Five Voices for Five Decades and Five Books for Today
Audre Lorde (1934 – 1992)
Born in New York City to Caribbean parents, Lorde described herself as “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.” She dedicated her life to confronting injustices of racism, sexism and homophobia. Lorde believed that language, rather than violence, was a powerful form of resistance. She became known for her rage at racial injustice, her celebration of her black identity and her call for an intersectional consideration of women’s experiences.
Lorde’s poetry featured in Langston Hughes’ New Negro Poets, foreign anthologies and black literary magazines. Coal (1976) established Lorde as an influential voice in the Black Arts Movement. Throughout her work, Lorde asserted the necessity of communicating the experience of marginalised groups to make their struggles visible in a repressive society, using difference as a source of strength, rather than alienation.
Jeanette Winterson (1959 – Present)
Jeanette Winterson had a Pentecostal evangelist upbringing in the North of England, which has gone on to greatly influence her writing as a queer author. Her work frequently focuses on the topics of gender, sexuality and being raised in a heavily conservative, religious environment. This is most evident in her semi-biographical novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, which centres around the life of a young girl exploring her sexuality in an oppressively religious society and won the 1985 Whitbread Award for First Novel. Since this ground-breaking debut, Winterson has gone on to write a variety of novels exploring the topics of sexuality and gender identity, focusing on the lives and experiences of queer women, including her memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?.
Angela Davis (1944 – Present)
Angela Davis was born in 1944 in Birmingham, Alabama and grew up at the forefront of the Civil Rights movement. She identifies herself as “communist, revolutionist… Queer… Pro-Working Class.” She is an outspoken activist, who was pushed into the spotlight and has remained relevant to this day by standing by her principles of being an advocator for the Civil Rights and LGBTQ+ movements while also recognising the intersectionality that underpins it. Some of her most publicised books are Women, Culture and Politics, Are Prisons Obsolete? and The Meaning of Freedom: and Other Difficult Dialogues. She was a professor at the University of California but has since retired. Nowadays, her speeches and books are widespread and still makes appearances at the likes of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Sarah Waters (1966 – Present)
Sarah Waters is a novelist best known for her focus on lesbians set in Victorian society, the most well-known of which are Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith. With most of her novels centring around lesbian storylines, Waters has embraced the label of being a lesbian writer, explicitly “writing with a lesbian agenda” and proclaiming her characters to be “incidentally lesbian”, as is representative of her daily life. Waters aims to casually include queer narratives throughout her novels, as that is how queer experiences exist for members of the LGBTQ+ community, whose sexuality merely exists within their lives. This incidental inclusion of lesbian storylines is often viewed in conjunction with the careful inclusion of lesbian narratives alongside themes that typically centre around aspects of history that focus on heterosexual storylines.
Juno Dawson (1981 – Present)
Juno Dawson began her writing career while working as a primary school teacher. An advocate for increased LGBTQ+ representation in books and a Stonewall School Role Model, her writing often centres around young LGBTQ+ people and the issues affecting them. In 2015, Dawson came out as transgender and was signed by Glamour magazine to write a column exploring her experiences with transitioning. In the same year, a petition started that pressured a library in Alaska to remove Dawson’s This Book is Gay (2014) from their shelves, which led Dawson to comment on the “small-mindedness and hatred left to contend with.” Nowadays, Dawson lives in Brighton and is known as an award-winning author of fiction and non-fiction best-sellers, including The Gender Games (2017) and Clean (2018). Her latest release, Wonderland (2020), addresses issues of mental health, gender and privilege.
Five Books for Today
Angie recommends: The Prince and the Dressmaker
By Jen Wang.
Published by Macmillan (2018).
Genres: Graphic novel, YA.
Prince Sebastian is tired of looking for a bride to appease his parents. He is too busy hiding his secret life as Lady Crystallia, the hottest fashion icon in Paris. Sebastian’s beautiful dresses are the creation of the brilliant dressmaker Frances, who keeps the Prince’s scandalous passion a secret. She dreams of greatness of her own, however, and can’t stall her dreams forever to protect a friend. This is a fairy-tale of love, identity and family, for all ages, which will deconstruct traditional gender norms. Wang will steal your heart with her sweet drawing style and charming, soul-stirring narrative.
Angie recommends: The Gloaming
By Kirsty Logan.
Published by Harvill Secker (2018).
Genres: Literary, Magical Realism.
Stuck on an island whose inhabitants turn to stone and haunted by the mysterious death of her brother, Mara wants nothing more than to break away from the greyness of her life. The chance encounter with Pearl, a travelling mermaid, brings magic back into Mara’s life – for better or for worse. The language is highly evocative, plunging readers into the setting and the characters’ shoes. The rich world-building will have you questioning what is real, what is magic and what is a bit of both. Ultimately a romance, The Gloaming tackles themes of death, loss and isolation within a framework defined by love, family and identity.
Lorna recommends: Red, White & Royal Blue
By Casey McQuiston.
Published by St. Martin’s Griffin (2019).
Genres: Romance, New Adult.
Alex Claremont-Diaz is the First Son of the United States. He’s also convinced that Henry, Prince of Wales and third in line to the British throne, is his personal nemesis. When an unfortunate incident forces the two together, it doesn’t take long for Alex to realise that sometimes people aren’t what they seem to be on the surface. As their relationship grows from a fictional friendship into something entirely more real, both Alex and Henry are forced to decide whether they would risk it all to make their feelings public. This book is, undeniably, a romance for the ages. But it doesn’t stop there. McQuiston tackles issues of racism, gender, identity, sexuality and ethics, with a flair for both wit and compassion that lights this book up, like a beacon of hope.
Nina recommends: The Hungry Ghosts
By Shyam Selvadurai.
Published by Doubleday Canada (2012).
Genres: Literary, Asian.
The Hungry Ghosts is a harrowing and evocative story about the journey of Shivan, a Half-Tamil and Half-Sinhalese boy growing up in Sri Lanka against the backdrop of civil unrest. Written beautifully, the story follows him on his passage from Sri Lanka to Canada, with the ghosts that refuse to be sated. Shivan struggles to come to terms with what he values most in the world and how far his principles will stretch when faced with having to choose between what is right and what is expected of him. He goes from a privileged life to realising that what protects him is also what is damaging him the most. The book touches on themes of family, heartbreak and identity, spinning together a tale which will stay with you long after you put the book down.
Ella recommends: Girl, Woman, Other
By Bernardine Evaristo.
Published by Hamish Hamilton (2019).
Girl, Woman, Other follows the lives and struggles of twelve different people, most of whom are black and/or queer women. The novel spans multiple decades, giving a nuanced consideration of the intersections of sexuality, gender, race and class. Evaristo brilliantly positions the reader from a perspective of empathy and compassion, despite successfully presenting all of the characters as both complex and flawed. This novel demonstrates how systemically racist, sexist and heteronormative structures within society can unite women – particularly, women of colour – while simultaneously highlighting how different they are and how various factors can alter the course of their lives. Evaristo’s use of non-standard capitalisation, punctuation and sentence structure allows the stories to flow far more naturally and creates a feeling of the characters instinctively reflecting on their lives rather than a more contrived and deliberate narrative being told.