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8 Queer Books That Explore Place, Nature & The Environment

Flatiron Books, publisher of Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy

From the author of the beloved national bestseller Migrations, a pulse-pounding new novel set in the wild Scottish Highlands.

"So damn good. A page-turner that makes you think and has a huge emotional impact." -Jeff VanderMeer, New York Times bestselling author of Annihilation (via Twitter)

I am a rural queer. I live in a rural place, I don’t particularly like cities, and I feel most alive surrounded by trees and water and mountains. Naturally, I’m always searching for queer books set in rural places, books that put the environment front and center. I crave literature that explores the connections between nature and queerness. I love books with queer characters who are grappling with questions of place and landscape. “Queers in nature” is my genre, basically.

Historically, this sort of book has been hard to find. There’s a pervasive myth that queer people only live in cities, and queer books often reflect this. And while it is true that rural life is not always easy for queer people, and many of us do move to cities, that’s not the whole story. For some of us, queer identities are tied to the natural world, to the wild places that have shaped us, the creatures we connect with, and the reflections of ourselves we find in nature. For me, queerness has always been about possibly, openness, and expansion — and I find those things in nature, too.

Over the years, I’ve slowly started to see more queer books that center the natural world. These eight are all about queerness and place. Some of them are about the importance of particular wild places in the lives of queer characters. Some of them are about how being queer can change someone’s experience of nature. Some of them are about the devastating effects humans have had on the landscape, and the possibilities for renewal and healing we might find in queerness.

Fiction

A Natural History of Transition by Callum Angus

A Natural History of Transition by Callum Angus

This collection of beautifully fantastical short stories features trans characters experiencing all kinds of unexpected and nonlinear transformations. In one story, a swarm of insects is the main character. In another, a character becomes a rock. A trans man give birth to a cocoon. A boy curates a museum of found objects in the woods. Each story is surprising and moving, full of human emotion, and yet deeply grounded in the sounds, sights, smells, and textures of the natural world.

How Much of These Hills Is Gold

How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang

Set in the post–gold rush American west, this novel follows two Chinese American siblings on their quest to bury their recently deceased father. Zhang brings the harsh and often confounding landscape they travel through to vivid life. It’s a lyrical, complicated adventure story in which the natural and human worlds are often in opposition to each other.

Cantoras by Carolina de Robertis book cover

Cantoras by Carolina De Robertis

The natural world acts as a refuge in this historical novel about five gay Uruguayan women, set during the repressive dictatorship of the 1970s and 1980s. The five women buy a small shack on a remote stretch of coastline, and it becomes the focal point of their lives. The vastness of the ocean, the rhythms of coastal life, the dark night skies, and the remote location all contribute to the sense of ease and comfort the women experience there. It’s a stunning ode to found family, queer friendship, and the power of intimately knowing a place.

American Hippo cover

American Hippo by Sarah Gailey

In this imaginative alternative history, set in the late 1890s, feral hippos have taken over the swamplands and bayous of Louisiana. Once imported to the U.S. to be used as an alternate source of meat, the hippos have taken over the landscape — and irrevocably altered it. The story follows outlaw Winslow Houndstooth and his crew of queer misfits as they attempt to wrest the Mississippi River from the hippos. It’s a brilliant and often funny exploration of what the complexities of natural and human ecosystems. (And a first-rate adventure with a side of romance.)

Love After the End edited by Joshua Whitehead cover

Love After the End Edited by Joshua Whitehead

A lot of cli-fi and dystopian literature is super dark, which makes this book a refreshing change. It’s a collection of sci-fi and speculative story by Indigenous queer writers, and white the subject matter is often serious, many of the stories are about hope, resistance, and community. The earth plays a vital role in nearly all the stories. There are spaceships, but their are also sentient sea-faring ships and land-based futuristic communities and characters determined to keep their ancestral wisdom alive.

Nonfiction

Exile and Pride by Eli Clare

Exile & Pride by Eli Clare

If I had to pick only one queer book to recommend for the rest of my life (why?) this might be it. Eli Clare is a disabled trans writer who grew up in rural Oregon. In this blend of memoir, history, cultural analysis, and disability studies, he explores the ways that nature, geography, race, gender, and ability have intersected in his life. He articulates the complicated, fraught relationships he has with his hometown — a place he loved, but that didn’t let him be all of himself. He writes about disability history and justice, rural queerness, and activism rooted in the natural world. This book changed the way I think about the world around me in just about every way.

cover of Nature Poem by Tommy Pico

Nature Poem by Tommy Pico

This is not so much a book about the natural world as it is a book about the idea of the natural world, and what that means for Pico, a queer urban NDN. He begins this long-form poem by addressing the idea of the nature poem itself, and the harmful ways that Indigenous cultures have long been equated with simplistic, stereotypical ideas of nature. From there, he ranges through human and natural landscapes, dating apps and pop culture, Indigenous history and contemporary New York. It’s a shimmering, playful, painful, and continually surprising poem.

Cover of Borealis by Aisha Sabatini Sloan

Borealis by Aisha Sabatini Sloan (November 2)

This book isn’t out until November, but I couldn’t resist including it because it’s just that good. Sloan is a Black queer woman who’s spent many summers living in Homer, Alaska. In this book-length essay, she explores the connections between place and gender, Blackness and wilderness, queer love and isolation. It’s about glaciers and wildlife and art and nature writing itself. The wilderness that Sloan experiences is contradictory, violent, breathtaking, alluring, steeped in the realities of patriarchy and whiteness. This is such a smart book; it made me rethink so much of what I think I know about the landscapes we inhabit.

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