While LGBTQ+ only bookshelves are disappearing from the high street, meaning that books including diverse characters and plotlines now sit side-by-side with their mainstream counterparts is a good thing for those writers and readers, LGBTQ+ havens in which queer people can browse quietly with others are surprisingly few and far between. The coming together to celebrate the achievements of LGBTQ+ authors is equally as sparse. Are we missing something here? Have we let the mainstream absorb so much of our culture that we are in danger of losing our identity and disappearing altogether into the miasma?
Women got an award
Women in literature have faced a similar dilemma. In 1991, the Booker Prize shortlist included not one woman writer. This was puzzling since 60% of the books published were by women and yet they were so underrepresented. A group got together to discuss the value and purpose of such prizes and whether instead of promoting reading they actually turned people off, seeing them as highbrow and exclusive. From that meeting, the Orange Prize for Fiction was launched in 1996. It is now called The Women’s Prize and is an integral event in the literary calendar.
Where are the queer awards?
But what of LGBTQ+ authors, and, for that matter, LGBTQ+ bookshops, editors, publishing companies and agents? Apart from the Polari Prize, awarded to first-time LGBTQ+ authors and the Diva Literary Awards, the only other solely LGBTQ+ book prize is the LAMDAs, based in the US. It might be argued that the acceptance of LGBTQ+ literature into the mainstream has given it just as much chance of winning any of the plethora of book prizes open to all authors, but the fact remains that LGBTQ+ genres are relatively small in comparison to others in the beauty pageant and therefore make little impact on any shortlist.
The Green Carnation Prize made a valiant effort to address this lack of comparability in 2010, when journalist and blogger Simon Savidge and writer Paul Magrs highlighted this “scandalous lack of prizes for gay men” in the UK. Since 2017 and despite its success, the prize has fallen dormant. If help is required to reinvigorate such a prize, the LGBTQ+ community must assist in either resurrecting The Green Carnation or establishing another, if we are to give LGBTQ+ authors and their books the platform and support they deserve. It will inevitably take the sponsorship and backing of major players and companies to make it happen and to be sustainable, but as The Women’s Prize has proved, it can be done.
It is not anti-diverse to promote and support a much-maligned group of people such as the LGBTQ+ community, any more than it is sexist to promote a women-only prize when the opportunities for such groups to be recognised are so skewed against them.
Let’s celebrate LGBTQ+ authors and their books. Let’s recognise them for the role models they are, in writing characters and stories about issues so many of us wish we’d been able to read about but were never introduced to.
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