Lesbian Lit 101
Back to School
The first Gay and Lesbian Studies program was offered in 1986; since then, there has been an explosion of LGBT literature courses offered on campuses across the country. Many junior colleges now host a few LGBT/Queer Studies classes, so check with your local community college for course listings. If the thought of tuition prices or tests gives you a panic attack, have no fear, you can do your own independent study.
So grab your backpack, we are heading back to school with five classic works of lesbian literature.
Here is your reading list. (Don’t worry—there won’t be a test.)
· Odd Girl Out by Ann Bannon (1957)
Published amidst thousands of other pulp novels , Ann Bannon’s Odd Girl Out set itself apart from the rest. Unlike its contemporaries, Odd Girl Out offered a hopeful perspective on being lesbian in the 1950’s. The message resonated with lesbians tired of reading stories ending in suicide and sadness. Through word-of-mouth, the novel became the second best-selling paperback of 1957.
· Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown (1973)
Long before she was writing mysteries, Rita Mae Brown broke boundaries with this coming-of-age story. The novel follows the life of Molly Bolt, a poor yet determined woman who struggles against sexism and homophobia to pursue her passion for filmmaking. Plucky and unapologetic, Molly has been described as a lesbian Tom Sawyer. This is a “must read” for any literature loving lesbian.
· Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg (1993)
Stone Butch Blues is the heartbreaking story of Jess Goldberg, a blue-collar “butch” living in New York in the 1960s. The story offers a sobering glimpse at life pre-Stonewall, a world full of raids, discrimination, and violence. Despite the chaos and cruelty, there is a tenderness to the characters which connects them deeply with the reader. This book is poignant and unforgettable.
· Poetry by Sappho (600 BC)
The mother of lesbian love songs, Sappho was said to have written nine books of lyrics. Unfortunately, only one poem survived in its entirety. The rest remain in fragments, haunting and lyrical. Even incomplete, Sappho’s poetry has a powerful pull. There are hundreds of translations of her work, speaking to its timelessness.
· Orlando by Virginia Woolf (1928)
A gender-bending classic, Orlando is the fictitious biography of a nobleman who lives for centuries and changes from male to female through magic. This fantastical tale is witty and well written. Reading a work by Virginia Woolf is considered by many feminists a rite of passage. An icon in her own right, Woolf’s fascinating life included romantic relationships with other women. Orlando, in fact, is believed to have been written for her lover, Vita Sackville-West.
Although these are a few of the most commonly read lesbian works in college, this list only scratches the surface of classic LGBT literature. Each gives perspective on a different experience. LGBT Literature courses are a staple of any Queer Studies program because they tell our community’s stories. They give us a connection to the past, insight into the present, and hope for the future.