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Essential Queer Authors You Won’t Learn About in High School

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.

Alice Walker

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.

Armistead Maupin

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.

Audre Lorde

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.

Christopher Isherwood

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.

Edmund White

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.

Gore Vidal

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.

James Baldwin

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.
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