The Ten Queer Black Books I’m Most Excited to Read in 2018

Happy Black History Month! Some of these are new, some of these are old, all of them are undoubtedly going to be awesome when I finally read them. They range from magical realism and science fiction to middle grade and YA to romance and thriller. Let me know in the comments which queer Black books are on your to-read list that you’re excited about!

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

My latest interviewee in the Interview With A Queer Reader series recommended this book by a Black, queer, non-binary author as the one that most represented her own experiences. Obviously I immediately added it to my Goodreads. It’s a 2018 Stonewall Book Award Nominee for Literature. Check out the description:

Odd-mannered, obsessive, withdrawn, Aster has little to offer folks in the way of rebuttal when they call her ogre and freak. She’s used to the names; she only wishes there was more truth to them. If she were truly a monster, as they accuse, she’d be powerful enough to tear down the walls around her until nothing remained of her world, save for stories told around the cookfire.

Aster lives in the low-deck slums of the HSS Matilda, a space vessel organized much like the antebellum South. For generations, the Matilda has ferried the last of humanity to a mythical Promised Land. On its way, the ship’s leaders have imposed harsh moral restrictions and deep indignities on dark-skinned sharecroppers like Aster, who they consider to be less than human.

When the autopsy of Matilda‘s sovereign reveals a surprising link between his death and her mother’s suicide some quarter-century before, Aster retraces her mother’s footsteps. Embroiled in a grudge with a brutal overseer and sowing the seeds of civil war, Aster learns there may be a way off the ship if she’s willing to fight for it.

Everfair by Nisi Shawl

I had somehow known about this book for a while but didn’t know it had queer content until Danika at the Lesbrary tipped me off. I’m looking forward to what sounds like amazing world-building and a Black interjection into the white-dominated and often imperialism erasing steampunk genre:

Everfair is a wonderful Neo-Victorian alternate history novel that explores the question of what might have come of Belgium’s disastrous colonization of the Congo if the native populations had learned about steam technology a bit earlier. Fabian Socialists from Great Britian join forces with African-American missionaries to purchase land from the Belgian Congo’s “owner,” King Leopold II. This land, named Everfair, is set aside as a safe haven, an imaginary Utopia for native populations of the Congo as well as escaped slaves returning from America and other places where African natives were being mistreated.

Shawl’s speculative masterpiece manages to turn one of the worst human rights disasters on record into a marvelous and exciting exploration of the possibilities inherent in a turn of history. Everfair is told from a multiplicity of voices: Africans, Europeans, East Asians, and African Americans in complex relationships with one another, in a compelling range of voices that have historically been silenced. Everfair is not only a beautiful book but an educational and inspiring one that will give the reader new insight into an often ignored period of history.

Two Moons: Stories by Krystal A. Smith

I originally heard about this book from Autostraddle’s 65 Queer and Feminist Books to Read in 2018. Jewelle Gomez says: “Krystal A. Smith writes of shape shifters, magical herbalists, and women ripe for love. Her collection of stories marries African American mysticism to speculative fiction announcing Smith’s solid place in the next generation of Afro Futurists. With its sensuous language, deftly drawn characters, and engaging narrative style, Two Moons shines bright.” It’s out March 20th. Here’s the publisher’s blurb:

A splendid debut collection of speculative fiction that traverses the connections between earth and the heavens, the living and the spectral, human and animal.

In “Cosmic,” a former drug addict has a chance to redeem herself and restore honor to her family’s name. In “Harvest,” a woman tasked with providing for her community ponders her inability to bear live children. In the title story, “Two Moons,” a young woman falls in love with the moon, and is astonished by the moon’s response. In “What the Heart Wants,” a rejected lover discovers that her physical and emotional desires are incongruent with the organ pumping blood through her veins.

Sensitive, ethereal, humorous, and at times, heart-breaking, Smith’s collection of speculative fiction signals the arrival of an exceptionally talented writer with a promising career ahead of her.

Treasure by Rebekah Weatherspoon

I have been doing a new reading project in 2018 of trying a new-to-me-genre focusing on romance. Weatherspoon is one of those authors who has been recommended to me multiple times and I can’t believe I haven’t read any of her books yet. I think this one (which I featured on this Autostraddle list of books with masculine-of-centre characters and no sexual assault) sounds like an excellent one to start with, and it has two queer Black women leads!

Her sister’s bachelorette party is the highlight of a miserable year for Alexis Chambers, but once her bridesmaid’s dress is packed away, she’s back to coping with her life as a once popular athlete and violinist turned loner and the focus of her parents’ disappointment. She isn’t expecting much from her freshman year of college until she finds herself sharing a class with Treasure, the gorgeous stripper from her sister’s party.

Trisha Hamilton has finally gotten the credits and the money together to transfer to a four-year university. Between classes, studying, and her job as a stripper, she has little time for a social life, until she runs into the adorably shy baby butch from the club. Trisha can’t seem to hide her feelings for Alexis, even when Trisha discovers what she has been through, but will Alexis have the strength to be just as fearless about their new love?

brewBrew by Dane Figueroa Edidi

I bought a copy of this trans YA book off the author’s website last year (even though my resolution in 2017 was to not buy books…) when her books finally became available to ship to Canada, and I still haven’t read it! What is wrong with me? It sounds amazing:

Arjana Rambeau, a trans teenager from Baltimore, carries many secrets, one of which is she is a witch. Beginning to start a new school, she finds herself at the center of an unwarranted conspiracy. As she makes new friends, while attempting to maintain her old ones, she must learn how to distinguish who she can trust, because it seems everyone wants a piece of her and her growing powers.

Bembe Rambeau is a mystery, infamous amongst the magical community, she has very few friends but a collection of enemies; enemies, who seem to be attempting to remove not only her allies but her daughter as well; threatening both her small empire and family’s legacy. Bembe must now combat shifting loyalties while crafting an alliance with an enemy who she once wished dead.

Brew follows the lives of a mother and daughter, one who thinks she knows everything and another discovering what she knew isn’t true at all.

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

Another book I can’t believe I haven’t read yet! I mean, it’s about a Black bisexual Jewish teen girl! It won the Stonewall Book Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature in 2018 and it deals with themes of mental illness and complicated family relationships:

When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she isn’t sure if she’ll ever want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (along with her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.

But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new…the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel’s disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself–or worse.

Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender

There are so few middle grade books with LGBTQ2IA+ characters and even fewer with queer characters of colour that this book has literally been on my radar for YEARS. It’s out March 27th.

Prepare to be swept up by this exquisite novel that reminds us that grief and love can open the world in mystical ways.

Twelve-year-old Caroline is a Hurricane Child, born on Water Island during a storm. Coming into this world during a hurricane is unlucky, and Caroline has had her share of bad luck already. She’s hated by everyone in her small school, she can see things that no one else can see, and — worst of all — her mother left home one day and never came back. With no friends and days filled with heartache, Caroline is determined to find her mother. When a new student, Kalinda, arrives, Caroline’s luck begins to turn around. Kalinda, a solemn girl from Barbados with a special smile for everyone, seems to see the things Caroline sees, too. Joined by their common gift, Kalinda agrees to help Caroline look for her mother, starting with a mysterious lady dressed in black. Soon, they discover the healing power of a close friendship between girls. Debut author Kheryn Callender presents a cadenced work of magical realism.

Skin Deep Magic by Craig Laurance Gidney

I listened to the audiobook of Gidney’s other collection of speculative short stories and absolutely fell in love with his imagination and language. (So much so that I included it on my Book Riot list of 8 Amazing Audiobooks by Black Authors). His stories sit in a really cool space of in between: not exactly horror, not exactly realism, not exactly fantasy. Plus: look at the beautiful cover. So obviously I am very excited to read his other book of short stories, which was a 2015 finalist for the Lambda Award for LGBT SF/F/Horror:

Magic is more than skin-deep. It hides in the folds of a haunted quilt and illuminates the secret histories of Negro memorabilia. Magic reveals the destiny of a great storyteller and emanates from a sculpture by an obscure Harlem Renaissance artist. Magic lurks in the basement of an inner-city apartment building and flourishes in a city park. Magic is more than skin-deep; it shimmers in the ten stories in this collection.

Alice Walker: A Life by Evelyn C. White

Another awesome queer Black book I own and have not read (shame on me), this one is a little intimidating because it is such a thick biography! But this is clearly because there is so much to tell about Alice Walker’s incredible life. Now that I’ve finally read The Color Purple (another book it took me way too long to read) I feel like I’m ready to dive into this non-fiction book about the author:

Alice Walker’s life is remarkable not only because she was the first black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in fiction (the book that won her that award, The Color Purple, has been translated into nearly thirty languages and made into an Academy Award–nominated film), but also because these accomplishments are merely highlights of a luminous and varied career made from inauspicious beginnings in rural Georgia. Drawing on extensive interviews and exhaustive research, Evelyn C. White brings this life to light.

The Girl with the Treasure Chest by V.A. Fearon

It’s not for lack of trying that I haven’t read this book yet, it’s that it’s been hard to get a hold of so far, at least as far as access through my local libraries is concerned. Maybe it’s time to get an inter-library loan going or bite the bullet and buy it, because there’s something about the description that just sounds so good (plus, the black panther on the cover):

Dani Fenton thought her life was sorted. But when her private and professional lives collide, she is forced to walk a dangerous line and risk everything for love. At home Dani has a loving partner with a young child who adores her. At work she is a powerful broker in London’s vicious gangland, where she uses her influence to negotiate deals between rival gangs at underground “meets”. Her intuition has never failed her and her charisma has attracted a loyal band of “soldiers” who would go to any lengths to please her. Life is good until Susanna returns. Enigmatic, sexual, hot-tempered and fragile, Susanna is irresistible to Dani, who soon finds herself in a spiral of obsession and violence that threatens to devastate every aspect of her life. Dani must choose between the love she has and the love she wants, and she knows the wrong decision could prove fatal.

Posted in Bisexual, Black, Caribbean, Fiction, Jewish, Lesbian, list, magic realism, mystery, Non Binary, Non-Canadian, Non-Fiction, Postcolonial, Queer, Romance, Science Fiction, Sex Work, Short Stories, Trans, Trans Feminine, Transgender, Young Adult | Tagged | 2 Comments

Interview With A Queer Reader: Paige Allen Talks AN UNKINDNESS OF GHOSTS, Queer Fan Fiction, and More!

Paige Allen is a a 24-year-old navigating corporate life in Greater Boston by day; by night, she is, in her own words, “a passionate fangirl and supporter of superheroes, comics, science fiction, fantasy, YA fiction and the Food Network.” In particular she enjoys using her position as a queer, black, diaspora’d feminist to look at all those things from a critical and analytical perspective. Paige is also a junior editor at Bookmarked, the book vertical of Bleating Heart Press, as well as a freelance writer with bylines in Harper’s Bazaar, Geeks of Color, and Black Girl Nerds. She would love if you wanted to geek out with her on Twitter @goodbye_duppy!

Paige S. Allen - headshot

Keep reading to hear Paige talk about queer fan fiction, An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon, today’s queer renaissance in publishing, how important representation in media is for marginalized people, and more!

What was the first LGBTQ2IA+ book(s) you remember reading? How did you end up reading it (i.e., were you searching for queer books or did you just happen across it?)

Ha, does fanfiction count? Seriously though, my first experiences with queer writing definitely came from the fandoms I participated in when I was younger – Harry Potter, Cardcaptor Sakura, and Sailor Moon being especially formative influences on me at the time. I wasn’t looking for anything specific when I stumbled into these fandoms but, since I was a boldly curious kid, I found queer fanfiction pretty quickly. And I was amazed! The romantic feelings these characters experienced were the same I was just starting to realize within myself, and it was all considered normal. Representation is a powerful thing at any age, so it wasn’t too surprising that I feel in love with fandom (and why I’m still a huge fangirl over a decade later).

Outside of fanfiction, my first queer book was David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy. I discovered the book tucked away in my middle school library right when it came out in 2005. By then I had been reading fanfiction for about a year, so my queer radar was locked and loaded when I saw that title peaking out at me. And I wasn’t disappointed. Boy Meets Boy is a sweet little book about a super progressive town full of queer and trans characters, who are trying to plan their futures and end up falling in love in the process. It’s a romantic comedy where no one dies, no one suffers from explicit violence or hatred because of who they are, and the boy gets the boy in the end. This book positively shaped my budding understanding of my queerness and the potential happiness I could find from it.

What is/are your favourite LGBTQ2IA+ books, and why?

Oh, this question is painful! Let me just throw out the books that I’ve read recently:

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee: it’s a new favorite of mine that came out just this year, and it’s such a gem. The book delivers a deliciously tense will-they-or-won’t-they historical love story that also deftly explores race, disability, abuse, and feminism. I was also lucky enough to interview Lee about the book during this year’s Flame Con, and she is beyond cool!

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin: this book was assigned reading during a Cold War history class in college (gotta love those liberal arts schools), and it’s held a special place in my heart ever since. Left Hand was my introduction to Le Guin’s writing, and through her I have discovered so many new literal and literary worlds. Literary, she has helped shape my gender identification in ways that I’m still trying to personally articulate and express. Meanwhile, Left Hand was the first science fiction novel I read that showed all the imaginative and important possibilities the genre can hold for our ideas of race, gender, and love in the future.

The Vintner’s Luck by Elizabeth Knox: my feelings for this book are so biased. I bought this book during a particularly stressful period when I lived in Paris, and it comforted me even while everything else in my life was, to put it mildly, a total shit-show. Vintner’s Luck is a somewhat obscure and bittersweet love story between an angel and a human (whose life is also a shit-show, actually, so maybe I was projecting while reading this!). It absolutely broke my heart a million times, but sometimes you need a queer story to remind you of your own humanity and the choices you make to find happiness in this life. It’s not all bad, though. I can guarantee I looked tragically beautiful to all the strangers that caught me crying at this little café by the Seine when I finished reading it. And that just perfectly captures the j’en sais quoi de Paris, non?

Which LGBTQ2IA+ book have you read that best reflects your experiences as an LGBTQ2IA+ person?

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon. I’ve spoken about this book a lot this year on Bookmarked and my personal social media, and I am more than happy to do so again because I felt so seen by it. I share many of the same identities and experiences as the main protagonist of this harrowing science fiction novel, which so rarely happens in a literary landscape that is still shamefully scarce of non-white stories and perspectives. This connection is all thanks to Solomon who, as a nonbinary queer black author, colors this fictional world with many of their own experiences.

Can I say again how important representation is in the media we consume? Yeah, I’m saying it again, and I’m going to add how critical it is for marginalized creators to have the opportunity to share their work and forge this shared connection with readers who do not often see themselves. We learn about the boundless and legitimate nature of our humanity from seeing it, in all its variety and nuance, reflected back at us. I cannot describe the joy and relief I’ve felt since reading this book.

Which LGBTQ2IA+ book do you wish you could read but can’t because it doesn’t exist yet?

Queer superheroes! Queer horror! Queer black and brown people living good lives and going on adventures! Queer friendships! Queer older people! Queer poly relationships! I’m a girl with simple needs, and my needs can pretty succulently be described as “make it gay.”

How do you find LGBTQ2IA+ books? How easy or hard is it in your experience finding the ones that you want to read?

While I’ve never had a problem with finding queer books in the past, I definitely feel like we are experiencing something of a queer renaissance in the publishing world. Not only is there an abundance of queer stories being distributed in all sorts of literary works these days, but I’ve been so happy to discover the increasing amount of queer black and brown stories being published as well. This increase is nowhere near as it should be in 2017, mind you, but it’s noticeable enough to celebrate the transformative work we’re getting. This change can especially be seen in young adult fiction, which this year alone has been dominated by authors such as Adam Silvera and Anna-Marie McLemore. And where fiction fails overall, indie comic books have taken up the slack in a pretty significant way. It’s been a great moment for queer fiction thus far, and I sincerely believe it will only get better – and should strive to be better – in the coming years.

Do you know other LGBTQ2IA+ readers or participate in any LGBTQ2IA+ reading communities (in person or on the Internet)? What’s it like? Why or why not?

Since becoming a Real Adult with corporate, freelance, and family responsibilities, I don’t have the time to actively participate in communities that share my voracious queer reading habits. Besides that, I’m actually really shy, so I’ve never particularly sought them out. This is just in real life, of course, since I somehow find the time to read Autostraddle and procrastinate on Twitter and Tumblr. These sites are conveniently accessible outlets for me to connect with other queer readers and some of my favorite authors, but I would like to use them more consciously to build and participate in queer communities. #2018Goals, anyone?

Thanks so much for sharing with us Paige, especially your beautiful thoughts about the importance of media representation for marginalized folks. I’m very excited to read An Unkindness of Ghosts now!

Posted in Bisexual, Black, Fiction, Interview with a Queer Reader, Non Binary, Queer, Science Fiction, Trans, Young Adult | 2 Comments

February Patreon Update: Thanks For Supporting Me My First Year of Using Patreon!

Happy February!

It’s been over a year since I started this Patreon and I am so grateful for all your support! Many of you have been patrons since the very beginning when I hesitantly dove into the whole Patreon thing in January 2017 and I want to say THANK YOU SO MUCH. Your support has really motivated me to keep this little ol’ book blog going when I might not have with all the other work and non-work stuff going on in my life. Can you believe I’ve been doing this blog since 2012?!

I hope you have been enjoying the two Interview With A Queer Reader posts a month! I changed it from one to two a month after hearing from many of you how much you liked that series. I love getting that kind of feedback from you, so please feel free to comment on the blog or send me an email at stepaniukcasey [at] gmail.com if you have any other suggestions. If you participated in my reader survey last year and asked for specific topics to be covered, don’t think I’ve forgotten about you! I have them recorded and am planning to get to them.

This month’s winner of a free queer book is Chantelle. Congrats, Chantelle! Here are the choices this month:

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I haven’t done an update since December, so there are lots of posts to remind you about in case you didn’t see them the first time around. The post I’m most proud of from December is “Reading and Re-Reading Fall On Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald”, which is kind of a hybrid personal essay about the experience of re-reading a heartbreaking book, review of the audiobook version read by Cassandra Campbell, and musing about the prevalence of dark traumatic stories about queer people.

In January, I wrote two posts about my 2017 reading year: Looking Back at My 2017 Year of Reading: A Bookish Survey and The Best (Mostly) Queer Books I Read in 2017. I read so many amazing books last year! I also wrote a review of Trish Salah’s stunning poetry collection Lyric Sexology Vol 1, where I talked about how Salah writes about gender, love, mythology, religion, sex, and trans ancestors (both real and mythical) through the lens of the idea of the self, of becoming and “I.”

And as always I want to individually thank all of the people who’ve signed up to be patrons. You lovely humans are: Danika, Leigh, Anna Marie, Jane, Jakelene, Emmet, Madeline, Heather, Carla, Laurita, Jason, Jillian, Shelagh, Priscila, James, Seed, Julie, Katherine, Rachel, Samuel, Amy, Sarah, Daniel, Sarah, Chantelle, Al, Undertheteacup, Karen, Nicole, Leora, Loretta, Mandy, Kate, and Elisabeth!

Last but not least, are you following me on the social media of your choice? Find Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian (or the ‘real me’) on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram!

 

Posted in News, Patreon | Leave a comment

Three New Must-Read Queer Canadian Poetry Books

Don’t miss these collections! If you get them soon, you may even finish reading them before me—I’ve currently got All Violet and This Wound Is A World on my bedside table and just recently posted my review of Lyric Sexology Vol 1.

All Violet by Rani Rivera

This posthumous collection of poetry was published in late 2017 by Caitlin Press, which beautifully describes the book:

“In All Violet, a young woman chronicles the experience of living on the margins, in spaces and places where body and mind are flayed by guilt, disappointments and betrayals. Her poems record the shattering trauma of struggling to survive through periods of doubt, fear, rage and pain, creating a narrative of disconnection, indignation, alienation and emptiness, the extremes of suffering and desperation. Employing lyrical free verse, Rani Rivera has skillfully employed the short line to pinpoint moments of acute perception. Unadorned, taut and precise cries of pain, loss and fury draw the reader deeper and deeper inside this in-your-face confrontation with a dark world of foreboding alleviated by flashes of mordant wit and grace under fire.”

Check out an excerpt from “Night and Day”:

I’m getting off the 501 streetcar

and stomping my big black boots into the sidewalk.

Surprisingly, my posture is perfect,

unburdened by a knapsack full of poems

and one vintage men’s Burberry trench coat.

I’m heading home on Queen West West

in an asymmetrically zippered coat

and a Northbound Leather shopping bag in tow.

Carrying war wounds and forgotten accessories.

Feeling confident, cocky even, assured.

This Wound Is A World by Billy-Ray Belcourt

Published in fall 2017 by Frontenac House Poetry, Cree poet Belcourt’s debut book of poetry is:

“Part manifesto, part memoir, This Wound is a World is an invitation to “cut a hole in the sky to world inside.” Billy-Ray Belcourt issues a call to turn to love and sex to understand how Indigenous peoples shoulder sadness and pain like theirs without giving up on the future. His poems upset genre and play with form, scavenging for a decolonial kind of heaven where ‘everyone is at least a little gay.’ ”

I had the pleasure of attending a reading by Belcourt and some other Indigenous poets and this is the beginning of a poem “Sacred” I distinctly remember:

a native man looks me in the eyes as he refuses to hold my hand

during a round dance. his pupils are like bullets and i wonder what

kind of pain he’s been through to not want me in this world with

him any longer. i wince a little because the earth hasn’t held all of me

for quite some time now and i am lonely in a way that doesn’t hurt

anymore.

you see, a round dance is a ceremony for both grief and love and each

body joined by the flesh s encircled by the spirits of ancestors who’ve

already left this world. i ask myself: how many of them gave up on

desire because they loved their kookums more than they loved

themselves?

lyric sexologyLyric Sexology Vol 1 by Trish Salah

In its new 2017 edition, Lyric Sexology Vol 1 is described by its publisher Metonymy Press like this:

” ‘That’s the bones of Lyric Sexology—that poetry can be a philosophical argument.’
—Trish Salah

Mostly written before the current cultural visibility of trans lit, Lyric Sexology Vol. 1 was Salah’s prescient contribution to a canon of self-determined literature that explores transness. In this case, the author sidesteps the ‘I’ in the text and instead draws on archives—sexological, anthropological, psychological, among others—to demonstrate the shifting and shifty nature of our identities, affiliations, and narratives.”

I recently reviewed it and shared an excerpt from my favourite poem:

I masturbate in lunar cycles

with your bleeding agile thighs,

big tits in red mesh crushed.

The gravity of your love

and our doom, in mind.

At Club Super Sexe, you’re the new favourite:

corkscrew blonde curls, ballerina body

except those tits you hate—

why you’re not a ballerina—

and a face too young to be legal.

But best, with brains, they like that:

one of the regulars brings this magnetic chess set.

On slow nights the manager lets him play you

while other girls vamp on stage

You gunk up my face and put me in your dress,

ripped fishnets. I look awful. I cut my face

in the bathroom mirror. You suck the glass out,

smoke me up and promise

someday I’ll have tits like yours…

Posted in Canadian, Gay, Indigenous, Lesbian, list, Montreal, Poetry, Queer, Toronto, Trans, Trans Feminine, Transgender | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

You Should Come to the Grand Opening Party of Out On The Shelves, Vancouver’s LGBTQ2IA+ Library

Are you a bookish LGBTQ2IA+ person living in Metro Vancouver? Well you’re in luck, because an awesome event right up your alley is coming up in February: Out On The Shelves LGBTQ2IA+ Library is having a Grand Opening Party!

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You might have missed it, but I have talked about Out On The Shelves a few times already on my blog: once back in October 2017 when we had our soft open, and again in December when we had a holiday book drive. (The book drive was really successful, and if you had a hand in that by sharing the info about the drive or donating books, thank you!). I’m the co-coordinator of the library. Now that we’ve got ourselves sorted, we’re having a celebratory Grand Opening Party which I would love to see lots of people at!

Out On The Shelves is an entirely-volunteer run library whose history goes back to the early 1980s in Vancouver! After losing our downtown space two years ago, we’ve finally re-established ourselves on UBC’s West Point Grey campus in the Student Nest building. Although we are now located at UBC, you do NOT have to be a student or staff to get a library card. Our library cards are free for everyone! Our library’s mission is:

Out On The Shelves aims to foster a free, accessible, and safe space for LGBTQ2IA+ people and their allies to discover and share stories and resources centring LGBTQ2IA+ experiences. We understand that LGBTQ2IA+ people stand at the intersection of multiple communities and identities, and we seek to empower and support them by providing access to materials that reflect their realities.

Our values include accessibility, social justice, decolonization, intersectionality, own voices, and more! Check out the Out On The Shelves website for more info on values and practical details like our hours, how many books and DVDs you can check out, and other important stuff.

Arsenal Pulp Press queer books

Recent donations from the amazing Arsenal Pulp Press!

We’re really excited about introducing people to our new space and (re)-introducing people to our diverse collection of books and DVDs at the Grand Opening Party. We have received a ton of amazing donations recently that we would love people to take out and appreciate (see above photo!). Of course, there will an opportunity to get a library card and check out materials at the party, but also special things like music, snacks, a fundraiser raffle with queer book prizes (among other things!), and a used (queer) book sale. You can drop by anytime between 6pm and 8pm, or come for the full two hours!

RSVP to the Facebook Event if you’re planning on coming. Hopefully see some of you there! If you want to keep up to speed with what Out On The Shelves is up to, follow us on your social media of choice: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr.

Where: Room 2112, AMS Student Nest, 6133 University Boulevard, UBC West Point Grey Campus, Musqeaum Territory

When: February 15th, 6pm – 8pm

How Much: Free! But bring cash to buy used books and raffle tickets in support of the library if you want.

Posted in Canadian, News, Queer, Vancouver | Tagged | Leave a comment

“I didn’t mean to become an I”: A Review of Trish Salah’s Poetry Collection LYRIC SEXOLOGY VOL 1

lyric sexologyOnce again, Trish Salah has written a collection of poetry that somehow manages to make old, familiar topics—this time: the self—brand new. She also again somehow made me feel like I was getting smarter every minute I was reading the book and like she is so much smarter than me I will never fully catch up to her.

Lyric Sexology Vol 1 is Salah’s follow up book of poetry to Wanting in Arabic, which was originally published in 2002 and re-issued in 2013, when it won the Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Fiction. Like Wanting in Arabic, Lyric Sexology takes on topics so many other poets have tackled that it feels like a wonder that she has made something unique and fresh. Lyric Sexology too has already been re-issued in a second (Canadian) edition with some additional poems not included in the first edition by Metonymy Press, which is fast becoming one of my favourite publishers. (The first American edition was published in 2014, with Metonymy’s edition coming out in 2017).

I can’t put what this book does in better words than Michael V. Smith does in one of the reviews on the back cover: “Lyric Sexology Vol 1 makes a perfect mess of so much human experience that’s been too tidily categorized.”

Salah’s poems are about gender, love, mythology, religion, sex, and trans ancestors (both real and mythical). But the idea of the self permeates most corners of the book and informs its interrogation of the other themes. She begins in a prelude:

I didn’t mean to become an I.

I didn’t mean to be.

But, I got caught up, predictably, in a subject, History, yours

From there, the collection presents poems written from the perspective of Tiresias (a male figure in Greek mythology who was transformed into a woman for seven years); about religion and god(s); poems addressed to Lili Elbe, Michael Dillion, and other trans people of the past; and so many poems about being / becoming a (gendered and otherwise defined) person. How do you become a person? How do you become an I?

In “You Were Not Born Here,” Salah writes:

You were not born.

I began in a swamp, I was made of muck, I was made to run off, to pool

sit still and stye …

We were made at home in a hut, of thatched possibilities like beach grass, plump with sweet water and razor sharp to keep the mares delicate and aware of where they trod. We were made in blue shadow so our skin might pull the light, swirly into us chitinous kids, blooming loosely and elastic cellmates with stellar equivalents. And I mean that bit literarily, star parts stretched from macrophage to deep beyond the prominence.

Contrary to the many dominant narrow narratives on how to be a trans person and how to be the right kind of trans person (“trapped-in-the-wrong-body”) and how to be the kind of trans person accepted by and understood by the cis majority, Salah’s poems are an amazing interruption of complexity. In a cisnormative world where certain types of exploitative and reductive transition stories (“the-man-transforms-into-a-woman”) are gobbled up by cis readers, Salah creates a whole book of entirely different kinds of stories, of crawling out of some kind of primeval muck and being home made out of stars and possibilities and light.

 

trish-salah

Trish Salah / image via velamag.com

In another poem called “Lili, Inc.”, Salah addresses an historical trans person—Lili Elbe’s—complex idea of a multiplicity of gendered selves, occurring within her own body, that doesn’t at all conform to 21st century mainstream understandings of being trans:

 On the train to Berlin, Lili wrote to her friends. I don’t exist here. I don’t exist yet. Einar will die for me. Heroic Einar will give up his body so…

Salah also addresses the medicalization and institutionalization of transness, in “Careers in Transsexuality: Case Studies”:

So, love, in love with your surgeon, your endo, is it really so different from your girlfriend who really sees the skin you need to make matter to make yourself matter and the support group who will maybe cut you up and maybe not. We have such small distances between our skins.

I craved the impersonality of the doctor. His arrogant projections, and clinical curiosity.

“Halving and Being” addresses the intersections of gender and sexuality in the self. Speaking in particular to Quebec lesbian feminism, Salah writes

‘Who is writing in the feminine on whose body?’ I asked, not the first

and of course it was self-interested.

Interested in having a self. What dyke isn’t? It seems like the double

significance of the feminine, repudiated by the patriarchy, constructed by

the patriarchy, repudiated / constructed as the patriarchy, is not lost on us still.

Probably my favourite poem in the entire book is “Teenage Trans Vamp Montreal, Fall 1987”:

I masturbate in lunar cycles

with your bleeding agile thighs,

big tits in red mesh crushed.

The gravity of your love

and our doom, in mind.

 

In the donut shop

we argue over which one of us

should wear the dog collar,

go down on the other.

In a room full of cops

speedy acid lets you dance for hours.

Round the corner at the Thunderdome

I make out with fourteen-year-olds from Verdun,

Dorval, the outer limits.

 

At Club Super Sexe, you’re the new favourite:

corkscrew blonde curls, ballerina body

except those tits you hate—

why you’re not a ballerina—

and a face too young to be legal.

But best, with brains, they like that:

one of the regulars brings this magnetic chess set.

On slow nights the manager lets him play you

while other girls vamp on stage

 

You gunk up my face and put me in your dress,

ripped fishnets. I look awful. I cut my face

in the bathroom mirror. You suck the glass out,

smoke me up and promise

someday I’ll have tits like yours…

But also, I really loved “Interlude 4: The Voice”:

The voice is not something I can do something with. The voice is a doing of something to me.

It is rasping slut and hopefully toward the curve of being. It is singed with a sun of sums

and dividing, it is singed with rays arrowing into the world the work of discrimination,

the slice, sluice, dice of quotas quoted and rotary motions in and out of virtual spheres,

fleshy lumps, bones and scrota and menstrual rain. The voice impermeable, the voice

undecided, the voice falsetto, castrato, undecided in declension. The voice is dressed up

fancy, the voice is dangling a hard-on. The voice is flying into you ready for resurrection,

reanimation, rivets. Make me up already, the voice declares, declaims, decals with spiffy

stuff sported by those kids today. The voice is your poem, Tim, Trace, not mine, but

Trace, Tim, your voice is in my mouth and I’m acrossed by it. Don’t be cross with me.

 

Janice Raymond interrupts to say: The voice is male-identified.

 

Don’t be too cross with her either; it is all she knows how to say, and her historical

moment more or less forced those words into her mouth.

As you can probably tell, this is a dense, frequently referential collection of poetry. I had many aha! moments where I realized what she was referring to (often other writers or books or essays but sometimes historical figures) which added a lot of richness to certain poems for me. At other times, I knew I was missing something because I hadn’t been able to identify the reference and wished that which reference was being made had been more clear, if not in the poem itself then in an editorial note. There is a great list at the back of the book of the works cited that Salah writes she “rips riffs off.”

That said, the denseness and referentiality and emphasis on intertextuality make Lyric Sexology Vol 1 the kind of book I know would be fruitful to reread many times, which is its own kind of gift. You’d get more and more from each reading, and more and more the more other books from Salah’s bibliography you also read. So read this, and then read it again, and then read some other books, and then read Lyric Sexology Vol 1, again.

Posted in Canadian, Lesbian, Montreal, Poetry, Queer, Trans, Trans Feminine, Transgender, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Queer Can Lit Newsflash: New Arsenal Pulp Press Books, Queer Canadian Books on 2017 Best Books Lists, and More!

Is this December’s Queer Can Lit Newsflash or is it January’s?? Only time will tell! Here are some things that have been happening in Canadian LGBTQ2IA+ bookish world:

Vancouver’s Arsenal Pulp Press has some new books coming out in 2018, two of which are by two of my favourite authors: Amber Dawn and Casey Plett.

Plett’s novel is called Little Fish and it sounds AMAZING! You can read an early excerpt of the novel as a work in progress from Plenitude Magazine. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In this debut novel by the author of the Lambda Literary Award-winning story collection A Safe Girl to Love, Wendy Reimer is a thirty-year-old trans woman in Winnipeg who comes across evidence that her late grandfather–a devout Mennonite farmer–might have been transgender himself. At first she dismisses this revelation, having other problems at hand, but as she and her friends struggle to cope with issues in their increasingly volatile lives–which range from alcoholism, to sex work, to suicide–Wendy grows increasingly drawn to the lost pieces of her grandfather’s life, becoming determined to unravel the mystery of his truth.

Alternately warm-hearted and dark-spirited, desperate and mirthful, Little Fish explores the winter of discontent in the life of one transgender woman as her past and future become irrevocably entwined.

little fish casey plett

Amber Dawn’s new novel is called Sodom Road Exit and you can now read an excerpt of the first chapter at Room Magazine’s website. Here’s the synopsis:

It’s the summer of 1990, and Crystal Beach in Ontario has lost its beloved, long-running amusement park, leaving the lakeside village a virtual ghost town. It is back to this fallen community Starla Mia Martin must return to live with her overbearing mother after dropping out of university and racking up significant debt. But an economic downturn, mother-daughter drama, and Generation X disillusionment soon prove to be the least of Starla’s troubles: a mysterious and salacious force begins to dog Starla; inexplicable sounds in the night and unimaginable sights spotted on the periphery. Soon enough, Starla must confront the unresolved traumas that haunt Crystal Beach.

Sodom Road Exit might read like a conventional paranormal thriller, except that Starla is far from a conventional protagonist. Where others might feel fear, Starla feels lust and queer desire. When others might run, Starla draws the horror nearer. And in turn, she draws a host of capricious characters toward her―all of them challenged to seek answers beyond their own temporal realities.

sodom-road-exit

Remember last year when I was telling you about the new imprint and mentorship program headed by Vivek Shraya in conjunction with Arsenal Pulp Press? Their first writer, whose book will be published in spring 2019, is Téa Mutonji. She is:

a writer and poet in Scarborough, Ontario. She has been awarded and published by The Scarborough Fair Magazine in fiction and nonfiction and by the Ontario Book Publishers Organization as a Scarborough Emerging Writer in the 2017 “What’s Your Story?” contest. Her poem “Après Viol” won excellence in poetry at the University of Toronto’s 2017 English Undergraduate Conference. She is currently finishing her minor in Creative Writing, and her debut collection of short stories will be released in Spring 2019. Find her on Twitter and Instagram at @teamutonji.

Apparently I am very slow on the uptake because The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline, which won the 2017 Governor General’s award for young people’s literature (it’s a YA novel), has queer characters? I obviously need to get my hands on this book asap, and you probably should too! Its description:

Humanity has nearly destroyed its world through global warming, but now an even greater evil lurks. The indigenous people of North America are being hunted and harvested for their bone marrow, which carries the key to recovering something the rest of the population has lost: the ability to dream. In this dark world, Frenchie and his companions struggle to survive as they make their way up north to the old lands. For now, survival means staying hidden – but what they don’t know is that one of them holds the secret to defeating the marrow thieves.

Quill and Quire published a short Best of 2017 Canadian Books List chosen by their reviewers and there two queer books on it: Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez and Next Year For Sure by Zoey Leigh Peterson. I also read and reviewed and liked Scarborough and Next Year For Sure!

The Globe and Mail’s 100 Best 2017 Books also featured Scarborough and Next Year For Sure! In a section on the list devoted to small press books, Ahmad Danny Ramadan’s The Clothesline Swing also came up (my review here). I also counted two books about trans people not by trans people, which is … unfortunate, although both of the writers are parents of trans kids? (The books are The Unfinished Dollhouse by Michelle Alfano and This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel).

Book Riot’s Best Queer Books of 2017 also featured a few Canadian picks, including 10 Things I Can See From Here by Carrie Mac, The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue, and Meanwhile Elsewhere: Science Fiction and Fantasy from Transgender Writers edited by Cat Fitzpatrick and Casey Plett (that one was one of my picks, obviously!).

Got some news you think I should cover in the next Queer Can Lit Newsflash? Email me at stepaniukcasey [at] gmail.com!

Posted in Canadian, Emma Donoghue, Fantasy, Fiction, Indigenous, Lesbian, Queer, Queer Can Lit Newsflash, Sex Work, Trans, Trans Feminine, Young Adult | 4 Comments