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June 18, 2021 9:52 PM   Subscribe

From the Los Angeles Review Of Books comes a long read in three parts by Michael Nava: Creating A Literary Culture: A Short, Selective, and Incomplete History of LGBT Publishing. Part I - Out from the Shadows: Beginning, 1940–1980, Part II - The Golden Age (1980–1995), Part III - Picking Up the Pieces: Queer Publishing Now
I titled this essay creating a literary culture. By literary culture, I mean a community of writers, readers, publishers, critics, scholars, and all the other component parts who speak about, to, and from a specific vantage point — whether that position is racial, ethnic, gendered, geographic, or cultural — to describe their experience of the world and of human existence. By creating, I mean that this essay describes only the first steps that LGBTQ people took to articulate their experience and existence. The expansion of that community is ongoing and much broader than the gay and lesbian writers involved in its emergence. That story — of trans and nonbinary people, of bisexual people and the evolution of queer — is yet to be told, and I leave it to more informed voices than mine. This is only part of the story, the part of the story I lived through and participated in. A trail of breadcrumbs for future readers, writers, and scholars to follow to uncover one of the most important literary movements of the last century.
posted by hippybear (5 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
The second episode doesn’t get at the whole situation with the publishers. By the mid-90s, most publishers were eliminating the “midlist” — authors who could be counted on to sell maybe 1-2000 copies in hardcover, which was kind of a break even point. A lot of reliable but not particularly popular authors and genres got pruned pretty heavily across the board.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:05 AM on June 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

Thanks for posting this, hippybear! I’ve enjoyed seeing all your pride month posts, but this one is particularly up my alley, as I read all of Nava’s Henry Rios novels during quarantine and have been getting interested in fiction and publishing.
posted by Zephyrial at 11:57 AM on June 19, 2021

But I don't think Nava's wrong about the fleeting interest in gay-themed books. This also happened with a flourishing in the 1980s of women detective stories following on the success of Sara Paretsky, Marcia Muller, and Sue Grafton. By the 90s, it was over except for few who had made it big. That was not only because they were midlist, it was the end of a fad instead of a commitment. I think there's a lot of fickleness in the publishing industry when it comes to imagining an audience that isn't white and straight.

I read the Henry Rios mysteries back in the day and enjoyed them. I was pleased to see him pick the series up again in 2019 and just discovered there's a new one out this year.
posted by zenzenobia at 1:03 PM on June 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

But I don't think Nava's wrong about the fleeting interest in gay-themed books.

No, but there was a huge disinvestment during the 90s of marginal authors of all sorts. Exacerbated by the usual bigotry, and the unwillingness of some chain stores to carry LGBT+ stuff. Add to that the gutting of small specialty bookstores across the decade, and entire markets just disappeared. Speaking as someone who was a bookseller at the time, selling a lot of marginal material including queer porn and not-porn.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:40 PM on June 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

I haven't read the essays, but I want to both thank hippybear for his dedicated queer posting this month and say I have a distinct soft spot for Michael Nava--when I was figuring out I was trans, I read, oh, every queer book in the Berkeley Public Library that I could find and I think I read all the Henry Rios books. There's so much "gay fiction" that is just trash, but Nava's books aren't.
posted by hoyland at 6:51 AM on June 20, 2021 [4 favorites]

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