Today, we are thrilled to welcome to the blog Rachel Davidson Leigh, author of the new YA novel, HOLD! Thank you, Rachel, for this interesting essay on LGBT literary history. Event participants: be sure to read through to the end for a special treat!
LGBTQ Books Then and Now
By Rachel Davidson Leigh
Despite the title, this is not a history of LGBTQ literature. That would be an impossible ask. Queerness in literature is as old as narrative itself and even an outline of the literature that consciously existed in the LGBTQ tradition calls for entire sections of a library. References from James Baldwin, Rita Mae Brown, and Virginia Woolf weave their way into novels published today, even when we’re not aware of their influence. My own novel, Hold, owes a debt to the creators who blazed the path in genres where LGBTQ characters no longer have to be the exception to the rule.
Hold is the story of Lucas Aday, a young man who discovers he can stop time after his sister’s death. The novel centers on a romance between two boys and none of the main characters are straight. It was a pleasure writing a queer community that included characters who were bi, gay, ace, and queer, in part because it so clearly reflected my own friendships, but it also would have been difficult to imagine without the representation that led the way.
With that in mind, this post celebrates key LGBTQ texts in theater, comics, and young adult literature which made Hold possible. Most of these texts appear in the book itself, because, like me, my characters make sense of themselves through stories. Want to know more? I’ve included resources on the listed books, plays, and comics at the end of the post!
Theater: All of the main characters in Hold are theater kids. Some are actors and others work behind the scenes, but they all basically live in their high school theater. Like my friends in high school, Luke and his friends are drawn to plays where they can see themselves represented. For Eddie, the actor of the group, that leads to a love of Angels in America, Tony Kushner’s groundbreaking opus of gay America, and Mercutio from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. In the case of the latter, the LGBTQ representation isn’t explicit, but Eddie isn’t the first to read Romeo’s magnetic friend as one of Shakespeare’s many queer characters.
Comics: Luke is an artist and he loves drawing comic book characters. On the ceiling over his bed, he’s created a mini-mural of superheroes, most of which are POC and/or canonically LGBTQ. When his life is dark and he discovers his own powers, the stories of Northstar, Midnighter, Grace Choi, Renee Montoya, and the Young Avengers give him a way to make sense of the inexplicable. He might not be destined to save the world, but they show him a dozen ways to embrace being extraordinary.
LGBTQ YA: Luke and his friends don’t specifically talk about other young adult books, but their world wouldn’t have been possible without Annie on My Mind, Rainbow Boys, Ash, and the other young adult novels that proved to publishers that readers needed these stories. Excellent histories of the genre have been created (and continue to be recreated), but Hold owes the greatest debt to novels like Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe; Gone, Gone, Gone; Lies We Tell Ourselves; and Street Dreams, where queerness matters, but it either isn’t at the center of the main character’s journey or it’s so intertwined with the rest of their identity that it’s impossible to tell where the LGBTQ story ends and the rest of their story begins.
Want to know more?
- On the creation and impact of Angels in America
- A true compendium on queer Shakespeare
- A Little History: LGBTQ Representation in Mainstream Comics
- An interview with Ramzi Fawaz, author The New Mutants: Superheroes and the Radical Imagination
Want more LGBTQ YA?
GIVEAWAY – This giveaway ended on October 15th. Congrats to the winner!
Rachel has generously offered to give away one digital copy of her latest YA novel, HOLD. To enter, please simply leave a comment on this post saying you’d like to be entered. Do leave your email address so that we can contact the winner! Giveaway will close at 11:59PM CT on October 15th.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Luke Aday knew that his sister’s death was imminent—she had been under hospice care for months—but that didn’t make her death any easier on him or their family. He returns to school three days after the funeral to a changed world; his best friends welcome him back with open arms, but it isn’t the same. But when a charismatic new student, Eddie Sankawulo, tries to welcome Luke to his own school, something life-changing happens: In a moment of frustration, Luke runs into an empty classroom, hurls his backpack against the wall—and the backpack never lands. Luke Aday has just discovered that he can stop time.
About the author:
Rachel Davidson Leigh is a writer, educator, and small town native who tells stories she wishes she could have read as a teen. Her short story, “Beautiful Monsters,” was included in Summer Love, an LGBTQ Young Adult collection published by Duet, an imprint of Interlude Press. She lives in Wisconsin with her family and two dogs who are spoiled out of their tiny minds.