Photo: Derek Bridges

Venus Thrash’s Six Books by Lesbians of Color

I want to read books with high-quality writing and an engaging storyline. I want complex and multifaceted LGBTQ characters. I want them badass and vulnerable. Conscientious and heroic. Socially and culturally aware or becoming so. I want them having lots of healthy sex and falling in love. Yes! Give me a hopeful ending! Show me my future and don’t ever let me forget my past. Give me poetry that sticks to the ribs, that gives me good reason to pause. That’s how I’ll take my lesbian lit and how I hope you want yours, too. To cap off your summer reading list, here are six books by contemporary lesbian writers of color that deliver, if not all these traits in one, then certainly in astounding bunches, prompting a compelling entry into autumn.

1. Yabo, by Alexis De Veaux (fiction)

In Yabo, the 2015 winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Fiction, De Veaux’s characters are mesmerizing and fully drawn. The storytelling is rhythmic and woven together in vignettes that add layers of complexity. Two of the most compelling characters are Jules and Professor Braille. We first meet Jules as a newborn with ‘ambiguous genitalia,’ whom we watch grow, in wonder and discovery, into adulthood. We meet Professor Braille, who teaches graduate seminars in the Department of Critical Anthropology, through Zen, Jules’s childhood friend. Braille compels her students to experience the transatlantic slave trade on quite a visceral level—via handcuffing them to the chairs, and each other, as she lectures back in time—effectively taking the reader along on a treacherous and spellbinding journey. Hold on.

2. Eye of Water, by Amber Flora Thomas (poetry)

Thomas’s Eye of Water, winner of the 2004 Cave Canem Poetry Prize, is a tour de force as far as debut collections of poetry are concerned. There is extra care taken with each turn of phrase and line break, which we rarely see nowadays. These poems explore nature, examine relationships, and praise the feminine form. The poem, Her Hemisphere, admires a woman’s derrière in a taut cotton dress:

Count the threads:
there is no mismanagement of flesh here!
…Purple flowers roam into your apron ties,
like lizard eyes. You reach for a towel
and out they go, blinking.
Please don’t ever turn around.

I still want to high-five Thomas for that final image.

3. Stealing Nasreen, Farzana Doctor (fiction)

One of the best features of Doctor’s Stealing Nasreen is its main character’s, Nasreen’s, inability to notice a potential romantic interest. In this case, Shaffiq and Salma, who, though married to one another, are wholly unaware of the other’s fascination and infatuation with Nasreen. What makes the storytelling engaging throughout is how intensely and often humorously these three lives intersect, intertwine and bypass each other before culminating in a passionate kiss between Nasreen and Salma.

4. Book Bonus: Six Metres of Pavement, Farzana Doctor (fiction)

In Six Metres of Pavement, winner of the 2012 Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Fiction, we find Ismail, one of the main characters, drowning himself in sorrow and booze after accidentally killing his infant daughter. Finding no solace, he withdraws from life. A chance encounter with his neighbor, Celia, who lives only steps away, six meters in fact, begins to crack open his isolated and closed world. Still, it takes a harder hammer than love to break that world wide open. It takes a hammer named Fatima, a homeless LGBTQ activist who could find trouble in her sleep. Instead, she finds Ismail.

5. A Cup of Water Under My Bed, Daisy Hernández (memoir)

A Cup of Water Under My Bed is written in sparse, lyrical prose that makes the sometimes rocky, and at other times poignant, coming-of-age journey a pleasure to travel. The wise women in Hernández’s life have complex and buoyant personalities, and their advice, rightful or not, is doled out with good intentions and plenty of love. Their love is the rock that braces Hernández on the road of self-discovery.

6. proxy, r. erica doyle (poetry)

When the love you want doesn’t want you back, what’s often left is raw, uninhibited, wild, impulsive sex. Winner of the 2014 Norma Farber First Book Award, doyle’s proxy is a stand-in for when there are no words or deeds left for love—there is only space and the humidity of desire. Proxy negotiates the complex emotions around sex and love and offers sex as salvation with an assured poetic hand. Yes to sex when nothing else will do!

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