Recently I received an email containing one of my favorite things: a book recommendation. A friend was reading Chelsey Johnson’s Stray City, and he thought I might enjoy it because the heroine and I are both queer ladies. “When I started reading it,” he wrote, “I realized how relatively few queer women appear as main characters in literary fiction.”
That couldn’t be true. I fired back with a list of beloved writers: Sarah Waters, Jeanette Winterson, Eileen Myles, Sappho. But our exchange left me wondering where the rest of these characters and their authors were hiding out. Surely they must exist, and we just weren’t looking in the right places.
Taking it as a challenge, I went out in search of queer lady protagonists, taking suggestions from friends and scouring the catalog at the Brooklyn Public Library. Some of the books I found were classics I had the pleasure of discovering for the first time, while others were cult favorites passed along with dog-eared pages and handwritten notes. Others I had to request be pulled up from the storage section of the library, their spines pristine, pages not yet read.
Here are the 12 books I found, all worth revisiting or diving into for the first time this Pride Month. Take them to the beach and get sand stuck between the pages. Read them as you drink your morning coffee, inviting queer women from different decades to hang out with you during your day. Show off their jackets on the subway, a little literary Dyke March. Keep them in circulation, because if we don’t, just like Sappho’s verses, they may simply disappear.
1. The Off Season by Amy Hoffman (University of Wisconsin Press, 2017)
2. Lena by Cassie Pruyn (Texas Tech University Press, 2017)
3. Jam on the Vine by LaShonda Katrice Barnett (Grove Atlantic, 2015)
4. Women by Chloe Caldwell (SF/LD Books, 2014)
5. The Gifts of the Body by Rebecca Brown (HarperCollins, 1995)
6. The Sea of Light by Jenifer Levin (Plume, 1994)
7. The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez (Firebrand Books, 1991)
8. People in Trouble by Sarah Schulman (Plume, 1990)
9. Loving Her by Ann Allen Shockley (Bobbs-Merrill, 1974)
10. The Front Runner by Patricia Nell Warren (William Morrow, 1974)
11. Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown (Daughters, Inc., 1973)
12. Nightwood by Djuna Barnes (Faber and Faber, 1936)
Now that I’ve gone down the rabbit hole, I keep discovering more novels about women loving women, or by women who love women, just waiting to be read. Do you have any suggestions? Please send them my way!
Chelsey Johnson’s name was misspelled in an earlier version of this post.