The Lambda Literary Awards have been celebrating the best in LGBT writing for 26 years. The Lammys, as they are also known, cover a range of books as diverse as the community that produces them. Writers of fiction, poetry, mysteries, erotica, drama and even horror get their chance in the spotlight and a shot at an engraved glass trophy. Xtra talked with the Lambda Literary Foundation’s executive director, Tony Valenzuela, for his take on the importance of the awards and tips for attending the swank event.
When the Lambda Awards were launched, it was hard for books with LGBT themes to get attention. How much has that changed since the awards have been around?
I would say that it’s still a challenge but that there is also far more opportunity today to get our queer books to audiences and much more support in mainstream presses, independent presses and our own queer presses. Many of the positive changes that have affected LGBT communities worldwide over the past quarter century have also helped writers tell their stories to broader audiences.
Why is it important for the LGBT community to have its own literary awards program?
There’s nothing like being recognized by one’s own peers, and that’s exactly what the award does for an author. It’s also a reality that books exploring LGBT lives get less attention in the mainstream, and minority writers have to fight the perception that ours are niche stories, while only white heterosexuals can tell stories that are universal. This is changing, but the literary playing field is not yet equal for queer writers or writers of colour, so it’s essential to promote and celebrate this work. Winning or even just being nominated has a big impact on an author and the life of a book. We often hear from bookstores and librarians that they use the list of winners to determine what books to buy.
What should attendees expect from the party?
It’s a glamorous, red-carpet event, and writers aren’t used to that sort of thing. We tend to be introverted and socially awkward. But the Lammys brings out the social butterfly in all of us. We put on a good after-party where things really can get wild. People dress creatively — artsy cocktail attire. There’s a lot of networking and a lot of cruising, too. Winners carrying a trophy will find phone numbers and room numbers being slipped into their pockets.