“Where are all the new lesbian writers?” It’s a question I have been asked and have asked myself so many times I’ve lost count. Most recently, the Guardian’s book blog posted a piece asking the very same question:
“If I were to say to you that there seems to be a shortage of lesbian writers in Britain today, you’d think I was mad. ‘What about Jeanette Winterson and Stella Duffy?’ you’d say. You’d namecheck Ali Smith, Emma Donoghue, Sarah Waters, all of them Man Booker shortlistees. You might cite the phenomenally successful crime writer Val McDermid. But if I were to ask you to name the new generation of lesbian writers, the ones who grew up reading all of the above, I think you’d struggle. So where are all the new lesbian writers?…”
That question is actually one of the main reasons I started this blog though I’m not as focused on finding writers who self-identify as lesbian but books with lesbian content of some kind, like a lesbian protagonist.
I’ve come to the conclusion that the problem is mainly one of discoverability. I believe the books are out there somewhere but I can’t seem to find them. But shouldn’t it be easy? Google “lesbian fiction” or type it into Amazon and you’ll find tons of books, from publishers like Bold Strokes or self-published. And that in itself is awesome. But the problem for me and for many others is that these aren’t usually the books I’m interested in reading.
I’m not big into genre fiction of any kind and the mysteries and romances that dominate the “lesbian fiction” category aren’t my thing. (Though if someone did write a lesbian Game of Thrones, I would be all in.) I just want to read a good, non-genre, dare I say literary novel, like Fingersmith or Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. The rub is those books rarely contain the word “lesbian” anywhere on the jacket copy. I’ve seen phrases like “intense erotic bond” or “unorthodox sexuality” or “taboo relationship” to describe lesbian content but never the actual word “lesbian.”
Of course you and I can read between the lines of this copy and figure it out but I may never actually see that copy since these books simply won’t come up in my “lesbian” online search. There’s a shot if the publisher has used lesbian fiction as one of their bisac categories or some savvy retailer has decided to classify it as such but otherwise, no luck.
Why hide these books from their potential audience? Books with lesbian characters or themes are still considered niche and “small.” The publishers want to reach the largest possible audience for the book and not alienate any potential reader (because of course lesbians are a turn-off) and writers, understandably, want the same thing.
So, it becomes a game of shadows and mirrors for readers like me. And that’s why blogs, goodreads, the Lambda Literary website, your local bookseller (if you’re lucky enough to have one) and any forum connecting readers is so important. It’s through them that I’ve learned about books that otherwise would have completely flown under my radar.
The writers mentioned above have done a lot to open the door for books with lesbian acontent but until “lesbian” isn’t a buzzkill for a book, they are going to be hard to find. The more support we can muster for these “lesbian” books the better—when we prove there’s a vibrant audience willing to plunk down money for these books (ie, publishers and writers won’t lose money on them), the quicker that day will come.