With the success of critical darling Call Me by Your Name, it’s clear that devoted fans of queer literature will contribute to box office achievements. Now that LGBT audiences have Hollywood’s attention, editors of The Advocate have compiled this list of books crying out for film adaptations.
Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 2000 novel follows the lives of two cousins who become major industry players in the Golden Age of comic books. The story includes a daring escape from Nazis and a Hollywood romance, and that’s before superheroes enter the mix. But the most compelling character to LGBT audiences surely will be Sam Klayman, pen name Sammy Clay, who falls in love with male radio star Tracy Bacon and follows him to California only to live through an FBI raid of Bacon’s home and a sexual assault at the hands of law enforcement. So yes, it’s a tale from the superhero era of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, but more importantly, it’s a look at the lives of gay men persecuted in America post-WWII.
Malinda Lo’s 2009 YA novel reimagines the Cinderella story as a lesbian romance. It follows a teenaged Ash as she walks the familiar steps of a young girl trapped in the clutches of a cruel stepmother after her wealthy father’s death. But rather than rushing to the arms of some privileged Prince Charming, she falls instead for the huntress Kaisa. Soon she finds herself in a conflict between a predatory fairy godfather, Sidhean, and the strong woman figure in true ownership of her heart. How’s that for a modern-day fable?
This 2012 graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel explores the artist-writer’s relationship with own parents. The feminist superstar reveals how the maternal example of her mother, an actress married to a closeted gay man, impacted her own relationships and worldview. And the way the autobiographical details get presented through other fiction and nonfiction work, from the P.D. Eastman-inspired cover to the writings of Sigmund Freud, beg for cinematic exploration.
A series of pulp novels by Ann Bannon released between 1957 and 1962, these stories pretty much defined the modern image of the butch lesbian, manifested in title character Beebo Brinker. With scenarios ranging from experimenting sorority girls in college to cheating suburban housewives, the books most changed the landscape of fiction by providing awakened lesbians with happy endings, where women end up in the arms of other women. The tales have been adapted for the stage, but the adult material surely deserves its moment on-screen.
The first in Edmund White’s semi-autobiographical trilogy about the experience of coming out, the 1982 novel presents the reality of gay men living in the Great Lakes region. This first-person story starts with a teenage romance between the protagonist and his younger, emotionally detached lover Kevin. Sequels would follow the narrator into adulthood and modern (meaning 1990s) times.
John Rechy’s depiction of the urban gay underworld of the 1960s follows an unnamed hustler through New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, and through a series of trysts with older men, drag queens, and sadomasochists. The deeply influential 1963 novel gave an intimate look at the lives of trans and queer people largely hidden from the view of mainstream America.
Gore Vidal’s 1948 masterpiece may be best known as the first post-World War II novel about a gay man who doesn’t die at the end. But the tale remains compelling today, following the life of tennis player Jim Willard from an early romance with another athlete through a series of men across the United States in cities with varying gay communities. It’s part Brokeback, part Mr. Ripley, and Vidal’s revisions would give filmmakers a choice of endings depending on how dark a depth of Willard’s psyche they choose to explore.
Judith Frank’s 2004 debut novel gained notoriety for exploring the sometimes conflicting attitudes of different generations of lesbians. Through a host of distinct characters, Frank explores identities like femme and butch, black and white, privileged and poor, ultimately showing the truth of a community made up of a tapestry of individuals with differing backgrounds.
Following the well-worn path of protagonists seeking social refuge in the big city, Sarah Schulman’s 2016 novel chooses as its setting the 1950s Greenwich Village. Inspired by Cousin Bette but with an intentional corrective feminist spin, Schulman follows Bette as she struggles with hometown problems following her to the city, along with her relationship with black gay best friend Earl. The story of misfits finding each other in a gritty bohemian world deserves a big-screen telling.
Andrew Holleran’s 1978 novel follows Midwestern lawyer Anthony Malone as he leaves behind a supposedly stable life in the closet to dive headfirst into New York’s gay scene. But the real figure of cinematic fascination would surely be his mentor Andrew Sutherland, a speed-fueled drag queen who helps him navigate the hedonistic but superficial nightlife in the city.
Activist Larry Kramer also published a novel in 1978 capturing the promiscuous New York gay scene in an era before AIDS. Through the eyes of Fred Lamish, a clear stand-in for Kramer, you see a cynical look at a culture of cocaine and quaaludes. While the book initially drew the ire of the gay community, it would gain acclaim as a cautionary tale in the 1980s as the community faced the reality of HIV’s spread.
Patricia Nell Warren’s 1974 story of an affair between a male coach and star runner enjoyed greater commercial success than any gay novel before it. The novel follows Harlan Brown, an athletic director fired for a fabricated sex scandal, as he connects with three University of Oregon track stars expelled from an elite track program for being gay. Harlan ultimately falls in love with one of the runners, Billy, and the couple boldly comes out in the judgmental world of sports, with Billy all the while pursuing his Olympic dreams despite the attention of sometimes dangerous homophobes.
The James Baldwin classic, published in 1956, follows an American man in Paris. David, while his girlfriend visits Spain, embarks on a brief affair with Giovanni, a character we learn early on is doomed to execution. The story follows David as he explores his conflicts about his sexuality and a competing desire to please both family and girlfriend. The tale also explores Giovanni’s difficulties with relationships with other men in France.
Really, if Boss Baby can get adapted to screen, why not this, Lesléa Newman’s 1989 children’s book and one of the most important LGBT publications to ever hit the shelves by the train tables. The simple story follows young girl Heather to a play date, where she explains that she has a biological mother, Jane, but was conceived through artificial insemination, and has a second mother, Kate. The story has since educated generations of youngsters from traditional and nontraditional backgrounds that families come in many forms.
A story of same-sex love in Iran, Sara Farizan’s 2013 novel follows teenage Sahar and her relationship with Nasrin. The two keep an affair completely under wraps, until Nasrin comes of age and her parents announce they have arranged a marriage. The story veers in a direction particular to the culture of Iran, though, as Sahar explores whether she should claim to be trans and take advantage of the nation’s acceptance of those seeking a sexual reassignment procedure to get around the fact that homosexuality remains a capital offense. It’s a controversial exploration of all facets of identity.
Lesbian writer Jeanette Winterson in 2004 followed up her autobiographical novel Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit with this tale of isolation. The story is told through the eyes of Silver, an apprentice to a lighthouse keeper who tells her the stories of a fundamentalist clergyman, Babel Dark. Conflicts of fundamentalism and science, of tradition and technology pepper this literary work about the complex path toward discovering yourself and your place in the world.
Alan Hollinghurst’s 2004 novel follows protagonist Nick Furst, a gay Oxford graduate seeking acceptance in the small British town of Barwick, Northhampshire. The story touches on Furst’s semi-acceptance with a family who invites him in but leaves his homosexuality an off-limits topic, all as the AIDS crisis unfolds in the mid-’80s world around him.
This novel by Hanya Yanagihara revolves around Jude, a lawyer who was sexually molested as a child in a monastery and continues to struggle with intimacy well into adulthood. It's a character study that drew raves from critics and broad media attention when the book came out in 2015.
Ann Patchett’s 1997 novel tells the story of Sabine, who we learn from the get-go has lost her husband, Parsifal. But the relationship, it turns out, was itself an illusion. Sabine has been a beard to Parsifal, a gay man who died of AIDS, though her devotion was itself quite real. So how to mourn a man who wanted a widow he did not desire as a lover? Sabine can barely consider the ramifications before being faced with in-laws she believed to be dead. That’s surely a twist worthy of Hollywood.
This 2002 novel by Jeffrey Eugenides explores the life of intersex protagonist Cal/Calliope, an individual of Greek heritage who discovers a mutated gene that has affected three generations of their family. The main character is first raised by family as a girl, becomes aware of being intersex as a teen, then flees their community to live as a male. Only after returning home to the appropriately named Middlesex does the character learn of an important family history. More than 4 million copies of Eugenides's book have been sold, showing abundant interest in a topic largely ignored in mainstream media.
Sarah Waters’s 2014 novel is set in 1920s Great Britain as sensibilities of society shift. It starts with spinster Frances Wray and her still-grieving mother dealing with the loss of her sons in World War I. The mother and daughter take in a married couple as renters to cover financial difficulties. But that becomes complicated by a lesbian affair between Frances and Lilian Barber, the woman who enters the home as a paying guest.
May Sarton wrote this feminist classic about Lucy Winter, a professor confronting a plagiarism scandal. Lucy must figure how to deal with Jane, a promising student caught cheating, at an all-girls school that genuinely wants to produce successful women in the 1960s, a time when most women enrolled in college in pursuit of an MRS. Among the colorful characters in the book is Carryl Cope, Jane’s mentor and a lesbian enjoying a relationship with wealthy donor Olive Hunt.
Emma Donoghue’s first novel, the 1994 book tells the story of Maria, a sheltered 17-year-old girl who leaves home for university and ends up unwittingly living with a lesbian couple. She subsequently asks herself questions as she explores her own sexuality. The novel provides a lesbian take on the coming-of-age story while also dealing with themes of feminism.