This post is sponsored by Balls by Chris Edwards.
Happy Trans Awareness Month! We exist! Some of us write books!
For someone who writes quite a few recommendation lists, I always find them difficult to write–particularly when I’m talking about trans writers. The issue isn’t always what I write for these lists–it’s often what I don’t write: there simply isn’t enough time for me to include every title, author, or even biographical details, that I want to and I always end up trying to cram too many items so that I don’t have to leave anything out. Eventually I’m forced to create arbitrary limits just to make sure that I eventually make my deadline. This list, like all my lists, is not a definitive guide to The Eight Trans Authors You MUST Know (I think those lists are silly) but can be thought of as a sampling of the authors that I find particularly captivating or relevant for one reason or another. Did your favorite author not make the list? Comment below! Share with the group! (After all, they probably were on my original behemoth of a list.)
Dane Figueroa Edidi – Edidi is one of those artists where you find yourself wondering if she somehow has more hours in her day than you. Her biography is far too long to do true justice to here but, in brief, Edidi is an African, Cuban, Indigenous, American trans woman performer, writer, priestess, and activist who is based out of Baltimore. Edidi’s work includes speculative fiction set in a world of Black trans women living with mystical and holy powers (Keeper, Wither & Remains: A Gathering of Bones, Yemaya’s Daughters, Brew) and a book of poems dedicated to her home (Baltimore: A Love Letter). She is also the Director of Global Initiatives for the Trans Women of Color Collective.
Esdras Parra – I’m indebted to Jamie Berrout for drawing my attention to Venezuelan poet, writer, and activist, Esdras Parra. Parra’s body of writing spanned genres and forms, from film criticism to poetry, and while it continues to be well-regarded today, twelve-years after her death, it can be difficult to find her work outside of Venezuela. Berrout, a talented writer, essayist, and poet herself, translated Antigüedad del frío (To Be Human Once More), a collection of Parra’s poetry originally published in 1997, and has been working to share the legacy of Esdras Parra.
Imogen Binnie – If you’ve read just one novel by a trans author there’s a good chance that book was Nevada, nominated for the 2014 Lambda Award for Trans Fiction. Often conversations about Nevada quickly turn into conversations about literary canon and how important it is for trans girls who came out after reading it (or so I hear, cause, uh, I definitely “didn’t” do that), while these conversations can be relevant in certain contexts, right now I’d like to focus on the fact that Imogen Binnie is a very good writer and Nevada is a damn good novel. Binnie’s punk, fucked-up, bleak, hilarious story is tightly crafted, prioritizing the characters and plot instead of trying to deliver a grand moralizing take on the Trans Experience.
KOKUMỌ – When an author’s backcover biography includes the sentences “KOKUMỌ is the thought leader responsible for influencing the very framework of the modern-day trans movement. Yes! She’s you fav’rite advocates, fav’rite advocate.” then that’s a sign to sit up and take notice. KOKUMỌ has a long, respected history as an activist and performance artist based in Chicago and I’m excited for the opportunity that Reacquainted with Life provides to bring her work to readers who might not already be familiar with it. Reacquainted with Life is her first book, bringing together heart-pounding, devastating, gorgeous, chilling poems that all speak from her experiences as a Black, fat, femme trans woman living in America.
Ryka Aoki – The other day I received a message from a friend, “I got Ryka’s poetry books and I can’t read them in public because after a couple stanzas I invariably start crying,” and although I’m personally immune to any semblance of emotional expression, I completely understood. Aoki writes in these gorgeous, flowing motions that sound so natural I am entirely convinced and captivated by her work. Her novel, He Mele a Hilo, was one of my favorite books I read in 2015 and has become one of the standards that I now hold anything I read up against. A story made of interwoven lives, He Mele a Hilo uses the characters’ Hawaiian Pidgin English to bring us into a tiny community on the big island of Hawai’i as they navigate relationships and questions of identity while a magical presence begins to turn everything on its head. Concepts of identity, relationships, and community also play out in her two poetry collections: Seasonal Velocities and Why Dust Shall Never Settle Upon This Soul. I was fortunate enough to hear Aoki read at the University of Massachusetts Amherst earlier this year and I walked away from it with an even deeper appreciation for her presence, both as a performer and as a member of literary communities, and particularly for her challenge of how we determine which work gets the label of “Trans Literature.”