The LGBTQ community has always had a voice in literature from ancient writings to our current bestsellers lists. It is through the telling and sharing of stories that empathy and understanding can take place. For Pride Month, we have collected 10 notable books written by or about the LGBTQ community that we recommend reading.
These works are among the first to explore same-sex love and gender fluidity in the Western canon. Some are revelatory classics that were ahead of their time, others are noted for being embodiments of a complex moment in time. They've given voice to not only the struggles but the overwhelming strengths and resilience of the LGBTQ community. All are just really good reads.
‘Orlando: A Biography,’ by Virginia Woolf
Published in 1928, Woolf based this semi-biographical novel on fellow novelist Vita Sackville-West with whom Woolf had a romantic affair and friendship. It follows the life of a nobleman and poet who undergoes a change from male to female at the age of 30 and continues to live for hundreds of years. The novel has always been a notable book in the history of women's writing but in recent years the novel's approach to gender fluidity has helped spur a dialogue about how gender is represented.
‘I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip,’ by John Donovan
The novel, first published in 1969, is long credited as one of the first mainstream young adult novels to center on homosexuality. The novel is told from the viewpoint of Davy Ross, a lonely 13-year old who is forced to move in with his estranged mother after his grandmother dies. Davy strikes up a friendship with classmate Altschuler and their relationship evolves into a sexual one where Davy in turn struggles with his identity.
‘Giovanni’s Room,’ by James Baldwin
Baldwin, a novelist, poet and activist, explored race, class and sexuality in his prose. In 1956's "Giovanni's Room," he tells the story of David, a young American expat living in Paris who strikes a romance with an Italian man named Giovanni. David spends much of the novel struggling with his sexuality, and Baldwin's empathetic narrative on homosexuality and bisexuality was groundbreaking for its time.
‘The Color Purple,’ by Alice Walker
With her seminal work, Walker became the first Black woman and the first novelist to feature a lesbian protagonist to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The story follows the life of Celie, a poor, uneducated Black woman who comes of age in the South during the early 1900s. The novel has been frequently banned and challenged since its publication, mainly due to complaints of its depiction of sexuality, specifically the lesbian relationship between Celie and Shug Avery. It also won the National Book Award for fiction and was adapted into a film and a Broadway musical.
‘The Price of Salt,’ by Patricia Highsmith
What makes this 1952 novel notable is that it's among the first literary romances where its depiction of a lesbian romance ends happily. Based on a true story from Highsmith's own life, the novel follows department store worker Therese Belivet, who falls in love and begins an affair with a customer, a married woman named Carol. The author, who also wrote "Strangers on a Train" and "The Talented Mr. Ripley," used the alias Claire Morgan when she originally published "The Price of Salt." The book would be republished under Highsmith's real name in the 1980s. The novel was adapted into the film "Carol" in 2015 and republished under that title as well.
‘Maurice,’ by E.M. Forster
From the famed English writer of such classics as "Where Angels Fear to Tread," "A Room with a View," "Howards End" and "A Passage to India," comes a tale of self-discovery and, ultimately, a love fulfilled. Published after Forster's death, the novel follows Maurice Hall from his teens through adulthood and his complicated relationships with Clive Durham and Alec Scudder. The novel met mixed reviews when it was initially published, but is regarded as a literary classic today.
‘A Little Life,’ by Hanya Yanagihara
Perhaps what makes this bestselling novel and Booker Prize finalist so intriguing is the ferocity in which readers either love it or hate it. Critics gave the novel mostly rave reviews, with Garth Greenwell of "The Atlantic" suggesting "A Little Life" was the "long-awaited gay novel." On the other end of the spectrum are readers who feel the book is too overtly graphic in terms of its depiction of trauma, violence and abuse. While the perception of the story differs among readers, it is a novel that, good or bad, stays with you.
‘Two Boys Kissing,’ by David Levithan
Upon its debut, the 2013 young adult novel won accolades and was awarded the Stonewall Honor Book for Children. It was also awarded the Lammy from Lambda Literary and was long-listed for the National Book Award for Young People's Literature. The novel, about two boys setting out to break a Guinness World Record for kissing, then immediately received animosity from others as one of the Top 10 challenged books compiled by the American Library Association. It continues to appear on the various banned book lists since.
‘Call Me By Your Name,’ by André Aciman
Sometimes what makes a novel notable is its reach into mainstream media. Originally published in 2007, this story about a romance that blossoms between an adolescent boy and a summer guest at his parents’ home on the Italian Riviera, made a name for itself after the release of the film adaptation of the same name was released in 2018. The novel landed on multiple bestseller lists, including a 20-week run on the USA TODAY Best-Selling Books. Aciman would follow up the novel with the well-received and best-selling "Find Me."
‘A Single Man,’ by Christopher Isherwood
What makes this book extraordinary is its beautifully ordinary depiction of aging, love and loss for its protagonist George, a middle-aged English professor who's mourning the tragic loss of his younger partner, Jim. There was a universality in Isherwood's portrayal of love that made the novel stand out at the time of its publication in 1964 that transcended sexuality. Fashion designer Tom Ford turned the novel into a film of the same name in 2009 starring Colin Firth.