Many of this year's Lambda Literary Award winners could be ironic poster children for the New Right's "Family Values" campaign, showcasing as they do gays and lesbians in both our families of origin and the ones we create.
The Eighth Annual Lambda Literary Awards were presented before a near-sell-out crowd at the Regal Knickerbocker Hotel in Chicago June 14th, coinciding with the American Booksellers Association convention. The awards are sponsored by the Lambda Book Report, a monthly review of gay and lesbian literature, to recognize excellence in gay and lesbian book writing and publishing.
Lesbian Fiction winner AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A FAMILY PHOTO, by Jacqueline Woodson, and Gay Men's Fiction winner, FLESH AND BLOOD by Michael Cunningham, locate their gay characters firmly in the bosoms of their families. While both contain elements of the traditional coming-out story, each stretches the boundaries: Woodson's novel offers snapshot-like vignettes of a decade in the nameless narrator's family; Cunnigham's is an epic, covering three generations over the course of a century. In each, we see the ripple effects of gay children on their families, and hear the echoes of aunts, uncles, parents and siblings in those children.
Even in less obvious titles, like Lesbian Mystery winner J.M. Redmann's INTERSECTION OF LAW AND DESIRE, we see gay and lesbian characters struggling to build, maintain, and repair their families. Lesbian and Gay Anthologies/Nonfiction winner THE GAY AND LESBIAN LITERARY HERITAGE (Claude J. Summers, editor) traces our literary family tree, and Gay Men's Biography/ Autobiography recipient TOM: THE UNKNOWN TENNESSEE WILLIAMS (by Lyle Leverich), plumbs the familial depths of one of this century's greatest writers, who is best known for his disturbing portraits of "traditional" families. Second-time winner Nicola Griffith's novel SLOW RIVER, which tied with Melissa Scott's SHADOW MAN in the Science Fiction/Fantasy category takes a look at families in the future, and they look remarkablyÉfamiliar.
The Eighth Lambda Literary Awards introduces a new category: Spirituality. While there are people in this country who are sure that gays and lesbians are spiritually doomed, Brian Bouldrey, the editor of this year's winner WRESTLING WITH THE ANGEL, has provided us with a loving portrait of gay men coming to terms with that most intimate relative: themselves.
This year's Lammys also prove that the gay and lesbian "book boom" in the mainstream press has not been a fluke. Publishers that are relatively new to the gay and lesbian scene have made their mark: Blue Sky Press can note that Jacqueline Woodson is a double winner this year, with her Children's/Young Adult novel FROM THE NOTEBOOKS OF MELANIN SUN, a deft exploration of a boy's thoughts and feelings about his mother's coming out. Other awards have been spread out across a spectrum of mainstream presses, with ATLANTIS by Mark Doty (HarperPerrenial) winner of the Gay Men's Poetry award, Norton taking two awards for INTERSECTION OF LAW AND DESIRE by J.M. Redmann (Lesbian Mystery) and DARK FIELDS OF THE REPUBLIC by Adrienne Rich (Lesbian Poetry), and Avon taking home a winner for editor E.J. Levy's TASTING LIFE TWICE (Lesbian and Gay Anthologies/Fiction). Karla Jay, editor of the Lesbian Studies winner DYKE LIFE, brings in a winner in the Lesbian Studies Category for BasicBooks.
For the first time, this year's Editors' Choice award goes to two books: FORBIDDEN PASSAGES, with introductions by Pat Califia and Janine Fuller (Cleis Press), and RESTRICTED ENTRY by Janine Fuller and Stuart Blackley (Press Gang). Both tell the story, from different perspectives, of Vancouver, BC's gay and lesbian bookstore Little Sister's fight with Canada Customs, which has been banning or delaying the importation of gay and lesbian titles for years. Forbidden Passages prints some of the many works that have been kept from many gay and lesbian bookstores in Canada (Cleis Press had trouble finding a distributor that would be willing to deliver it to Canadian stores); Restricted Entry describes Little Sister's suit against Canada Custom's discriminatory practices from its beginning more than ten years ago to the final decision by British Columbia's Supreme Court earlier this year, which ordered Canada Customs to pay the store 75% of its legal costs and to remove it from its"lookout" list.
The Publisher's Service Award goes this year to Firebrand Books publisher Nancy Bereano. For ten years, Bereano has been publishing excellent literary fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. She took the first risk on author Dorothy Allison, publishing two-Lammy winner (for Lesbian Fiction and Small Press) Trash . With more than 80 titles in print, including the entire "Dykes to Watch Out For" series, poetry by Audre Lorde, Minnie Bruce Pratt, and Cheryl Clarke, and short stories, novels, and nonfiction from the likes of Ruthann Robson, Lesla Newman, Mab Segrest, Leslie Feinberg and Judith Katz, (and more than a few Lammy winners and finalists), Bereano has been at the forefront of lesbian and small press publishing.
This year marked the creation of the Lambda Literary Foundation, which will serve as the nonprofit sponsor of the Lambda Literary Awards and the Lambda Book Report. The Foundation has created its own Pioneer Award, designed to recognize those who have done the most to help further its goal of recognizing gay and lesbian literature. It is fitting that the first year's award should honor L. Page "Deacon" Maccubbin, publisher of the Lambda Book Report and president and CEO of Lambda Rising Bookstores, Inc. When he opened the first Lambda Rising bookstore in Washington, DC more than 20 years ago, Maccubbin saw tremendous possibilities in the world of gay and lesbian literature, then in its infancy. When he published the first issue of the "Lambda Book Report" nearly ten years ago, he was recognizing a void in the gay and lesbian literary world. And when he created the Lambda Literary Awards, he saw the benefits that would come from celebrating our finest work. As the first recipient of the Pioneer Award, Maccubbin embodies the vision and perseverance that is able to translate a dream into reality.
The Lambda Literary Awards are sponsored annually by the Lambda Book Report, a monthly review of gay and lesbian literature. The Book Report, which had suspended publication in September to redesign and reorganize as a monthly, was reintroduced at this year's Lammy awards at the Regal Knickerbocker Hotel in Chicago June 14th. The publication is now being published by the new non-profit Lambda Literary Foundation which will also continue the Lammy awards program.