By Cameron Phillips, Sarunicka Satkuruparan, Kathryn Alley and Nuria Berbel Torres
For pride month, we on the audiobook team have a very important and unique role in highlighting pride trends and emerging voices within the LGBTQIA+ movements because of the nature of our medium: voices. The LGBTQIA+ community must continue to have their voices heard for their place in society to be accepted as the so-called “norm.” In this issue, we will be picking our choices for new voices within the LGBTQIA+ audiobook space.
Cameron’s Pick: After Sappho, by Selby Wynn Schwartz, narrated by Joan Walker
After Sappho is a collection of vignettes that feature a variety of female voices in a bright reimagining of the lives of a group of sapphists, artists, writers, and feminists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These women battle to take control of their lives and desires, through their revolutionary actions and lyrics. Powerful and poignant, ferocious and funny, Schwartz tells the tale of those who came before us, and those who give the women, and indeed any marginalised group, hope to take action for their right to life. Walker provides excellent narration, providing light and breezy commentary alongside the cutting words of women such as Virginia Woolf, Eleanora Duse, Lina Poletti and the ground-breaking Josephine Baker.
I think it is hugely important to recognise the forebears of a movement that was most certainly not acceptable within society as it is today. These women were the bravest of trailblazers, who defied the very society that on one hand praised their work but derided their own feelings and images. After Sappho does just that, with the flair and reverence of a modern work of LGBTQIA+ literature.
Sarunicka’s Pick: On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous, written and read by Ocean Vuong.
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous tells the story of Little Dog, a Vietnamese-American young man, in the form of a letter to his illiterate mother. Written when Little Dog is in his late twenties, the letter navigates their family’s history, rooted in Vietnam, which led to his tumultuous childhood as well as unravelling the parts of his life that his mother has never known. From celebrating the love given by mother to going on a journey of finding selfhood and exploring race, class and masculinity, Vuong writes exquisitely on themes that need to be highlighted, and does it in a way that is personal and curious.
This story shines in the way it reflects the holistic experience of a person and how their experience is layered and individual. It is as much about the power of telling one's own story as it is about breaking the silence of not being heard. Vuong’s writing is lyrical and poetic and this translates in their narration of the story. Ultimately, On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is a story about being caught between two worlds and trying to confide in each other without losing who we are. It honours love, identity and culture.
Kathryn’s Pick: From Here, written and read by Luma Mufleh
From Here is the powerful, poignant memoir of Luma Mufleh who narrates her challenging journey to reconcile her identity as a gay Muslim woman. Mufleh recounts the difficulty growing up in Jordan in the 1980s of concealing her sexuality against threats of death and banishment. This coming-of-age story explores the vulnerable reality of loving your home but never being allowed to love and express yourself as you truly are.
Mufleh’s family breaks all ties with her once she applies for political asylum in America and becomes a refugee. The listen is heart-breaking and hopeful as Mufleh fights for belonging and acceptance in a new home with the kindness of a found family. From Here is a stunning and difficult listen that challenges audiences to consider the difficulty of living out someone else’s truth at the expense of your own. Mufleh’s memoir is an inspiring account that encourages listeners that reconciliation and belonging is possible when humanity is willing to learn, grow, and truly love.
Nuria’s pick: The Stonewall Reader by New York Public Library
This book was released back in 2019, for the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, which is considered a pivotal event in the gay liberation movement in the US, it also served as a catalyst for the modern fight for LGBTQIA+ rights.
This anthology utilises the New York Public Library’s archives to provide a collection of first accounts, articles, diaries and historical literature that covered the events leading up to the uprising, as well as the years following it. This work also highlights key players in this huge piece of LGBTQIA+ history, such as Sylvia Rivera, who co-funded Street Transvestites Action Revolutionary (STAR) and Ernestine Eckstein, one of the few African American lesbian activists of the time.