
14. “The Hours” By Michael Cunningham
“The Hours” by Michael Cunningham is a novel that won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the 1999 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and was later made into the 2002 Academy Award-winning film of the same name. The story takes place over one day. Using a stream-of-consciousness style, the book follows the stories of three women during three different periods. Cunningham inventively focuses on the life and work of Virginia Woolf to tell the tale of women struggling with love, despair, inheritance, and hope.
15. “The Picture Of Dorian Gray” By Oscar Wilde
Renowned author Oscar Wilde delivers one of the subtle LGBTQ books in classic literature. In “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” Wilde tells the story of a man who does not age, while his hidden portrait gets older and older. The book challenges people to contemplate the meaning of art, sin, and design. If you are searching for a gothic and decadent camp novella, look no further.
This list encompasses queer literature, old and new. It contains multiple genres and perspectives, giving a little something for everyone. These stories serve to educate, inform, and inspire readers of all gender identities and sexual orientations. Visibility and representation of these stories give space for readers to see themselves in ways they may not have previously possible.
Did we miss any classics?! Let us know what we should read next 👇