They say the pen is mightier than the sword. And fortunately, there's an army of LGBTQ+ writers, poets, publishing mavens, and wordsmiths fighting the good fight for representation (and crafting some darn good books in the process).
Below, behold the literary and publishing stars of the 2022 Out100.
A Black queer poet, essayist, and cultural strategist, Aurielle Marie didn't always see her writing as contributing to the movement for Black lives. Though poetry saved their life as a young kid, they say they "couldn't imagine some words on a thin page doing as much liberatory work as our protesting or grassroots organizing."
But in the last 10 years, that has changed. "I believed the lie that freedom came at a cost, and my body and my safety had to be payment," shares Marie. "Nearly 10 years later, and I finally have learned the lesson that self-sacrifice is unsustainable. And more importantly, storytellers have always been the heart of every revolution."
Marie has certainly contributed to that revolution. Recently, her debut collection Gumbo Ya Ya, which explores race, gender, desire, and violence in the lives of Black gxrls, won the Cave Canem Poetry Prize and the Lambda Literary Award for Bisexual Poetry. In 2022, Marie also won the Georgia Author of the Year Award in Poetry.
Currently, Marie is writing an essay collection about organizing for Black liberation as a queer woman, pleasure and sex (work) as a fat femme, and Black queerness in the digital age. They're also working on a feature-length documentary on the toll the Black Lives Matter movement has had on the people and communities that carried it, which was influenced by their work as a community organizer after the killing of Michael Brown.
"I don't think of myself so highly that I can claim to be a revolutionary storyteller yet, but I hope when my work is done here, I would have told the whole truth well enough that someone can say that I got close," says Marie. "My purpose is to tell our stories honestly, no matter how intricate and complex they are. There is such freedom in all this mess." @yesaurielle
In June 2021, queer and nonbinary poet, author, and touring spoken word artist Andrea Gibson committed to writing a digital newsletter. Entitled Things That Don't Suck, it would be published multiple times per week and centered the importance of finding positivity in life. Gibson (they/them) was fresh off writing their latest book, You Better Be Lightning, and had been spending up to six months each year giving spoken word performances in rock clubs around the world. "Probably not what most people envision when they hear 'poetry show,'" Gibson says wryly.
In the age of COVID, the thought of a new adventure closer to home was appealing, but the newsletter and their life soon became far more emotionally entwined than they initially envisioned.
"A week before launching the project, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer," Gibson says. "My first thought was: No way can I write that newsletter now. But the thought that soon followed was far more expansive: This is exactly the time to write that newsletter. This is exactly the time to shift my lens and my attention toward what does not suck."
In July of this year, Gibson took to social media to announce they were canceling the remainder of their tour due to a recurrence of cancer. As in the past, they accepted and prioritized the diagnosis before moving on.
"As someone who had previously lived with a lot of fear, I never imagined I could grow and thrive during a cancer diagnosis -- but my heart has never been so open," Gibson says. "Through this time, I have learned to see people with a compassionate, loving, and technicolor lens. I have learned to live in the present."
True to character, Gibson is sharing their experiences for all the right reasons. "Although I've identified with multiple purposes throughout my life and career, I'd say that what's most potent to me now is to teach people how to cultivate inner joy and peace regardless of external circumstance," Gibson says. "Recently I wrote, 'What kind of poet would I be if I could only make hard things beautiful on paper?'" @andrewgibby
Nonbinary Salvadoran poet and abolitionist Christopher Soto (he/they) released his debut poetry book, Diaries of a Terrorist, this year through Copper Canyon Press. The book doesn't just offer beauty; it delivers a powerful message the way that poetry best can. It asks the question "Who do we call a terrorist, and why?" and forces readers to look deep inside and examine the borders imposed by society.
"My life is dedicated to anti-capitalist and anti-racist struggles," the 31-year-old writer says. "Literature is just the means by which I can best produce propaganda."
Diaries of a Terrorist has received widespread praise. But Soto isn't interested in being a "token success story." "Sometimes 'overcome obstacles' are a way to advance the idea of the American dream -- as if you too can have a chance at surviving or even thriving under American capitalism," they say. "Central American migrants in my community are still being deported; Los Angeles, where I live, is still operating one of the largest prison systems in the world; the lack of social safety net in the United States continues to force people into houselessness, and my friends in El Salvador fear the collapse of democracy. I think about struggle communally as opposed to individually." @loma_poetry
One would imagine that after becoming a New York Times bestselling author and a Pulitzer Prize nominee, you could rest on your laurels. Not so for Dr. Eric Cervini, author, producer, historian, and avowed homosexual. His first book, The Deviant's War: The Homosexual vs. the United States of America, uncovered the story of Frank Kameny, an ousted government astronomer who filed the country's first-known federal civil rights claim around sexual orientation. Cervini, who lives in L.A. with his drag queen boyfriend and their dog, Moo Bear, topped that by making history -- well, fun -- as the creator and executive producer of The Book of Queer, a comedic and music-filled docuseries about LGBTQ+ history, which premiered on Discovery+ in June.
For the author who aspires to be the Ms. Frizzle of queer history (Frizzle is the famed teacher from The Magic School Bus), creating The Book of Queer, the world's first queer history variety show, fits right into his mission "to get folks excited about our past, and to learn from our successes and failures as a community. Plus, if there's anything I've learned about studying history, it's important to take chances, make mistakes, and get messy."
The Book of Queer featured the largest all-queer cast in the history of Hollywood, Cervini boasts, "and we had the opportunity to tell dozens of enthralling stories from our queer past -- with comedy, music, dance, historian commentary, and lots of fun. The cast and crew included some of the most talented queer folks in the world, and it was the honor of a lifetime to work with them to create the queerest -- i.e., best -- show in the world."
Next stop? Channeling Frizzle, he and his partner Adam Powell are raising funds for a Rainbow Book Bus, which will drive LGBTQ+ books across the country. @ericcervini
Shing Yin Khor
This year, Shing Yin Khor's middle-grade graphic novel The Legend of Auntie Po, about a queer 12-year-old Chinese camp cook "navigating both her feelings for her best friend and the tensions of existing as a Chinese person after the passage of the Chinese Exclusion act," won an Eisner and was a finalist for the National Book Award.
But Khor isn't just a graphic novelist; they describe themself as a "maker of things and stories," and that's the truth. They also design indie games, make fortune-telling cabinets, build "odd little fish marionettes," "send weird narrative mail horror stories through the USPS," run a mail LARP called Space Gnome Space, and -- along with their friend Leslie -- put together a hand-dyed bandana fundraiser and event for abortion rights that raised $10,000. Out of all these talents, what is Khor best at?
"I think that the thing I am best at is creating empathy through quiet but persistent narratives," the nonbinary Malaysian-Chinese artist says. "I don't often feel cut out for the outspoken activism I admire most, but I think that the slow and tenacious work of establishing new narratives that reshapes the world in the image of people like us, who have previously been excluded from them, is important too. Myths are important because they create a common language that societies use to communicate and understand each other, and we can make new myths filled with people who look and live like us." @sawdustbear
Radclyffe is the nom de plume of award-winning lesbian author Len Barot, the former surgeon who gave up medicine in 2004 to focus on creating and preserving lesbian literature. She has over 50 novels under her belt as an author, has edited more than 20 anthologies of lesbian literature, and is president of the queer publishing house, Bold Stroke Books.
One way Barot has sought to preserve lesbian and queer literature is by helping grow the next generation of queer and lesbian authors. Another? Her work with the Old Lesbian Oral History Project (OLOHP) where she will be interviewed as part of the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College. It's a project and a responsibility she doesn't take lightly.
"I feel extremely lucky to have lived through some of the critical periods of LGBTQ+ history, from Stonewall to the early days of the GLF [Gay Liberation Front], as well as the parallel emergence of a queer literary community during the same era," Barot says. "I hope that sharing my experiences via the OLOHP archives will help preserve those moments for members of our community who have come later."
Barot says she'll shortly begin work on her new paranormal romance series, The Midnight Hunters, with the first installment, Primal Hunt, due out next year. As a publisher, she promises to continue making Bold Strokes Books "a place where authors of all identities can grow their craft and reach readers worldwide."
She has equally lofty aspirations when asked how she would change the world for the better. "I would replace the fear of the 'other,' whether the difference is based on species, race, religion, gender, sexual expression, ability, class, or any of the myriad ways humans differ," Barot says, "with the credo that we strive to live a life that harms no one and respects the choices of others that do likewise." @radclyffebsb