Bookshelf: Turning LGBT History Into Literature

By David Artavia

Originally published on Advocate.com May 31 2013 4:00 AM ET

Novels have become the new tell-alls for gay men and women. With poignant confessions and intriguing storylines, these four books have captured the experience of the mid-20th century, a time when oppression gradually gave way to liberation. 

LGBT history is something we must never forget, and these authors have turned it into literature. With strength, courage, and attitude, the writers share imaginative tales of wrestling inner (and societal) demons to discover their own potential.

Check out these must-read books. 

Companions Nich'ooni by Jed A. Bryan (BecHavn Publishing and Production Group, $20)

Beginning in the spring of 1968, Companions Nich'ooni takes us through the story of Johnny McKay and Geoffrey Rama, two gay Mormons who were assigned to live with and preach to the Navajo American Indian tribe. In a story full of drama, denial, jealousy, and eventually peace, Bryan's third novel draws on the teachings of both Mormonism and Navajo amid a poignant story of dealing with one's doubts and fears in the homophobic environment of the 1960s. In the confines of the Navajo world, the protagonists help each other come to terms with their sexuality. A telling read for anyone interested in Native American culture. (www.bechavn.com)


The Sin Warriors by Julian E. Farris (Lethe Press, $15)

In 1960s Florida, 300 students, public school teachers, and deans were expelled or fired under the Florida Legislative Investigative Committee for admitting or being suspected to be gay. Through a fictional treatment of these real-life events, Farris offers a heartfelt tale told from the view of the victims and the persecutors in this contemporary witch hunt.

Farris's love for his characters is evident as he forces the reader to look deep inside their souls, from the evil political leader Billy Sloat, who organizes the secret committee to rid Florida schools of homosexuals, to the college freshman David Ashton, who falls victim to Sloat's committee. Farris creates an intimate relationship with his characters that allows us to better understand their intentions. His style is both original and effortless. The book is not only a compeling read, but it gives insight into a part of American history that we often forget or are too scared to remember. (Lethe Press)


The Scar Letters by Richard Alther (Centaur Books, $17)

Alther sends us on a journey through the mind of Rudy Dallmann, who was brutally attacked 20 years ago, an event that he is constantly reminded of by the two F's carved on his chest. Now he is on the trail of his past tormentors. In a melodramatic style, Rudy begins the healing journey to find peace at last. There are twists, turns, and surprises along the way. Coming face-to-face with his assailants, Rudy discovers that they each have a hidden secret of their own.

The novel also educates us on historical facts going back as far as the 1400s on society's punishments for being gay. Some are so horrific that I had to pause a moment to realize how far we've come as a civilized and integrated society. A suspenseful and intriguing read. On sale in September.
(Centaur Books, Joshua Tree Publishing)

Stilettos and Steel by Jeri Estes (Wordsmith Productions, $14)

In a novel based on her true story, Jeri Estes takes us to the 1960s in San Francisco's red-light Tenderloin district, the original gay ghetto before the Castro.

Estes's ingenue, Jesse, leaves her suburban town to make a name for herself, only to fall into prostitution in the gritty Tenderloin. With over-the-top characters, witty dialogue, and funny situations, the intensity of the world in which she takes the reader will be sure to entertain and educate. Populated with hookers, butch pimps, ringers, feminine tricks, and more, this book is a guaranteed guilty pleasure. A must-read!
(Wordsmith Productions)