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The 9 best lesbian authors to add to your reading list

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Dec 15, 2023

The 9 best lesbian authors to add to your reading list
  • Winter is finally here. The days are getting shorter, the weather is getting colder, and there is no time like now to discover some new lesbian authors. Since 600 BCE, lesbian writers have been pushing the boundaries of the intersections between womanhood, identity, eroticism, and love. 

    While there are more lesbian authors than ever, lesbian writing continues to be pushed to the margins of a mainstream culture not yet ready for the literary gifts that queer women bear. But some of the most radical work emerges from these edges of society. 

    You are probably ready to cozy up this season, but still wondering what are some good lesbian books to read? We’ve got your back. Check out this list of some of the best lesbian writers, novelists, and cartoonists of the 20th century. This holiday season, why not give the gift of a lesbian novel? After reading this list, you will be set for the next year. But first, let’s do a quick history lesson.

    A brief history of lesbian literature 

    If you are new here, you might have questions. Who is Sappho? What is a sapphic author? What was the first lesbian novel to ever drop? If we go way back in time—I’m talking 600 BCE—you will find the birth of lesbian literature on the island of Lesbos. Greek lyric poet Sappho is what you might call the godmother of lesbian eroticism. She was known for her vivid emotional poetry, which was written mainly about her love for women. 

    During this time in Greek history, homosexuality was widely accepted on the island, and gay relationships between women were common. We have her to thank for bringing the terms “lesbian” and “sapphic” into our modern gay lexicon.

    The genre of lesbian literature as we know it today developed 2,500 later in the early 20th century. The first explicitly lesbian novel written in English was The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall. Hall’s book, published in 1928, was widely criticized by the British court for its depictions of ‘unnatural practices between women’ and was therefore banned in the UK for decades. 

    Since the 1920s, lesbian authors and writers have expanded and diversified the genre of lesbian literature to include many works of fiction, romance books, and sci-fi, as well as autobiographical texts, memoirs, and essays.

    Best lesbian authors of today

    I remember when I was in college and discovered my first lesbian novel while wandering through my liberal arts college library after taking one too many Adderall. The Rubyfruit Jungle, written in 1974 by Rita Mae Brown, was the book I read that explicitly portrayed and centered lesbian stories. Books like this have the power to change your whole world, especially for LGBTQIA+ people who have never seen our lives and love represented.  

    We’ve done our best here to compile a list of some of the best modern lesbian authors of the past 100 years, including sapphic authors, lesbian novelists, and lesbian writers of color. If you are hungry for more lesbian lit, look no further. Here are the best lesbian writers to read right now (if you haven’t already).

    1. Dorothy Allison

    A picture of Dorothy Allison, one of the best lesbian novelists of all time. She has red long hair flowing down her blue shiny shirt. She is staring straight at the camera with a smirk on her face.

    Source: The New Yorker

    Dorothy Allison is one of those lesbian writers whose work stays with you long after you read. It. Born in Greenville, South Carolina, Allison is a working-class feminist, femme lesbian, and award-winning novelist. She is best known for her bestselling novel Bastard Out of Carolina, published in 1992, and for her short 1988 story collection Trash. The story in that collection, “Monkeybites,” is one you won’t want to miss.

    Dorothy Allison writes gorgeous prose about the darker sides of poverty, abuse, sexual trauma, lesbianism, and family. Her work was largely shaped by the early feminist movement which, she says,

    “It was like opening your eyes underwater. It hurt but suddenly everything that had been dark and mysterious became visible and open to change.” 

    Dorothy Allison

    2. Audre Lorde

    A black and white photo of black lesbian writer and poet Audre Lorde standing in front of a blackboard with writing that reads “Women are powerful and dangerous”

    Source: Poetry Foundation

    The legacy of Audre Lorde is impossible to put into words. For those unfamiliar with Audre Lorde, she was a civil rights activist and poet who wrote about the importance of the struggle for liberation and solidarity among marginalized people across lines of race, class, gender, and sexuality. If you aren’t familiar with Audre Lorde’s work, I highly recommend starting with The Selected Works of Audre Lorde, edited by the powerhouse feminist author Roxane Gay. 

    A self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” Lorde changed the literature landscape by centering the unique experiences of black queer women. She was one of the leading voices of intersectional feminism and critical race theory. Lorde paved the way for many other black lesbian authors and other lesbian writers of color to take up space in a predominately white publishing industry. 

    3. Gloria Anzaldúa

    A black and white photo of Gloria Anzaldúa, Chicana feminist and lesbian writer, sitting at a table with short black hair. Her hand is resting on her leg and she is looking at the camera.

    Source: BE Latina

    Another lesbian writer of color to add to your list is the iconic queer theorist and Chicana scholar Gloria Anzaldúa. Anzaldúa’s groundbreaking work deals with the anger and isolation of living on the margins of culture and identity. Her book Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987) is a hybrid collection of essays and poems that explore the jagged, blurry, and violent boundaries of colonialism. 

    One of the first openly lesbian Chicana writers, Anzaldúa has played a major role in redefining lesbian and Chicana identity. She co-edited This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, a multicultural feminist anthology that played a major role in the intersectional feminist movement. If you haven’t read this anthology yet, I guarantee it will change your life. 

    4. Leslie Feinberg and Minnie Bruce Pratt

    An iconic black and white photo of trans lesbian writer Leslie Feinberg and hir partner Minnie Bruce Pratt lying on a bed together, both looking at the camera.

    Source: The New York Times

    This is one of the arguably most badass lesbian author power couples to ever exist. Leslie Feinberg was a transgender activist, working-class author, and lesbian novelist known for hir debut novel Stone Butch Blues, published in 1993. Stone Butch Blues is a foundational work of queer literature about life as a butch lesbian in the 1970s. Ze also wrote Transgender Warriors, a hybrid work or memoir, gender studies, and history that shows how there have also been people who have crossed sex and gender boundaries.

    Leslie was the life partner of another lesbian writer named Minnie Bruce Pratt. Pratt was a lesbian poet with an extensive collection of work, my favorite being her poetic memoir S/HE. Pratt, in her own words, says

    “The stories in my book S/HE are about these complexities in our daily life—and many of them are also love tributes to Leslie. I could write a book about how much I love hir—and I have.”


    I’m not crying, you are.

    If you are a queer history buff and happen to be visiting Northampton, MA anytime soon, make sure to visit the Leslie Feinberg Library in the Sexual Minorities Archives. The SMA is one of the longest continually operating archives of LGBT material in the States and holds a collection of the late writer’s personal research materials.

    5. Alison Bechdel

    A photo of Alison Bechdel, lesbian cartoonist and graphic comic. She is butch and handsome in round glasses, leaning back in a winter coat with wet moss behind her.

    Source: Columbus Monthly

    If you are a film person, you may have heard of something called the Bechdel test. Whether a movie passes the Bechdel test is simple. First, the test asks whether a book or movie features at least two female characters, If so, do these two female characters have a conversation about something other than a man? Try it out next time you are watching a movie in the cinema. 

    The Bechdel test is named after lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel who wrote the 1985 comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For where the test first appeared. She is the author of three graphic memoirs, including Fun Home which was adapted into an award-winning musical. If you haven’t heard the butch love letter “Ring of Keys” from that show, then you really haven’t lived. 

    6. Jacqueline Woodson

    An author portrait of Jacqueline Woodsoon, black lesbian writer of color, in a black turtleneck and white glasses looking boldly at the camera.

    Source: Jacqueline Woodson

    If you are more into children’s books and YA novels, look no further than Jacqueline Woodson. Woodson is a Black lesbian author best known for her National Book Award-Winning memoir Brown Girl Dreaming, published in 2014. She explores themes of gender, class, and African American history as well as family in new, groundbreaking ways.

    Woodson recently gave a TED talk in 2019 about how slowly reading can teach you how to write.

    “I didn’t know until I was an adult that you learn to write by reading slowly. You have to deeply engage in the text, copy the way other writers write, and read things again and again.”

    Woodson founded Baldwin For The Arts, a residency program for BIPOC artists to create and heal.

    7. Roxane Gay

    Author portrait of Roxane Gay, lesbian essayist and memoir writer. She is sitting in on a cream-colored couch in a blue lightweight jacket looking slightly past the camera

    Source: Vanity Fair

    Roxane Gay made major headlines back in 2014 with her New York Times best-selling essay collection Bad Feminist. While Gay is technically bisexual, she made our list of outstanding lesbian authors because the work she has added to the queer feminist literary canon has undoubtedly pushed the genre forward.

    She writes specifically for women who don’t necessarily understand feminism or feel like they don’t identify with the mainstream feminist culture. Her analysis is sharp, witty, and thought-provoking and we could all use a little more Gay in your lives. Oh, and she also just launched an imprint of Grove Atlantic called Roxane Gay Books that represented underrepresented writers. If you are working on your novel, keep an eye out in December for emerging writer open submissions.

    8. Torey Peters

    A striking image of trans lesbian author Torey Peters at her home in Brooklyn. She is wearing a multi-colored dress on a beige couch with a plant blooming behind her.

    Source: The Guardian

    This wouldn’t be a list of the best lesbian fiction authors if we didn’t include the one and only Torey Peters. Her debut novel Detransition, Baby was nominated for the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction. The book received mainstream and critical success for its nuanced, hilarious, and politically incorrect but entirely accurate portrayals of the lived experiences of real messy-ass trans people. 

    Her novel caused a storm when it was nominated for the Women’s prize for fiction in the UK. As part of the nomination process, Peters was asked to submit “proof” that she is legally a woman, the same request that provoked nonbinary Nigerian writer Akwaeke Emezi to boycott the prize last year.

    Despite the haters out here trying to ruin womanhood for all of us, Peter’s work is a must-read. Keep an eye out for her collection of four novellas, titled Infect Your Friends and Loved Ones, published by Random House in 2023.

    9. Carmen Maria Machado

    An image of Carmen Maria Machado, queer, polyamorous, and lesbian writer. She is standing in a garden full of sunflowers with a pink dress on.

    Source: Interlochen

    One of my favorite queer writers on this list has to be Carmen Maria Machado. Her book, In The Dream House, is haunting, poetic, and one of the best portrayals of violence in queer relationships I’ve ever read. I can’t even describe to you how beautiful her work is. You can see for yourself by following her Substack Cup of Stars where she writes about nostalgia, big feelings, and rage.

    She also wrote a short story collection called Her Body and Other Parties where she examines how women pass on their values and self-hatred to their siblings and daughters. Machado is a queer Latina writer who, according to the New York Times, is “changing the way that women read and write fiction in the 21st century.”

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    Dusty Brandt Howard is a writer & a fighter. He is a trans masculine cultural narrator who builds worlds with words. You can follow his thirst traps on Instagram, his writing on Substack, or find him at your local queer bar in northeast LA.

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