Culture Writers and Editors recommend the best queer literature to read this Pride Month

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The Colour Purple by Alice Walker

Trigger warning: gender discrimination, physical and sexual abuse

Dear God. 

Dear Stars, dear trees, dear sky, dear peoples.

Dear Everything.

Celia develops a sense of oneness with the audience every time she starts journaling. The Colour Purple sheds light on more than just the passion of love; it emphasises on the importance of self-discovery. From the very beginning, Celia’s journal portrays the prominent disregard the society has for black women. There is no room left for opinions as the reader navigates through the feminine life full of hardships, discrimination, abuse and illiteracy. The lack of correct grammar, the naive sense of thoughts, the innocence and subdued will of queer identity justifies the setting of the story. The Colour Purple is a powerful journal of a black woman who finds her own identity through the later course of her life. It is shocking how easily the protagonist surrenders herself to dominating men in her life in the first half of the book. Shug and Nettie, hardcore as they can be, stand by Celie till the very end, thus playing a major role in the shaping of her character. There is constant growth in Celia’s thoughts, beliefs and actions. It enlightens the deep connections among different souls, and the power of confidence and standing your ground. From being abused by her father and her husband to standing up to herself and becoming an entrepreneur, The Colour Purple is an inspirational yet unique take on life.

The Colour Purple is an inspirational yet unique take on life

Vidhi Bhanushali

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

The heart-wrenching LGBTQ+ romance provides the emotional devastation readers love to hate

James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room has everything someone could look for in their next LGBTQ+ read. Published in 1956, this classic combines an alluring setting of 1950s Paris with richly complex characters and shockingly beautiful prose. 

The novel begins at its end point, as the first-person narrator David reveals his lover Giovanni’s approaching death. However, rather than providing an explanation, David takes us back in a retrospective narrative which gradually unveils his responsibility for the tragic conclusion. We begin with David’s American upbringing, which left him battling an inner conflict between traditional conceptions of masculinity and his homosexual desires. Seeking escape in the more liberal environment of Paris, he meets and falls in love with young bartender Giovanni. However, the freeing environment of Giovanni’s room, where the men carry out their affair, soon becomes an enclosure for David. Unable to overcome his internalised homophobia, he deceives and pushes away those around him in a quest to suppress his queer identity – a quest that ends in tragedy. Ultimately, the novel conveys that an attempt to run from yourself is not only futile, but also has destructive consequences. 

There are manifold reasons why Giovanni’s Room is a must-read. Not only does the heart-wrenching LGBTQ+ romance provide the emotional devastation readers love to hate, but Baldwin’s piercing perception of human psychology and spellbinding writing make the novel deserving of classic status both within and beyond the genre of queer fiction.

Elisa Aylmer-Hall

Miss Iceland by Auður Ava Ólafsdótti

A perfect introduction to contemporary Icelandic literature in translation

Translated from the Icelandic by Brian FitzGibbon, Miss Iceland is the strange, fascinating, and compelling story of budding writer Hekla and her best friend Jón John, as they navigate the trials of living in 1960s Iceland. Hekla struggles with breaking into a male-dominated industry and being subjected to sexual objectification and harassment at work, while Jón John makes clothes and dreams of working in the theatre, but is only able to get hard, bullying work on board ship. Jón John’s difficulty is increased by his homosexuality; while Hekla fully accepts him, he experiences rampant homophobic abuse from his peers. He longs for a boyfriend he can hold hands with, but has to make do with secret hookups with married men. Jón John and Hekla both use literature to make sense of their place in society. Discussing Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, Jón John understands that Hekla is ‘number 2’ and also that he is not considered a ‘real man,’ reflecting bitterly: ‘I don’t have a number.’ 

This is a gorgeously-written book with a whole host of well-developed characters, including a young mother desperately miserable with her domestic life and Hekla’s poet boyfriend who feels threatened and emasculated by her success. This book is queer in almost every possible meaning, and is also a perfect introduction to contemporary Icelandic literature in translation.

Ilina Jha

Heartstopper by Alice Osman

Alice Oseman’s five-book series Heartstopper navigates the complexities and joys of growing up queer. The series follows protagonists Nick and Charlie and we watch as their relationship blossoms throughout the books. Oseman brilliantly captures the emotion, chaos and beauty of being young and queer in her storytelling, balancing interesting storylines and positive LGBTQ+ representation impeccably well. The series also features lesbian, transgender, and asexual characters, approaching LGBTQ+ themes in a fantastic way. In 2022, Heartstopper took the world by storm following the release of its Netflix adaptation. The TV series featuring Kit Connor and Joe Locke was a massive hit, bringing both the beautiful and difficult scenes off the page and on to the screen for an even larger audience. Whilst primarily heartwarming and sweet, the series doesn’t shy away from serious issues such as mental illness and homophobia. Praised for their depiction of queer relationships and diverse agenda, the books do an excellent job in speaking to their queer readers and opening the minds of others. Heartstopper spotlights LQBTQ+ characters and themes in a fun and realistic way – it is easy to see why it is so popular.

Oseman brilliantly captures the emotion, chaos and beauty of being young and queer

Hannah Gadd

Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

The representation of the confusion that comes with bisexuality is admirable

Red, White and Royal Blue may be one of the most cliché romance books I have read since my Wattpad phase, but Prince Henry and Alex Clairmont-Diaz are one of my favourite queer couples in any romance book I have ever read. The book sees two very unlikely noble figures, the Prince of England and the First Son of America (and supposed sworn enemies) as they are forced together in an international PR stunt. The two boys inevitably fall in love and instead must try and cope with finding comfort in their sexualities and the beginnings of a relationship, all while trying to bring their families good press. 

Not only is the book hilarious and the two leads insanely loveable, but the representation of the confusion that comes with bisexuality, especially as part of that community myself, is admirable. It’s also refreshing to experience the fear of ‘coming out’ through Prince Henry in a way that paints the experience in a difficult but ultimately positive light, rather than doubling in on the fear of being exposed by having the character rejected, which is quite common in queer storylines. The boys’ sexualities are also weaved into the story in a way that does not make Red, White and Royal Blue a rom-com solely popular for it being gay, but just another incredible rom-com novel in the oeuvre of Casey McQuiston.

Ash Sutton

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evarist

Girl, Woman, Other is a pinnacle read about the modern LGBTQ+ scene

Girl, Woman, Other is a pinnacle read about the modern LGBTQ+ scene, especially involving black women and non-binary people. Each chapter follows a different character, and there are twelve main characters in total, all from different ages, geographical locations, and class backgrounds. I first picked up this Booker Prize-winning novel for my favourite module this year, The Social Life of Literature, and I loved the social implications the novel had. Girl, Woman, Other simply gives a voice to those unheard, or the ‘Other’ in society, through different perspectives throughout the novel. Although the Girl, Woman, Other is a vague recollection for me now, I am eager to reread it again at some point because the message is hard hitting and amazing. With rumours that Girl, Woman, Other is going to be televised, I am excited to see how this representation of women and non-binary people will be displayed visually. It will definitely not disappoint.

Halima Ahad

Stung with Love: Poems and Fragments by Sappho

One of the seminal queer poets, Sappho stands the test of time. Through her poetry, she artfully evokes the intense feelings of life and love, conveying not only the beauty of romance, but also the pain and suffering that it often inflicts.

Sappho’s poetry is absolutely enchanting, and reads like some sort of incantation. She writes of beauty and luxury – roses and hyacinths, gold and honey, the sun and the moon. Love is presented as both delicate and violent. In one poem, she sings of weaving flower crowns, while in the other, she suffers the overwhelming sensations of a Homeric battlefield death after witnessing her female lover with a man.

This particular edition is perfect for readers wanting to introduce themselves to Sappho’s work, as it features a page of notes beside each poem, providing historical and mythical context, potential interpretations, and justifications behind Poochigian’s translation choices. The poems are arranged by theme – goddesses, desire and death-longing, her girls and family, Troy, maidens and marriages, and the wisdom of Sappho.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone, especially those unfamiliar with poetry as an art form. Sappho has been hailed throughout history is a master of love poetry, as her ability to conjure such strong emotions is something to be admired. It is no surprise that Plato dubbed her the tenth muse.

Sappho’s poetry is absolutely enchanting, and reads like some sort of incantation

Angel Damonsing

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