5 Books that Celebrate LGBTQ Life, Culture and History

Its 50 years since the Stonewall uprising in New York City. To celebrate World Pride this year, why not delve into one of these poignant, thought-provoking and often hugely entertaining LGBTQ stories.


Fabulosa!: The Story of Polari,
Britain’s Secret Gay Language

by Paul Baker

In the first half of the twentieth century, when being gay could result in criminal prosecution, or worse, the Polari language offered its speakers a degree of public camouflage, a way of expressing humour, and a means of identification. In Fabulosa!, Paul Baker recounts the story of Polari with skill, erudition and tenderness. He traces its historical origins and describes its linguistic nuts and bolts, explores the ways and the environments in which it was spoken, explains the reasons for its decline, and tells of its unlikely re-emergence in the twenty-first century.

With a cast of drag queens and sailors, Dilly boys and macho clones, it is an essential document of recent history and a fascinating and fantastically readable account of this funny, filthy and ingenious language.

Exist Otherwise: The Life and Works
of Claude Cahun

by Jennifer L. Shaw

In the turmoil of the 1920s and ‘30s, Claude Cahun challenged gender stereotypes through her powerful photographs, photomontages and writings. She wrote for major French literary magazines, performed in avant-garde theatres and was both a comrade and critical outsider of Surrealists. She even used artful resistance tactics to mock and disrupt Nazi occupiers during the Second World War, which put her into mortal danger.

This is the first work in English to tell the full story of Claude Cahun’s art and life. Using letters and diaries, Shaw brings Cahun’s ideas and feelings to life and contributes to our understanding of photography,
Surrealism and the histories of women artists and queer culture.

Tennessee Williams
by Paul Ibell

Several of the most iconic characters in American theatre were created during the long career of Thomas Lanier ‘Tennessee’ Williams iii (26 March 1911 – 25 February 1983). Although the greatest roles were for women, Williams brought gay relationships into the spotlight, too — his art, as so often is the case, reflecting his life. In his plays, Williams explored the recurring themes of the power of sexual attraction and the tragedy of its loss when beauties (of both sexes) grow old.

In this gripping biography Paul Ibell discusses Williams as a poet as well as a playwright, at the same time revealing the crises of doomed relationships, promiscuous sex, alcohol and prescription drug abuse that gave the writer the raw material for his plays, but which
ultimately destroyed him.

Susan Sontag
by Jerome Boyd Maunsell

Writing about a range of topics from literature, dance, film and painting to cancer, AIDS and the ethics of war reportage, Susan Sontag (1933-2004) did not shy away from startling topics. As an essayist, diarist, filmmaker, novelist and playwright, few were able to capture the twentieth century in the same manner.

In this biography, Sontag’s growth is traced from her academic career through her marriage to Philip Rieff at the age of seventeen, to the birth of her son David and her relationships with women. Drawing on extensive diaries, Sontag’s struggle in love, in marriage, as a mother and as a writer is seen in a more intimate portrait than previously possible.

Jean Genet
by Stephen Barber

French writer and political activist Jean Genet has been an ambivalent icon for the gay movement, for transvestite cultures and for creative and revolutionary individuals internationally.

This short biography cuts directly to the essence of Genet’s life, a life of extraordinary spectacle that was always profoundly entangled with his work. Stephen Barber emphasises those elements that made his life particularly inspirational in the 1960s and which continue to make it vital for readers today. Genet’s work is a distillation of preoccupations and reinventions of crucial matters – sex, desire, death and revolution – all of which became mediated in the form of his own travels, imprisonments, sexual and emotional relationships, political engagements and protests.

For more great reading lists and book recommendations, sign up to our free monthly email newsletter online.