By Rachel Dowd
Originally published on Advocate.com May 29 2008 11:00 PM ET
Like most writers, last night’s 20th annual Lambda Literary Awards at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood missed its deadline. In her opening remarks, Teresa DeCrescenzo, the host committee chair, promised that the whole show would be wrapped up “sometime before 9:30.” Admittedly, there’s a difference in missing the mark by a few hours and dodging your editor’s phone calls for a week, and when the ceremony ended at 10 p.m. no one seemed to notice that DeCrescenzo’s cutoff time had come and gone.
Perhaps that’s because in a part of the world where awards shows are as ubiquitous as palm trees, the Lammys are refreshingly fun -- with the right amount of bawdiness to remind the well-read crowd that this ain’t the Oscars.
Take, for example, Simon Sheppard, whose book Homosex won last night’s honor for best LGBT erotica. After the customary words of gratitude to his editor and publisher, he casually added, “this is for every man who sucks cock.” The esteemed novelist Katherine V. Forrest, who received the night’s first standing ovation (the audience would get to their feet twice more to honor Ann Bannon and Mark Thompson and Malcolm Boyd for their legacy in LGBT literature), inserted a few well-timed phallic jokes as she handed a purple baton to the Lambda Literary Foundation’s new president, Christopher Rice. Performance artist Tim Miller doled out his usual candor, and a short skit about the fictional land Vaginalis 14 by the lesbian comedy troupe the Gay Mafia employed the universal symbol for female oral sex -- twice.
Katherine V. Forrest pays tribute to novelist Ann Bannon.
When it wasn’t just this side of lewd, the Lammy ceremony was frank. Nina Revoyr told how she first encountered a copy of The Front Runner by Patricia Nell Warren on the shelves of her local grocery store when she was 11. Too embarrassed to take it to the cash register, she stole it. Standing behind the podium last night, statuesque in her plum-colored top, Revoyr smiled slyly as she said, “Ms. Warren, if I see you later tonight, I’m happy to pay you for it.” After naming the nominees for best transgender writing (the award would go to Cris Beam’s Transparent), Calperina Addams cooed in her demure Southern way, “It’s harder for transsexuals to write a book. We’re busy. We have a lot going on.”
The In Memoriam video presentation, highlighting the lives of LGBT writers and activists who have died in the last 20 years, including Susan Sontag, Barbara Gittings, and Allen Ginsberg, moved more than one person taking the stage. Lambda executive director Charles Flowers choked back tears as he said, “I never cry when I watch the In Memoriam reel at the Oscars. This is how much books mean to me.”
Calpernia Addams strikes a pose at the after-party.
While it was easy to expect a gay literary event would be characteristically entertaining, there were signs of change. For the first time, the awards show was sponsored by a government body -- OK, it was the City of West Hollywood -- which provided the event with a grant of $15,000. And the organization, which had based its operations in the literary haven of the East Coast for the past 20 years, has officially taken up residence in Los Angeles. But as writer Ali Liebgott pointed out during her acceptance speech for best women’s fiction, the greatest indication of the future of LGBT literati can be boiled down to the attire of 84-year-old winner of the LGBT drama/theater honor, George Birimisa. “You’re wearing a Viagra racing jacket,” the IHOP Papers author noted. “If that doesn’t show how far we’ve come, I don’t know what does.”
For a complete list of the finalists and winners of this year’s Lambda Literary Awards, go to lamdbaliterary.org.