If you’ve ever interacted with me on the internet, it’s very likely you’ve heard me talking (okay, shouting) about my one true literary love: under the radar queer books. There’s nothing I enjoy more than getting unknown queer gems into the hands of the readers who will love them. There are so many amazing queer books in the world that don’t get the buzz they deserve — but, happily, I’m not the only one who recognizes their brilliance! There are dozens and dozens of award-winning queer books out there you might not have heard of, and I am here to right that wrong.
This list includes some of my personal favorites as well as a few at the top of my TBR. They’ve won all sorts of prizes, from Lambda Awards to a National Book Award. They all have less than a few thousand reviews on Goodreads (and some only have a few hundred). Some of them are well-known and beloved in queer lit circles, but haven’t found the wider, mainstream readership the deserve.
There’s something here for everyone, from poetry and biography to contemporary and speculative fiction. And I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Pride than to support these authors by reading and buying their books. What are you waiting for?
Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian) by Hazel Jane Plante (2019 Lambda Award for Transgender Fiction)
This is easily one of my favorite novels of all-time, and I’ll never understand why more people haven’t read it. It’s funny, playful, heartwarming, and creative. Written in the form of an encyclopedia about a fictional TV show, Little Blue, it’s the story of the friendship between two trans women. The narrator is grieving her best friend Viv, who’s just died — the encyclopedia is her way of honoring her friend and processing her grief. Hazel Jane Plante is a master world builder, even if her books are set in real places.
Crossfire by Staceyann Chin (2020 American Book Award)
Staceyann Chin was a beloved spoken word poet before she published this phenomenal collection, which includes work from her entire lengthy career. It’s vibrant and accessible poetry, sometimes funny and sometimes devastating. She writes about her Jamaican heritage, her relationship with her mother, queerness, activism, and so much more.
Lote by Shola von Reinhold (2020 James Tait Black Memorial Prize)
This is another novel on my all-time favorites list! It came out in the U.S. in 2022 to little fanfare, so allow me to do some fanfare-ing because this novel is extraordinary. It’s about Mathilda, a Black queer aesthete and archivist who’s transfixed by various 20th century artists. When she comes across the work of Hermia Druitt, a forgotten Black modernist poet, she sets out a journey to to learn more, which sends her to a very strange artists’ colony. I can’t do this book justice — it’s an inventive, surprising, deliciously weird novel about Black queer art and the violence of the archive.
Theory by Dionne Brand (2018 OCM Bocas Prize forCaribbean Literature)
Fans of books about writers, this one is for you! The story follows an unnamed graduate student in the midst of writing their dissertation — an ambitious and constantly changing treatise on the complicated intersections of art, race, gender, and culture. As they write, their life is interrupted by a series of three lovers, each of whom changes how they view their work — and themself.
The Black Period by Hafizah Augustus Geter (2023 PEN Open Book Award)
In this meandering, lyrical memoir, Geter reflects on art, Blackness, queerness, grief, memory, disability and history, and the ways all of these experiences and identities have shaped her life. Anyone who loves genre-bending memoirs will appreciate this work, which masterfully blends personal narrative, cultural critique, art history, and more.
Short Film Starring My Beloved’s Red Bronco by K. Iver (2022 Ballard Spahr Prize for Poetry)
This gorgeous debut is a love letter and a grief song. The speaker recounts their first love, their own and their beloved’s tumble into queer and trans identity, their beloved’s suicide, and the overwhelming grief that comes afterward. It’s hard to summarize just how powerful this work is. Iver interrogates the messy, nonlinear throughlines between queer and trans pasts, presents, and futures. Their language is striking, immediate, and sharp. Many of the poems are deeply rooted in place — Mississippi — but they are also rooted in the expansive possibility of trans joy and futurity.
The Tiger Flu by Larissa Lai (2019 Lambda Award for Lesbian Fiction)
Set in a dizzying future ravaged by climate change, this novel combines elements of sci-fi, fantasy, and dystopian lit. It follows a group of parthenogenic women who have been exiled from their home, Salt Water City. They’ve built their own community, away from the rampant sexism and greed Salt Water City is known for. But when a mysterious plague threatens their way of life, they’re forced to confront their collection and individual pasts — and maybe change the world in the process.
The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke by Jeffrey C. Stewart (2018 National Book Award for Nonfiction)
The National Book Award is one of the most well-known U.S. literary awards, but sometimes the nonfiction winners don’t get the same attention as the fiction winners do! This comprehensive biography of Alain Locke is definitely worth your time. Stewart delves into the personal and professional life of the man often known as the father of the Harlem Renaissance. He explores Locke’s childhood, education, and travels, his far-reaching work and relationships with artists such as Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and his life as a gay man.