We would not have Pride without Black activists. Stormé DeLarverie – a lesbian and drag performer – was one of the key figures in the Stonewall riots. Arrested and beaten by police, DeLarverie incited the crowd by asking: “why don’t you do something?”. Marsha P. Johnson – a trans woman and drag queen – was also at the forefront of the protests, and in the aftermath, she co-founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) – an organisation that played a key role in the formation of the first Pride in New York on 28 June 1970.
More broadly, the Black Panther movement was intrinsically linked with the gay liberation movement. United under the common goal of ending police brutality, in 1970 co-founder of the Black Panther Party, Huey P. Newton, made a speech for solidarity with “women and among homosexuals seeking their liberation”. In the UK, some of the first organisers of Pride in London attend the Black Panther’s Revolutionary Peoples’ Convention to learn from the movement. In this VICE article, early activist Andrew Ludsman reminded us “[the gay liberation movement is] not a white invention”.
In order to honour this history, and in light of the recent Black Lives Matter protests, below is my Pride Month reading list featuring Black LGBTQ+ writers of novels, essays and poetry. This list is by no means exhaustive and it is also deeply personal; I share this in the hope that it will give others ideas and starting points.
Zami: A New Spelling of My Name // Audre Lorde
No Pride Month reading list would be complete without Audre Lorde. This self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” writes with clarity and vigour about intersectionality, identity and difference. Having being heavily influenced and educated by her essays from Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, I next want to read Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. This is Lorde’s “biomythography” combining history, biography and myth, detailing her
childhood in Harlem and experiences as a Black lesbian in the 1950s. As her only published novel, I am excited to gain a personal insight into her lived experiences and the formation of the incisive and wildly evergreen theories found in her non-fiction. I am also a huge fan of genre-bending autobiography.
PET // Awaeke Emezi
Akwaeke Emezi is a non-binary author who has published a successful novel every year since 2018. Freshwater centres on a young Nigerian woman, Ada, who develops separate selves, whilst PET is a young-adult novel about Jam, a Black trans girl who has to confront the existence of monsters. This August, they are publishing their next book, The Death of Vivek Oji, which unravels the death of a young queer person in Nigeria in the late 1990s. I had a hard time deciding which book I want to start with, but have decided to begin with PET.
After the book became a Locus Award finalist, Emezi tweeted: “I just want to point out—especially now—that it is a book depicting a Black community in a world without police or prisons.” Fiction is an important tool for imagining a different world, and in this case, one that can be used to broaden the perspectives of the next generation.
LOTE // Shola Von Reinhold
Shola Von Reinhold is a Scottish-Nigerian writer and recent graduate of the MLitt in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow. Their debut novel, LOTE, follows Mathilde, who is Black, working-class, gay and obsessed with eccentric literary socialites from the 1920s. After discovering the forgotten Black Scottish modernist poet Hermia Drumm, Mathilde becomes infatuated and embarks on a journey of discovery. Featuring champagne theft, art sabotage and lotus-eating proto-luxury communist cults, I want to read this one as I am also fascinated by forgotten literary and historic figures, and it sounds deliciously queer.
Directed by Desire: The Collected Poems of June Jordan // June Jordan
June Jordan was a bisexual poet, essayist, playwright, teacher, and activist. I was introduced to her at university while thinking about queer poetics and my own bisexuality. ‘Poem About My Rights’ is a cutting and emotional analysis of societal “wrongness”. Tackling themes of rape, racism, and geographical borders, she finishes the poem defiantly stating: “my simple and daily and nightly self-determination / may very well cost you your life”. ‘Poem to the Local Police’ is equally potent: a satire on suburban white families, ‘white flight’, and the role of law enforcement. Both comical and harrowing, the persona complains that the metaphorical “roses [….] one quarter mile west of the Northway” are “abiding in perpetual near riot / of wild behaviour.” This Pride Month, I want to explore more of her intelligent and moving poetry.
Blood Child and Other Stories // Octavia Butler
Octavia Butler was an extraordinary multi-award-winning science-fiction author. Blitzing through the white, male-dominated field of science-fiction, her novel Kindred is one of my favourite novels of all time. In it, Dana, a modern African-American woman, is consistently and inexplicably wrenched back to 19th century Maryland to save the life of Rufus, the son of a plantation owner. Butler writes with lucidity and precision about the lived reality of enslaved people, shifting the perspective on the sanitized colonial narrative. Next on my list is Blood Child and Other Stories, her collection of early short stories. The title tale won her the Hugo and Nebula Awards and features pregnant men and parasite-human symbiosis.
Ceremonies: Prose and Poetry // Essex Hemphill
Essex Hemphill was a poet, performer and activist from Chicago who is credited for giving voice to queer Black masculinity. I was introduced to him through American Wedding – a sweet poem about the power of LGBTQ+ love (“they don’t know / we are powerful / every time we kiss / we confirm the new world coming”) which is also sardonic and unabashedly queer. It begins with a parody of the traditional wedding ceremony “In America, / I place my ring / on your cock / where it belongs.” I adore poetry that is daring, confrontational and unafraid of centering queer bodies, it is an antidote to the shame we internalize as LGBTQ+ people. I hope to find more of this in Ceremonies, Hemphill’s full-length collection, which promises to tackles themes such as masculinity, HIV/AIDs in the black community, the meaning of family, and the sexual objectification of black men in Mapplethorpe’s The Black Book.
There are lots of reading lists circulating social media and other platforms – mostly featuring seminal non-fiction texts like Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy, Akala’s Natives and Afua Hirsch’s Brit(ish). I will continue reading these to understand the history of racism and dismantle my privilege, and I hope this list provides some examples of fictional and poetic spaces to expand and enrich the voices and experiences we internalise. With Black trans people – especially womxn – murdered at a disgustingly high rate, the intersections of identity are more important than ever to pay attention to. This is a reading list for Pride Month and beyond.
Words by Gabby Koumis
If you enjoyed Gabby’s Pride Month reading list, you might also like this article about our favourite 5 novels written by Black authors