As the summer winds down and you scramble to complete that pesky summer reading list, there are a few authors who likely didn’t make the cut. Although the works of Harper Lee, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and John Steinbeck are seminal pieces of literature, they often overshadow a certain niche.
Although queer representation has only reached new heights in recent years, many fought to have their voices heard before the digital age. The 20th century birthed some of the greatest queer literature, works that constantly pushed the boundaries and tore down societal constructs, providing a platform for today’s queer voices.
These are some of the essential literary figures that your high school won’t teach you about.
Born: February 9, 1944
Must-read: The Color Purple
Having grown up in the racially divided south, her activism during the civil rights movement inspired much of her work. She continues her work as a writer and activist today.
Born: May 13, 1944
Must-read: Tales of the City
Born in Washington, D.C., Maupin served in the Navy before moving to San Francisco, where he worked for the Associated Press. In 1976, he began publishing his Tales of the City series in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Born: February 18, 1934
Died: November 17, 1992
Must-read: Sister Outsider
A New Yorker born and raised, Lorde fought a long battle against cancer, which influenced a lot of her later work. Her writing focused on her identity as a mother, a woman of color, a lesbian, and a feminist.
Born: August 26, 1904
Died: January 4, 1986
Must-read: A Single Man
Isherwood lived a privileged youth in England, and he was a pivotal member of the Leftist literary ‘30s generation. Living in Berlin during the ‘30s, he fled the Nazis, making his way around Europe and through China before ending up in the US in 1939.
Born: January 16, 1940
Must-read: A Boy’s Own Story
Edmund White spent much of his career bouncing around New York, Rome, Paris, and San Francisco. An important member of the gay writers’ group, The Violet Quill, he’s long been open about sexuality and his HIV-positive status in his writing.
Born: October 3, 1925
Died: July 31, 2012
Must-read: Myra Breckinridge
During his long career, Gore Vidal was known for his outspoken, witty commentary on politics. He developed an interest in literature and politics as a child, and he wrote his first novel while serving in the military.
Born: August 2, 1924
Died: December 1, 1987
Must-read: Giovanni’s Room
Born in Harlem, New York, Baldwin had a religious upbringing with his mother and stepfather, a Pentecostal minister. As a young writer, he moved to Paris, where he felt more creative freedom to write about his life as a black man.
Rita Mae Brown
Born: November 28, 1944
Must-read: Ruby-fruit Jungle
A New York Times bestselling author and an Emmy-nominated screenwriter, Rita Mae Brown was expelled from college in Florida for participating in the Civil Rights Movement. In addition to her activism and feminist writing, she also wrote the screenplay for Slumber Party Massacre, a film parodying the slasher genre.