Category Archives: GLBT short stories

“Better Davis and Other Stories” by Philip Dean Walker— Looking Back at Gay Life and the Beginning of AIDS

Walker, Philip Dean. “Better Davis and Other Stories”, Squares and Rebels, 2021.

Looking Back at Gay Life and the Beginning of AIDS

Amos Lassen

Philip Dean Walker’s “Better Davis and Other Stories” looks at gay culture and the beginning of the AIDS epidemic during the late seventies and mid-eighties by taking us into the personal worlds of celebrities, artists, playboys, and female pals. The stories present  the lives of minor American icons who are not so remembered today. Drag queens, sitcom stars, Broadway impresarios, movie divas were beginning to come out as AIDS played havoc with their lives. Art, sex and death are the major themes.

With his vivid imagination and fine prose, characters come to life. Walker imagines his characters’ inner lives so realistically that every things seems very authentic. We see how both they and the communities to which they belong faced the epidemic even before it was known as AIDS. It was a time filled with problems and a time of rebellion as well as a look at loss and understanding. Humor and tragedy are brought together to give us a look at a community about to face devastation.

Jim J. Bullock thinks about his past relationships and his own HIV diagnosis, Natalie Wood fights with husband Robert Wagner on the night of her death, Elizabeth Taylor and Maureen Stapleton go to a drag club after performing on Broadway, a drag queen impersonates Bette Davis, an airline steward continues to have wild sexual exploits while hiding his Kaposi’s sarcoma lesions; and Michael Bennett, director of the musical “A Chorus Line” is replacing a cast member who has AIDS only to die himself from it a few years later. We see that in the entertainment industry, gay life is symbiotic as the characters use each other.

I am not much of a reader of short stories but Walker has opened new doors for me and I am now quite a fan. 

“The Kinda Fella I Am; Stories” by Raymond Luczak— The Need for Human Connection

Luczak, Raymond, “The Kinda Fella I Am: Stories”,Reclamation Press, 2018.

The Need for Human Connection

Amos Lassen

In “The Kinda Fella I Am”, Raymond Luczak imagines the world as seen by queer disabled men. We follow the lives of disabled queers in many different aspects through hones prose and we experience their desires, their anxieties and their hopes as they share their lives with us and takes us into the communities that they have built. Since many of us have never ventured into this world before, there is a lot to be learned here.

We read ofpride, rage, and hope and our  preconceptions of disability are challenged in fifteen stories about physical identity and the inequities that these men face every day.  Having been a fan of Raymond Luczak for many years, my love for his prose was reinforced by this collection but even more important is that there is so much to be learned here. Because a person is disabled does not mean that he does not have the same desires and aspirations as the rest of us as we see here. They share our sexuality and have the same sexual desires and we need to recognize that. Luczak makes sure that we do.

“Kiss the Scars on the Back of My Neck: Stories” by Joe Okonkwo— Desire and the Human Condition

 

Okonkwo, Joe. “Kiss the Scars on the Back of My Neck: Stories”,  Amble, 2021.

Desire and the Human Condition

Amos Lassen

Joe Okonkwo’s “Kiss the Scars on the Back of My Neck” is a story collection with complicated characters, male and female, who are at the crossroads of Black Life in America. They deal with trying to live authentic lives. Looking at the many forms of desire in these stories, we see how important it is to find safe places in a world where being gay and Black is a disadvantage and complicate the lives of the people we read about here.

In nine stories that span places and time, our characters face issues of “sex, love, power, betrayal, and belonging as they strive to live as their full and veracious selves.” We read of conflicts that introduce us to what the characters go through in order to be themselves. They attempt to understand the meaning of  being human.

We have a lonely gay man who finds comfort in a cat who has wandered into his life, a married women with a bisexual husband who tries to get her into a three-way with another man, a woman who has run away from the “country” but comes back after her marriage falls apart, a teenaged boy who finds that his sexuality has power, two men-of-color of different ages whose love of opera brings them into a love affair, a blue singer who is forced to confront gender and race while being trapped in a police raid. In most cases, the characters are victims of the lives they have created and live in a world where hurt abounds.

Okonkwo is a master storyteller and knows how to limit time and space in each story. His prose is simple yet lyrical and his characters pulls us into their lives as they deal with the lives they lead. While each story stands alone there are characters that appear more than once and in different stories and it is through them that we see the struggles they face.

I have never been much of a short story reader simply because I enjoy a narrative that keeps me busy for a while but there stories have changed how I look at the genre. I gained a new appreciation of how difficult it is to write in a short space about the importance of finding oneself. Looking at the human condition in nine separate stories is a difficult job and even though I may not be able to identify, at first, with what the characters go through, I soon find myself rethinking about what I read here and realizing that regardless of differences such as race and economics, we are all basically the same and we all want the same peace in life. This is a major contribution not only to the LGBTQ literary canon but to literature as a whole and a book I shall treasure.

 

 

“Afterparties: Stories” by Anthony Veasna So— Cambodian-American Life

So, Anthony Veasna. “Afterparties: Stories”, Ecco, 2021.

Cambodian-American Life

Amos Lassen

Anthony Veasna So’s “Afterparties” is story collection about Cambodian-American life that is immersive and comic, yet unsparing, offering profound insight into the intimacy of queer and immigrant communities

The stories move between the absurd and the tenderhearted and are filled with  humor and emotional depth, giving us a portrait of the lives of Cambodian-Americans. As the children of refugees find radical new paths for themselves in California, they also carry the weight of the Khmer Rouge genocide and have to deal with the complexities of race, sexuality, friendship, and family.

We meet a high school badminton coach and failing grocery store owner who tries to relive his past days by beating a rising star teenage player. Two drunken brothers go to a wedding afterparty and compose a plan to expose their shady uncle’s snubbing of the bride and groom. A queer love affair begins between an older tech entrepreneur trying to launch a “safe space” app and a disillusioned young teacher who is obsessed with Moby Dick. A nine-year-old child learns that his mother survived a racist school shooter.

The stories show great talent. So is bold and confident and his writing is witty, smart, and poetic. He knows how to tell a story and even though all the stories center on Cambodian Americans, each is about a varied and rich range of lives. Each reveals something different and unique. We read of characters whose families are survivors of a genocide and So shows us their struggles and how they endure and overcome. We see how each generation carries the suffering as a legacy that informs those touched by it. 

We also see So’s affirmation and love of the Cambodian American community. We learn how a location affects a people and how a world can be created out of nothing but will and imagination.

Veasna So died in December 2020, prior to publication, at age 28 so he did not see the publication of his book that introduces us to him and his wonderful storytelling ability.  He was able to handle plot action and wrenching pathos in beautiful prose and in an unforgettable new voice that is both poetic and laugh-out-loud funny.

“Transmutation: Stories: by Alex DiFrencesco— Margins of Trans Lives

DiFrancesco, Alex. “Transmutation: Stories”,  Seven Stories Press, 2021.

 Margins of Trans Lives

Amos Lassen

Alex DiFrancesco pushes the boundaries of transgender awareness and filial bonds in “Transmutation”. We read of the hate between 16-year-old Junie, who is transitioning, and their mom’s boyfriend Chad when the family moves into Chad’s house on Lake Erie and the love being tested between Sawyer and his dad, who named his boat after his child and resists changing it from Sara to Sawyer now. DiFrancesco dared to go to places that are violent and comfortless in some of her stories, testing the limits of what it means to be human. We have

“moments of in-betweenness that are familiar to transgender people who are not legible, temporarily or purposefully, to others or themselves. Here is “love in all forms, belonging, reckoning, and reclamation.”

‘Las Biuty Queens: Stories” by Ivan Monalisa Ojeda— A Love Song to New York City

Ojeda, Ivan Monalisa. “Las Biuty Queens: Stories”, Atris House, 2021.

A Love Song to New York City

Amos Lassen

Ivan Monalisa Ojeda’s “Las Buity Queens” is a love song to New York City filled with honesty and irreverence. We read of “a group of trans Latinx immigrant friends who walk the streets, get high, compete in beauty contests, look for clients on their impossibly high heels, and fall prey to increasingly cruel immigration policies.”

Ojeda draws from his/her own life experiences as a trans performer, sex worker, and undocumented immigrant. The characters struggle with addiction, deal with law enforcement and face personal violence. Each character choses her own path of defiance and we get a look at a group of friends who love for each other while at the same time reading about a different New York City. Written in the language of the streets, we get a new,  fresh and necessary voice.

2021 Lambda Literary Award Winners Announced

2021 Lambda Literary Award Winners Announced

Author: Brian Gentes

June 1, 2021

New York, NY, June 1, 2021 – Lambda Literary, the nation’s premier LGBTQ literary organization, announced the winners of the 33rd Annual Lambda Literary Awards (a.k.a. the “Lammys”) this evening at a live Zoom ceremony hosted by Rakesh Satyal, who won a Lambda Literary Award for his debut novel, Blue Boy.

As they have done for over three decades, this year’s Lammys again celebrate powerful, necessary writing that centers the LGBTQ experience. With last year’s award ceremony cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s virtual celebration was a welcome return for an organization dedicated to honoring the very best in LGBTQ literature. Throughout the evening, presenters and winners highlighted the impact the Lammys have had in uplifting queer voices. Novelist Torrey Peters, author of Detransition, Baby, kicked off the festivities speaking of her joy to be presenting for “an organization for which trans writing and trans authors aren’t an afterthought.” Alex Gino, who won a Lammy in 2016 for their middle grade debut, George, highlighted the importance of the explosion of books featuring queer characters for young people while noting that across the country just one in five queer students experience course work that includes positive representations of LGBTQ people and history. John Paul Brammer, author of Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons, began his presentation by noting, “As a gay person from rural America, books were some of the only community I had growing up,” while Ryan O’Connell, creator and star of Special, joked, “I love books and I love gay, and I love it when books and gay go together.”

Representing the diversity of the LGBTQ experience, this year’s Lammy winners once again highlight Lambda Literary’s reputation for recognizing queer literature in all of its many forms, and many winners acknowledged that diversity in their speeches. In accepting the Lammy for Transgender Nonfiction for The Black Trans Prayer Book, J Mase III & Dane Figueroa Edidi said, “We hope that this work is a tool that helps to celebrate and heal our community.” Mohsin Zaidi, whose A Dutiful Boy: A Memoir of a Gay Muslim’s Journey to Acceptance won the Lammy for Gay Memoir/Biography, noted that he had been told there wouldn’t be much interest for his book in the U.S., but continued, “Stories don’t have a nationality and I think that’s even more true of our stories, of stories from the queer community.” Joshua Whitehead, winner of the LGBTQ Anthology Lammy for Love after the End: An Anthology of Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer Speculative Fiction, ended his speech with a joyous, “welcome to the Two-Spirit Indigiqueer, fem glittery, fantastic, trans, Indigenous future we deserve,” while Mike Curato, winner of the LGBTQ Young Adult Lammy for Flamer claimed his award for “all the sissies, all the queers, all the Pinoy boys who feel unseen, I see you. And for anyone who has dwelt in darkness, there is light inside you even if you can’t see it.”

The evening’s celebration, which has always doubled as a fundraiser to help support Lambda Literary’s programs, concluded with a performance by Grammy Award nominated artist and lesbian icon, Meshell Ndegeocello. “This year’s ceremony was a true celebration for us after what has been an unimaginably difficult year for so many,” said Sue Landers, executive director of Lambda Literary. “While we couldn’t be together in person again this year, we are so excited to be back honoring LGBTQ literature and all of the wonderful writers who make up our community.  Congratulations to all of this year’s winners.”The Lammys are the most prestigious award in LGBTQ publishing. Please join us in celebrating the following authors and their literary accomplishments.

 Lesbian Fiction

Gay Fiction

  • Neotenica, Joon Oluchi Lee, Nightboat Books

Bisexual Fiction

Transgender Fiction 

Bisexual Nonfiction

Transgender Nonfiction

LGBTQ Nonfiction

 Lesbian Poetry

Gay Poetry 

Bisexual Poetry

Transgender Poetry

 Lesbian Memoir/Biography

 Gay Memoir/Biography

Lesbian Romance

Gay Romance

 LGBTQ Anthology

LGBTQ Children’s/Middle Grade 

LGBTQ Young Adult 

  • Flamer, Mike Curato, Henry Holt Books for Young Readers

LGBTQ Comics

 LGBTQ Drama

LGBTQ Erotica

LGBTQ Mystery

LGBTQ Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror

LGBTQ Studies 

During this year’s ceremony, Lambda Literary announced a new honorary award, the Randall Kenan Prize for Black LGBTQ Fiction. Kenan, who won a Lambda Literary Award in 1992 for his novel Let the Dead Bury Their Dead, passed away in August of 2020 and the prize bearing his name honors writers whose work explores themes of Black LGBTQ life, culture, and history, with its winner receiving a $3,000 cash prize. Ana-Maurine Lara is the inaugural recipient of the prize. Other special prizes announced throughout the evening included Brontez Purnell and Sarah Gerard winning the Jim Duggins Outstanding Mid-Career Novelist Prize, a $5,000 prize given annually to two LGBTQ-identified authors who have published multiple novels and show promise to continue publishing high quality work for years to come. Nancy Agabian won the $2,500 Jeanne Córdova Prize for Lesbian/Queer Nonfiction, granted to a writer committed to nonfiction work that captures the depth and complexity of lesbian and queer life, culture, and history. The Judith Markowitz Award recognizes two writers whose work demonstrates exceptional potential, and T Kira Maddenand Taylor Johnson were awarded this year’s $1,000 prizes. More information on these winners and their prizes is available here.

“Before Stonewall” by Edward M. Cohen— New Stories

Cohen, Edward M. “Before Stonewall”, AWST Press, 2021.

New Stories

Amos Lassen

For those of us who grew up before Stonewall Edward M. Cohen has written a very special book— a story collection that takes us back to a time when many of us faced lives of exile and exclusion. We were devalued as humans and our love was devalued and derided, many of us lost our families and suffered the anxiety of not fitting in. It was a time of great fear. Cohen brings us stories about rebellion and love and reminds us how it was to live back then and e does so through sparking and honest prose. Fourteen stories comprise the collection and we read and weep as we read them. I was totally spellbound remembering how it was to live at a time of McCarthyism when we were not allowed to be our true selves and the penalties of attempting to do so were horrendous. To have to act as others demand is to live a life and to be discriminated against in every aspect of our lives is shameful; but that is how it was.

We witness here the loss of income and self-respect, how we had to lie to succeed and to keep our families and while many of us tried to get past this, many others were forced to accept this as the way it was. Even though there have been man changes, we are still seeking the freedoms that are due to us and I think it is important to remember the past if we want to achieve better futures. Even though these stories are fiction, there is a great deal of truth here.

Cohen sets his stories in New York and while I was not there,  my friends and I experienced similar stories all over the world and they are painful yet important reminders.

“You’re Pretty Gay” by Drew Pisarra— Briliiant Queer Short Fiction

Pisarra, Drew.“You’re Pretty Gay”, Chaffinch Press, 2021,

Brilliant Queer Short Fiction

Amos Lassen

It is rare that I can tell from the first sentence of a book that I am going to love it but that is exactly what happened when I began to read Drew Pisarra’s, “You’re Pretty Gay”. It is a collection of fifteen short queer stories that evoke laughter, memories and nostalgia and that gives new definitions and boundaries to other stories of this kind.They are weird, strange, inventive and take us to places we have never been as Pisarra defies the laws of literature and takes us on unforgettable adventures. We leave the worlds of normality and morality and venture out as we enjoy the beauty of language coming together with a new look at life. Imagine fitting 15 stories into just 85 pages!! We know that every word will be important and that every story will be of consequence. Forget the expectations of today’s world and enter Pisarra’s world for a while and enjoy, enjoy, enjoy.

I felt that I was watching a visual performance as I read and realized that beneath what every story had to say there was a hope for connection— between the reader and writer, between the world and us. I love reading that makes me think afterwards and while I read this two days ago, I have not stopped thinking about it. It takes a strong writer with a strong narrative voice to elicit such a reaction from me, especially as a person who reads constantly and seems to review our literature non-stop.

Queer experience has finally come into its own, literarily speaking and even though many of us share similar experiences, the ability to relate them to others is a task unto itself. Looking at queer life from diverse perspectives, settings and opinions is a difficult task because it means the creation of different personae to be able to do so. Pisarra covers so many areas of our lives in such short spaces that we are amazed at his ability to do so. We have all been bullied, we have all wondered about our sexuality, we have all been members of families. We have all loved and lost, we have all drifted, we have all felt discrimination. Seeing these topics from a new and different point of view is refreshing and illuminating. It is, for me, at least, the honesty of the stories, that rises above everything else. That is because we have been there and we both identify and empathize with what we read.

I debated whether to look at each story and write about them but decided that because they are so short that in doing so, I would ruin the read for others so you will have to take my word for it that this is one collection that you must read. I have no doubts that it will be at the top of my best reads of the year list.

“Unburied: A Collection of Queer Dark Fiction’ edited by Rebecca Rowland— New Short Stories

Rowland, Rebecca, editor. “Unburied: A Collection of Queer Dark Fiction”, Dark Ink, 2021.

New Short Stories

Amos Lassen

Rebecca Rowland’s new anthology “Unburied: A Collection of Queer Dark Fiction” is a collection of new short stories with LGBTQ+ characters. There are 16 stories that explore dark themes. We read paranormal hauntings, shadow fables and dreadful delusions. This twisted box of curiosities serves the readers a cornucopia of chilling horror, creatures, sci-fi terror, and dark fantasy. The authors included are Felice Picano, Greg Herren, Daniel M. Jaffe, J. Askew, Laramie Dean, Laura DeHaan, Christina Delia, Sarah Lyn Eaton, Thomas Kearnes Veronica Kirin, George Daniel Lea, Azzurra Nox, Elin Olausson, Robert P. Ottone, Louis Stephenson, M.C. St. John.

Here the dark themes evolve out of the emotions and experiences of the characters and how we are affected by them. It seems to me that there is stress on gay men but all aspects of LGBT life are covered. There are no graphic scenes of sexual abuse scenes and all of the sexual situations remain in our minds and not on the pages of the anthology. Some of what we read is quite upsetting.

When I review an anthology, I avoid summarizing individual stories and look at the work as a whole. This is especially true when we deal with horror because of the elements of surprise. Even though I did not love all of the stories, I will say that overall this is a fascinating read and that the majority of the writing is excellent. We have a collection of genres that give us  a little bit of everything— a smorgasbord of dark writing  that is a welcome addition to the canon of LGBT literature. I highly recommend having a look at “Unburied” since it is a wonderful escape especially during the recent quarantine. You do not have to enjoy every story to enjoy the book as a whole. There is something for everyone here.