Twenty years ago, gay and lesbian people could not get married. Twenty years ago, many of us struggled with imagining being out at work, in our communities and in our places of worship. Some couples were adopting children and engineering families, but often spoke of it in hushed tones to not draw attention as children were still routinely taken away from queer parents in custody battles and sodomy in many states was still a felony.
Amid these oppressive circumstances, LGBTQ literary culture flourished. A network of independently owned LGBTQ bookstores existed in many urban communities. These bookstores provided places for readers to find books about their lives, they hosted authors for readings and afternoon chats, they celebrated pride and they were a destination for people young and old who wanted to declare their sexuality with a rainbow flag bumper sticker. An equally independent group of publisher supplied these bookstores with thoughtful, challenging, beautiful, difficult and sublime books; books that they published with great care and pride, books that often did not make the publisher any money, let alone buckets of money, but that sold consistently and from which publishers paid modest royalties to the author. Newspapers and a few independent magazines published for a loyal and hardy group of subscribers. A national conference, OutWrite, brought many of these writing, publishing, reading characters together. There were challenges. Political disagreement. Economic shortfalls. Concerns about apathy. It was a vibrant ecosystem, however, producing queer literary culture. The culture was not quite a bustling urban metropolis, but it was more than subsistence farming.
Over the past twenty years, changes in the publishing and book selling industries eroded this ecosystem of queer literary culture. Many of our bookstores closed (though I cheer the recent purchase of Giovanni's Room by new owners in Philadelphia); many of our publishers ceased operations. LGBTQ literary institutions have been hard hit by broader economic conditions which threaten literary culture at large.
As usual, LGBTQ activists respond to these hostile conditions with aplomb. We build new community institutions. We create new modes of literary and cultural engagement.
On Friday, August 1st through Sunday, August 3rd, The DC Center for the LGBT Community will host its fourth annual OutWrite book fair and literary festival. Over these three days, The DC LGBT Center will host an array of readings by LGBTQ authors and literary artists, a series of workshops and on Saturday a substantial book fair.
The festival opens with a tribute to DC-resident Essex Hemphill from 6 pm until 8 pm on Friday night. Martin Duberman will be reading from his new biography of Essex, Hold Tight Gently. On Saturday from 11 am until 5 pm, the book fair will be open for browsing. Workshops and readings will be held all day on Saturday. Saturday night will feature a celebration with the writers group Diccion Queer. On Sunday, a brunch celebrating the Anthology Flickr and Spark, which was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, will wrap up the weekend. If you are in the DC area, join us at The DC Center at 14th and U Street over the weekend.
Increasingly, LGBTQ book fairs are spreading around the country as a vital way for LGBTQ publishers to reach readers. Festivals like OutWrite are vital to promoting and invigorating LGBTQ literary culture. If you are in the Washington, DC area, come out to all or part of OutWrite. We need your support and you will find the festival filled with pleasurable rewards. If you are living in an area without a festival, think about starting your own. With a little time and a little organizing, you can be a vibrant contributor to building, preserving and celebrating LGBTQ literary culture.