Book Bitches
3 min

The Oscars of LGBT literature

What the Lambda Literary Awards mean to Canadians

The 28th annual Lambda Literary Awards were announced last month and, as is increasingly common, there’s a number of terrific Canadian writers on the list, hoping to be awarded the prize in New York on June 6, 2016.

“It’s the like Oscars of LGBT literature so it’s a huge honor,” says Hasan Namir, author of the novel God in Pink. “I was at work and I got a message from a gentleman who messaged my fan page with congrats on being a finalist. It felt so surreal! The nomination is huge for me because I never thought I would be picked out of hundreds of submissions!”

Ben Ladoucer, author of the poetry collection Otter, was fully prepared for the news. “I was in bed, had just woken up and dragged my laptop onto my chest, and I checked the Lambda site, which I’d been doing every few days, since I knew it was about that time of year, for the announcement to be made. When I saw the news, I was very happy . . . It means a slightly wider queer readership, which is fantastic. It means a nicer byline from here on in, nicer still if I somehow win.”

The Lambda Literary Foundation declares on its site, “Winning a Lammy can literally launch a writer’s career,” and author Andy Sinclair says being nominated for his novel Breathing Lessons “gives me the assurance to say no to other things and to park my ass down to write another book.” Sinclair is a fan of previous winners Farzana Doctor and Colm Toibin and, like Namir, heard the news through social media: “I was offline when the nominations were released so I was faced with a pleasant barrage of texts, emails and voice messages when I finally tuned in.”

One of this year’s nominated books, however, was greeted with far less acclaim. Alice Drager’s essay collection Gallileo’s Middle Finger includes a defense of J Michael Bailey, whose Lambda nomination in 2004 was rescinded for transphobia and poor scientific methodology. Nominating his flawed work for best transgender book, said University of Illinois economics professor Deirdre McCluskey, “would be like nominating Mein Kampf for a literary prize in Jewish studies.” It was surprising to see the Lambda Literary Foundation revisit their own controversy by now honoring Drager’s essay.

“Given the degree of progress made by the trans community in the past decade, this choice of the Dreger book seems all the more spiteful,” writes trans activist Dana Beyer, “Or, in the service of not ascribing malice when ignorance or laziness is just as likely, I will accuse the panel of laziness.” On March 22, 2004, the Lambda Literary Foundation revoked the nomination and said, “The nomination process did not include full vetting of all works to be certain that each work is consistent with the mission of affirming LGBTQ lives.”

That affirmation is incredibly important for young writers. Michael V Smith, nominated for his memoir My Body Is Yours, says, “Sometimes it can feel a bit lonely-making being a queer writer in Canada. The older I get the more that changes, but for a long time I felt like me and my five queer friends were the only people around. And now with this nomination in the American market is really fantastic because suddenly it opens up an enormous reading audience as well as great connections with a larger queer writing community. And more personally, this was a really tender book for me to write. I went to some scary places in my past so a nod like this feels validating. I guess I sometimes feel a bit invisible in the world, even though I’m a flaming fag, because it can feel hard to get readerly attention. A nomination like this makes my work a little more visible, a little bigger, a little shinier."

Ladouceur says his nomination provokes “gladness and gratitude” but also a hint of panic. “I need to finish my goddamn passport application already, I’ve been nominated for a thing in New York and maybe I will want to go.” Sinclair agrees, saying, “I was waffling on attending until my great friend, the actor Jefferson Guzman, expressed incredulity that I was even considering not going. So yes, I will be in New York City in June!” It’ll be a great chance to meet other queer authors, with one in particular, says Ladouceur.

“Carl Phillips. Have you heard of that guy? Kidding. Good grief. I am so excited to be nominated alongside Carl Phillips. I cannot wait to lose the Lambda to Carl Phillips.”