Over 150 queers involved in all facets of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans writing and publishing took part in the eighth annual Saints and Sinners literary festival in New Orleans May 13-16, benefiting the local HIV agency NO/AIDS Task Force.
In an invigorating series of classes, panels and readings, participants from across the US and Canada delved into topics ranging from erotica to Latino literary visibility, from the economic challenges facing queer small presses to the rising relevance of e-books and social media.
Montreal’s Peter Dubé says he comes to Saints and Sinners for a creative ferment found in few other places. “People meet here year after year who work across a range of different writing practices, from literary authors to speculative fiction writers,” says Dubé, author of several books including Subtle Bodies (Lethe Press), a forthcoming experimental volume based on the life of queer surrealist Rene Crevel. “This festival provides a unique opportunity to develop and deepen creative relationships.”
The festival is distinctive among queer lit events because “it offers a full-industry perspective — there are writers, readers, editors, publishers, agents and publicists represented,” says executive director Paul Willis, who co-founded the festival with his partner, author and editor Greg Herren. The event is thriving despite the economic downturn, Willis says. This year a short-fiction contest was added, with selected entrants published in an anthology that launched at the festival.
Canadian writer Nathan Burgoine was a finalist in the Saints and Sinners fiction contest. He’s attended Saints and Sinners three consecutive years, and laments the comparative lack of resources for queer authors above the 49th parallel. “I miss ‘Wilde About Sappho,'” says Burgoine, referring to the popular annual literary event put on by Ottawa’s Lambda Foundation from 1991 until 2007. But the New Orleans confab fills the gap, giving Burgoine “a sense of community, and a renewed sense that I’m on the right path.” He cites a panel focused on social media for queer authors as a particular highlight.
The need to adapt to the increasingly digital nature of publishing was a recurring theme at the festival. Len Barot of Bold Strokes Books publishes queer-themed general and genre fiction for adults and teens. She told attendees that her entire catalog is available in e-book format. Electronic sales currently account for 10 percent of all revenue, and she expects the number to climb. Longtime queer poly activist and author Cecilia Tan has run Circlet Press, which specializes in erotic science fiction, since 1992. When she recently reinvented the company as an electronic-only publisher, the business had a positive cash flow for the first time in many years. “My accountant couldn’t believe it!”
The future looks rosy for Saints and Sinners. Plans under consideration for next year’s event include a poetry competition and an evening combining erotic writing and burlesque performance. In a speech at the closing ceremony, writer and editor Thomas Keith offered a fitting summary: “The number of people who have now participated in the Saints and Sinners festival over the past eight years is well into the thousands and the good it has done — for people living with HIV, and for writers, the struggling and the established, and for all kinds of lesbian and gay people in the publishing world — is beyond measure.”