Ah, the Lambda Literary awards. Every year I feel a mixture of excitement and trepidation looking for the winners and the recap of the ceremony, which was Monday June 1st. Excitement because these awards are the be all end all of queer literary awards, and I love to see LGBTQ writers being recognized. Trepidation because they always seem to fuck up somehow, especially when it comes to trans and bisexual folks, as well as people of colour. The winners were officially announced today on their website. Why don’t we start with the good and I’ll save the bad for last?
There were some pretty exciting wins last night, notably Casey Plett’s in transgender fiction for her short story collection A Safe Girl to Love. Quite possibly no one was more deserving of an award, simply because A Safe Girl to Love is such a fucking stunning book. You can order it here from Topside Press, and you can check out my review here. I think Imogen Binnie puts it just right when she says there is “a tenderness and a willingness to confront bleak truths in Plett’s writing that are all her own.” These stories are the perfect combination of kind and hard, joyful and angry. Apparently Plett—who hails from Winnipeg—ended her speech by declaring “The transgender community is taking over!” Hear, hear!
Edmonton-raised, Toronto-residing Vivek Shraya’s illustrated coming of age tale didn’t win the award for bisexual fiction (I loved it and you should definitely still read it) but Ana Castillo’s novel looks pretty awesome. Check out the blurb:
Recently divorced, Palma, a forty-three-year-old Latina, takes stock of her life when she reconnects with her gangster younger cousin recently released from prison. Her sexual obsession with him flares as she checks out her other options, but their family secrets bring them together in unexpected ways. In this wildly entertaining and sexy novel, Castillo creates a memorable character with a flare for fashion, a longing for family, and a penchant for adventure.
Jaime Manrique says: “Cheeky, amoral, and a gritty survivor, Palma Piedras is a picaresque heroine for the 21st century. With an unflinching satirical flare, Castillo creates a vivid cast of rogues and helpless characters who alarmingly resemble people we know.” I can’t wait to read this!
I was also pumped to see that Charles M. Blow was given the bisexual non-fiction award, for his memoir Fire Shut Up in My Bones. It’s exquisitely written, and a take on bisexual identity I hadn’t read before. He writes beautifully about growing up black in small town Louisiana, the aftermath of being sexually abused by a cousin, and going through harrowing, unbelievable hazing in a college fraternity. You can see in the evocative title alone the way he has with words.
Daisy Hernández, who is also bisexual, was awarded an Emerging Writer Award. I’m not sure why her amazing memoir A Cup of Water Under My Bed wasn’t up for the bisexual non-fiction, because I thought that was where I had heard of it, but anyway. I reviewed it for the lesbrary earlier this year. Hernández writes striking, honest prose about such topics as class, money, racism, Latin American spiritual traditions, Spanish and language politics, and bisexual identity.
Are bisexual people of colour hitting it out of the park, or what?
I hadn’t heard of either of the winners for lesbian fiction and memoir/biography before yesterday—Yabo by Alexis De Veaux and Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around: Forty Years of Movement Building with Barbara Smith—but both are by/about black women. It’s pretty exciting to see the spotlight put on queer people of colour!
The Walk-in Closet by Iranian-American author Abdi Nazemian, which won LGBT debut, also looks fantastic. Many reviewers remark on how hilarious it is, but at the same time kind and generous. Have a look at the blurb:
Kara Walker has never found much glamour in her own life, especially not when compared to the life of her best friend Bobby Ebadi. Bobby, along with his sophisticated parents Leila and Hossein, is everything Kara always wanted to be. The trio provides the perfect antidote to what Kara views as the more mundane problems of her girlfriends and her divorced parents. And so when the Ebadis assume that Kara is Bobby’s girlfriend, she willingly steps into the role. She enjoys the perks of life in this closet, not only Leila’s designer hand-me-downs and free rent, but also the excitement of living life as an Ebadi. As Kara’s 30th birthday approaches, Leila and Hossein up the pressure. They are ready for Kara to assume the mantle of the next Mrs. Ebadi, and Bobby seems prepared to give them what they want: the illusion of a traditional home and grandchildren. How far will Kara be willing to go? And will she be willing to pull the Persian rug out from under them when she discovers that her own secret is just one of many lurking inside the Ebadi closet?
So here’s the bad: showing that the lammies still have some work to do, especially when it comes to the T and the B, outspoken michfest supporter Toshi Reagon was one of the musical performers. It’d be nice if an LGBTQ literary society didn’t give the stage to someone who doesn’t think trans women are women. As Morgan M. Page ironically tweeted: “Maybe next time the musical entertainment won’t be transphobes? #justasuggestion.” It’d also be nice to see more bisexual and trans categories, which still look pretty piddly compared to the lesbian and gay categories. Pretty sure some of that content in lesbian/gay romance, mystery, etc. could also equally called trans and/or bisexual. Also, I thought Janet Mock was a shoo-in for trans non-fiction? Apparently not?
Here’s to another year of great LGBTQ publishing and writing, and to next year’s lammies being transphobia-free!