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Editorial: Having Our Say

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The 100 Best

Presenting 100 Ways to Fight Hatred and Ignorance About Our Culture.

By Keith Kahla
General Editor, Stonewall Inn Editions

The best gay novel ever?

This June is the thirtieth anniversary of the Stonewall Inn riots, the event that is commonly cited as the event that marked the beginning of the modern lesbian/gay rights movement. Beginning in 1970, June has been the month of an ever-increasing number of Gay/Lesbian Pride celebrations world-wide -- a time when the accomplishments of the community are celebrated, its loses mourned, and its numbers counted. June is also Lesbian & Gay Book Month -- a ten-year old project of the Publishing Triangle designed to bring much needed attention to gay and lesbian books.

While this project has reaped innumerable benefits, there is still a long, long way to go. Lesbian and gay books are rarely reviewed in the mainstream media and, when reviewed, are often assigned to reviewers without the background or, arguably, the intelligence to reasonably assess them.

(For one particularly odious example, see John Updike's blisteringly ignorant and homophobic review of Alan Hollinghurst's new novel in the May 31st issue of The New Yorker wherein he attacks the very validity of the gay novel by asserting some vague principle of heterosexual superiority. My own favorite line in his screed-masquerading-as-a-review is: "Boredom swoops in without heterosexual clutter to obstruct its advent." If you'd like to let the editors of The New Yorker know what you think of this review, please use this mail form on their site.)

Far too often a "successful" gay or lesbian novel is defined by the dominant culture as being one that is likely to be non-threatening to a straight, white audience, a standard that would be unthinkable if applied to any other "minority" literature. (Can one even imagine Toni Morrison or Ntozake Shange being attacked in the New Yorker for writing about black characters and culture? Saul Bellow or Chaim Potok for failing to "appeal" to a non-Jewish audience?)

While I suppose that, on some level, it would be nice to receive the approval of the mainstream media, such approval is clearly still a long way away. Which is why there is still a need to celebrate and recognize our own.

This year the organizers of Lesbian and Gay Book Month have decided to co-ordinate and promote a 100 Best Lesbian and Gay Novels list. With a prominent group of 14 lesbian or gay writers and critics making the final selection, this list is sure to be controversial. Beginning next week, a wide range of publications are doing articles on the list -- some promoting, some attacking, others simply reporting it. Like everyone else, there are titles on the list that I don't think belong and books that are missing from it that I strongly believe should be there. But, without question, I think any reader interested in gay/lesbian literature should be aware of the books on the 100 Best list.

I hope all of you will take the time to check out this list, help all of us in celebrating Lesbian and Gay Book Month, and support year-round the ever evolving literature of our culture.

Keith Kahla is the senior editor who calls the shots at Stonewall Inn.


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