Librarian Offers Reading Tips for Gay Pride Month

June is when many gay and lesbian Americans celebrate their sexuality. In recognition of Gay Pride Month, Loriene Roy, President of the American Library Association tells listeners about books that highlight the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender experience.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. In a moment, we will speak with the editor of an intriguing new anthology, but first, June is the month when lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans celebrate their community with gay pride gatherings across the country. We wanted to figure out if there was a reading list of good books about that community. So we have some ideas for you. Joining us now is Loriene Roy of the American Library Association. She's our frequent guest to talk about books. Welcome back, Loriene.

Ms. LORIENE ROY (President, American Library Association): Well, it's good to be back, Michel.

MARTIN: So Loriene, how did you come up with your list this month?

Ms. ROY: Well, I went to my colleagues in the American Library Association and emailed, actually, the chairperson for the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Round Table and just said, tell me about some recent books, and I'm especially interested in their book awards.

These are called the Stonewall Book Awards, the oldest book award of its kind, established in 1971, and they are given out to the best-written books on LGBTQ themes.

MARTIN: Let's talk first about some novels that you recommend. I think there are two?

Ms. ROY: One of my favorites is a novel called "Bow Grip," written by Canadian Ivan Coyote. And if you like stories about small-town life, if you like stories about rural areas and stories about families, I think this is a really good read. I would recommend it for junior high, high school and up to adults.

MARTIN: OK. And what about "The Indian Clerk?"

Ms. ROY: "The Indian Clerk" it is a fictional book but really includes, sort of, that trend of novels that include historically factual people. That is, you'll find references to Bertrand Russell, D.H. Lawrence. It's a mix of the history of mathematics, the history of English professional education.

It's a hefty tome, we're talking almost 500 pages with a good resource list at the back. So a novel based on fact with a lot of real characters, and one of my favorite features of this book is that at the end the author describes what he used that was fictional and how he created those stories and what was fact. A lot about English dons, dinner parties and the academic traditions of British education.

MARTIN: And what age group do you think this would be suitable for?

Ms. ROY: I think you are talking college age. This looks and reads like an academic book, and there are a lot of mathematical formulas in it that I looked at briefly and then moved on. But if you like history of Britain, history between the wars, I think you would enjoy that book.

MARTIN: You had a whole range of memoirs, I understand?

Ms. ROY: Oh, yes, and I think the favorite is actually a winner - a recent winner of the non-fiction Stonewall Book Award. And this is "Dog Years," and it's a memoir written by Mark Doty, who is an author, poet, educator. It's about dogs, but also about love and the decline of the physical human decline, canine decline.

Mark talks about two dogs in particular, Arden(ph) and Bow(ph), and some of the segments in it are very touching. There are chapters that are interspersed with his kind of realm of poetry, ties in recent events such as events related to 9/11. But if you love dogs and you are missing anyone in your life or if you have just fallen in love, I think this is a great read.

MARTIN: This is a good time to clarify, what kinds of books are available for the Stonewall Awards - the Stonewall Books Awards? Does it have to be by a LGBT writer? Does it have to have an LGBT theme? What kinds of books are included?

Ms. ROY: Well, we're looking at books that have the themes, and in this case these are books that are just very well written. These are books that would appeal to any audience. So in the case, for example, of "Bow Grip," you're not really looking at explicit depiction on relationships. You're looking at the intricate nature of family. The same thing with "Dog Years." It's a book that would appeal to anyone, but the books - the awards are given for quality writing.

MARTIN: Now I think I feel comfortable in saying that people of color sometimes feel invisible within the LGBT experience or sometimes feel invisible in sort of a public discussions of LGBT issues. Are there any books that you found that speak to that part of the experience?

Ms. ROY: Well, I think you could look at the nonfiction book "Transparent: Love, Family, and Living with the Transgender Teenagers," because in this case, journalist Cris Beam, who moved to L.A. and started to volunteer at a school for gay and transgender kids, features four of the students, including students of color.

My favorite character is a young man named Foxxjazell, and he's just a very confident, young person and even tells Cris when she first meets him, in the initial telephone conversation, I'm going to be a major star, I'd say, within three years, so if you want a shot at writing my biography, you'd better get with it now. So I liked the energy of the young people. There's street talk. There's the talk of everyday high school students and also their own challenges.

MARTIN: Now, most of the books on your list are relatively new. Are there any classics that we should be aware of?

Ms. ROY: Yes. I went to the recent Stonewall Awards in particular because they received their recognition each year at the annual American Library Association conference. I think some of the characters in these books could also be explored in past writing. For example, we do have autobiography "The Journals of Leo Lerman," and that is really sort of a celebrity autobiography with inserts of diary entries and letters. And I think you could take some of the individuals that he meets and trace their histories through other writings.

For example, there are segments about Truman Capote. Similarly, with the new book about Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, you can also explore those authors and other works, and I think those would trace you back to some classic titles.

MARTIN: Now the American Library Association is always concerned about books being banned. Have any of the book that you think are of quality or have been recognized as books of quality about the LGBT experience been banned?

Ms. ROY: The most banned book in the U.S. right now is a children's book called "And Tango Makes Three," and in that story, which is a factual story, two male penguins raise a little chick, and in that case, I think the motivation that some might have toward not recommending that book may be based on the sexuality - implied sexuality of the characters in that picture book.

MARTIN: Is that a good book, though?

Ms. ROY: It is a great book. I met the authors and it's a great read and it's a lovely story, and the little chick defines a loving and happy home and it's based on reality.

MARTIN: OK. And finally, is the American Library Association marking Gay Pride Month and if so, how?

Ms. ROY: Well, ALA has its annual conference at the end of June,early July, and we mark our connections with the LGBT community in several ways. One is, there is an award ceremony for this year's Stonewall winners. There are events that the GLBT Round Table sponsors. ALA draws 20 to 24,000 professionals in our field and colleagues and supporters, and there's something for everyone at the conference.

MARTIN: Loriene Roy of the American Library Association. She joined us today from member station KUT in Austin, Texas, and if you couldn't keep track of all the titles that Loriene mentioned, do not despair. We will have a list of all those books on our web site, as well as previous titles recommended by Loriene. Our web site, npr.org/tellmemore. Loriene Roy, thanks again.

Ms. ROY: Oh, you're welcome, Michel.

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Loriene Roy's Picks for Gay Pride Month

Cover: Mississippi Sissy
Picador USA
Cover: Two Lives
Yale University Press

Bow Grip by Ivan Coyote. A good-hearted, small-town mechanic struggles to deal with a wife who has left him for another woman until a used cello and an acquaintance's suicide attempt compel him to make some changes in his life.

Dog Years: A Memoir by Mark Doty. When Mark Doty decides to adopt a dog as a companion for his dying partner, he finds himself bringing home Beau, a large golden retriever, malnourished and in need of loving care. Beau joins Arden, the black retriever, to complete their family.

The Grand Surprise: The Journals of Leo Lermanby Leo Lerman and Stephen Pascal. Explores the journals, letters, and memoirs of Leo Lerman: writer, critic, editor at Condé Nast, and man about town at the center of New York's artistic and social circles from the 1940s until his death in 1994.

The Indian Clerk by David Leavitt. Based on the true story of the strange and ultimately tragic relationship between an esteemed British mathematician and an unknown—and unschooled—mathematical genius. Populated with luminaries such as D. H. Lawrence, Bertrand Russell, and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Mississippi Sissy by Kevin Sessums. Kevin Sessums brings the American South of the 1960s and the experiences of a strange little Mississippi boy to life.

Transparent: Love, Family, and Living the T with Transgender Teenagers by Cris Beam. When Cris Beam first moved to Los Angeles, she thought she might put in just a few hours volunteering at a school for transgender kids while she got settled. Instead she found herself drawn deeply into the pained and powerful group of transgirls she discovered. In Transparent she intro­duces four of them—Christina, Domineque, Foxxjazell, and Ariel

Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice by Janet Malcolm. The books takes readers behind closed doors inside the relationship of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, an elderly Jewish lesbian couple. Their 40-year union withstood many tests, including surviving a Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II.

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