Saturday, June 06, 2015

Lambda Literary Awards + Lambda Literary Review Interview

Gloria Steinem, presenting the
Pioneer Award to Rita Mae Brown
This past Monday, the Lambda Literary Foundation held its 27th Lambda Literary Awards, honoring some of the best of the previous year's LGBTIQ writing. The ceremony, mc'd by comedian Kate Clinton, was held in the Great Hall at the Cooper Union, and included performances by Toshi Reagon, who dedicated her songs to the late Octavia Butler, and Lauren Patten of the musical version of Alison Bechdel's marvelous graphic novel, Fun Home. Though I did not attend, I followed the social media tweets and posts about it, experiencing the excitement of the presenters, award finalists and recipients, and friends attending vicariously.

NY Times Opinion columnist Charles
Blow, accepting the Lambda Literary
Award in Bisexual Nonfiction
Author Alexis De Veaux accepting
the Lambda Literary Award in
Lesbian Fiction for Yabo
Chief among the honorees were foundational lesbian author Rita Mae Brown, who received the Pioneer Award, and filmmaker and writer John Waters, who received the Lambda Trustee's Award for Excellence in Literature. Other winners in categories that ranged from Bisexual Fiction to Lesbian Erotica to Transgender Non-Fiction to LGBT Studies include the late poet Vincent Woodard, a Cave Canem graduate fellow, whose academic study Delectable Negro: Human Consumption and Homoeroticism within US Slave Culture, edited by Justin A. Joyce and Dwight McBride (NYU Press), took the scholarly prize; young playwright Robert O'Hara in the Drama category for his play Bootycandy (Samuel French); and New York Times Opinion page columnist Charles Blow, in the Bisexual Nonfiction category, for his memoir Fire Shut Up In My Bones (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).

Additionally, Alethia Banks and Virginie Eubanks, with Barbara Smith, were honored in the Lesbian Memoir/Biography category for Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around: Forty Years of Movement Building with Barbara Smith (SUNY Press); Alexis De Veaux received the Lesbian General Fiction for her superb novel Yabo (Red Bone Press), which I enjoyed tremendously; and, in the talent-filled Gay Poetry category, Danez Smith received the award for his exceptional debut collection, [insert] boy (YesYes Books), which I was delighted to select last winter for my Volta Best of 2014 list.

Danez Smith, accepting the Lambda
Literary Award for Gay Poetry
You can find the complete list of Lambda Literary winners and finalists here, and more photos of the event here! It looks like it was so much fun I sincerely hope to attend the event one of these future years!


The Lambda Literary Review--and Reggie Harris in particular--conducted a short email interview with me, titled "John Keene: On Hidden Histories and Why Writing Official Narratives is Queer" that posted two days ago. Reggie takes a somewhat different tact from other recent conversations, asking questions specifically about the queer aspects of Counternarratives. I deeply appreciate the opportunity to talk about the book, so thank you Reggie (and thanks also to William Johnson at Lambda)!

Below are two excerpts. Please do peep the entire interview too!

Can form itself be queer?The answer, I think, is yes. If form pushes against and destabilizes usual norms and conventions, then it would be queer, no? The stories in Counternarratives trouble contemporary narrative conventions in American fiction, in part through an emphasis on storytelling in itself; through a play with structure, genre and voice; and through the queerness of the characters themselves. Nevertheless, the stories all are—at another level, I trust—accessible and readable.


Why did you feature 20th-century queer writers Langston Hughes and Mário de Andrade in two of the stories—and why include sex scenes?Hughes and Andrade are heroes of mine. Towering modernist figures in their respective countries, both were of African descent, both displayed multiple talents, and both are now widely though not uncontroversially understood to have been gay, so I wanted to offer glimpses at moments in each man’s life, particularly beyond their youth. In the case of both, a public narrative arose that elided their queerness. With Hughes, we saw this with the furor, sparked in part by the Hughes estate, around Isaac Julien’s 1988 film Looking for Langston, and later in Hughes’ biographer Arnold Rampersad’s suggestion that Hughes was “asexual.” In Brazil, with Andrade’s life, a similar storyline that downplays his queerness has developed. There are so many clues in each man’s work, as well as in their biographies, letters, etc. Also, as scholar Robert F. Reid-Pharr has suggested in Hughes’ case (and this could be the same for Andrade), and as the CUNY Lost and Found Series of pamphlets exemplify, there are still archival troves that have yet to be examined. I should add that in both cases, their poems provoked me to write about them, and for both, I also wanted to make the sex(uality) a reality.

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