Classic Works of Gay Literature

In August of 2010 Proposition 8 in California was struck down by the U. S. District Court. Prop 8 was the ruling that banned gay marriage in California. The issue was subsequently appealed further and ultimately the United States Supreme Court ruled that Prop 8 was indeed unconstitutional, upholding the District Court ruling.

We often read literature to visit unreachable places or to observe the daily life of complete (in fact, fictional) strangers. You don’t have to be gay to explore gay literature. Any books that can open our eyes and, as Kafka says, “wound and stab us'” helps to increase our understanding of humanity, and isn’t that a big reason why we read?

In recognition of Prop 8 being struck down, the Los Angeles Times published a quick list of gay literature in it’s Book Section. Here are the twenty classic works of gay literature. How many have you read? Don’t forget to add the other titles to your reading list:

  • Giovanni’s Room” by James Baldwin — a man discovers his sexual identity in Paris
  • Nightwood” by Djuna Barnes — early postmodern fiction of women in Paris in love
  • “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” by Alison Bechdel — a graphic novel memoir of her troubled gay father and her own coming out
  • “Rubyfruit Jungle” by Rita Mae Brown — the 1973 tale of a young woman’s coming of age
  • Naked Lunch” by William S. Burroughs — the focus of a breakthrough obscenity trial, a landmark experimental novel
  • “Oscar Wilde” by Richard Elmann — bio of the lively writer whose gay relationship got him sent to prison for “gross indecency”
  • Maurice” by E.M. Forster — a love story written when homosexuality was illegal in England; published posthumously
  • “The Well of Loneliness” by Radclyffe Hall — groundbreaking lesbian novel of the 1920s
  • “Invisible Life” by E. Lynn Harris — an African American law student’s sexual discovery
  • Howl” by Allen Ginsberg — the poem was subject to an obscenity trial in part because of its explicit gay themes
  • Our Lady of the Flowers” by Jean Genet — published in 1944, sexual adventures in Paris’ criminal underground
  • “American Studies” by Mark Marlis — an aging man looks back; won the LA Times book prize for first fiction
  • “Tales of the City” by Armistead Maupin — in San Francisco, the stories about Michael Tolliver continued in five sequels
  • “Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir” by Paul Monette. A breathtaking yet matter-of-fact, day by day account of the death of his longtime partner from AIDS.
  • Brokeback Mountain” by Annie Proulx — a story of cowboys in love, from the collection “Close Range”
  • City of Night” by John Rechy — a novel of gay street hustlers in the 1950s
  • “The Complete Poems” by Sappho — a woman’s love poetry from the seventh century BC
  • The Queen Is Dead” by Hubert Selby Jr. — a story of a transvestite’s death, from the collection “Last Exit to Brooklyn”
  • “The Master” by Colm Toibin — an imagining of the life of Henry James
  • Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit” by Jeanette Winterson — a young woman’s sexual awakening that won the Whitbread Prize for first fiction

(original article at LAT by Carolyn Kellogg, Nick Owchar and David L. Ulin)

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