21 LGBT Biographies or Memoirs You Should Read Now

From German counts to Utah cave-dwellers, there's something for every reader on this list.

BY Diane Anderson-Minshall

August 13 2012 1:29 PM ET

Finding Your Force: A Journey to Love by Alicia Anabel Santos (CreateSpace, $19.99)

In this self-published but well executed memoir, written in the form of love letter to her daughter, the Dominican-American playwright, director, and producer of the one-woman show I Was Born, Alicia Santos, describes surviving rape and coming out as a lesbian. (CreateSpace.com)

Butterfly in the Typewriter: The Tragic Life of John Kennedy Toole and the Remarkable Story of A Confederacy of Dunces by Cory MacLauchlin (Da Capo, $26.00)

Chosen as one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Summer Reads  of 2012, Cory MacLauchlin’s  Butterfly in the Typewriter is a thoroughly researched, well-documented, and highly objective biography  of John Kennedy Toole, the author of A Confederacy of Dunces.

After Toole's masterpiece was was rejected by publishers he suffered a mental breakdown and took off on a two-month journey across the United States. He returned to his beloved hometown of New Orleans before committing suicide on the side of a road outside nearby Biloxi, Miss., by hooking a hose up to his car's exhaust pipe. Twelve years later his manuscript was finally published — to critical acclaim. It went on to win a  Pulitzer Prize.

MacLauchlin does this tragic story justice, producing a gripping biography worth reading. The only criticism stems from what at first seems a compliment: as Publishers Weekly says, “MacLauchlin does an admirable job distinguishing facts from speculation.” But one of those "speculations" has been that Toole was gay or at least bi-curious. To such talk, MacLauchlin replies, “He may have questioned his sexuality, I don't know. I found nothing substantive to indicate he was homosexual. And in the absence of such evidence I think it is irresponsible to speculate.”

Not knowing what would constitute substantive indication of someone’s homosexual orientation, readers can choose to accept MacLauchlin’s determination. And because he chose not to speculate, Butterfly includes not the slightest suggestion that Toole was anything but straight. Is that the truth? Maybe not, but it's a good story nonetheless. (DaCapoPress.com)

A Fiery Soul: The Life and Theatrical Times of John Hirsch by Andrew J. Wilson and Fraidie Martz (Vehicule Press $22)

In 1947, when John Hirsch, a Jewish Hungarian orphaned by the Holocaust, first arrived in Winnipeg, Canada, he was just 17 years old and spoke no English. A decade later, he cofounded the Manitoba Theatre Centre, which became a model for regional theaters across North America. He later spent four years at the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. as head of English television drama and then served as artistic director at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival from 1981 to 1985. A gay man known for his fiery temper and budget-blowing sets, Hirsh died of AIDS complications in 1989.

Hirsch’s story is intrinsically Canadian, and the authors' not being Canadian themselves may have doomed the biography to being less than it could be (as did, one could argue, their stumbling upon his life story while researching war orphans). That lack of  intimate knowledge of the subject, his homeland, and his work resulted in a flawed book with a number of factual errors and notable exclusions. Still, it remains a fair introduction to the life of a fascinating and influential gay man. A Fiery Soul includes black-and-white photos and covers both Hirsch’s professional and personal life. (VehiculePress.com)

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