This is a guest post by Jean Paik, 2023 intern in the Literary Initiatives Offic. This is an updated post with links to author talks recorded on August 12, 2023.
This year’s National Book Festival theme was“Everyone Has a Story.” Within this theme, the Library is committed to featuring a diversity of stories, ensuring that we represent voices from different cultural backgrounds, gender experiences, orientations and racial identities. This blog spotlights the ten featured authors who identify as LGBTQ+.
Chasten Buttigieg is a teacher and LGBTQIA+ activist who moved from his South Bend classroom to the national stage in support of his husband, former Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, on the campaign trail in 2020. As a spokesperson and advisor for his husband during the presidential run, Buttigieg used his platform to bring attention to improving public schools, opening access to mental healthcare and promoting arts education. In the new adaptation of his memoir “I Have Something to Tell You—For Young Adults: A Memoir,” which is featured at this year’s National Book Festival, Buttigieg shares his experiences growing up gay in a small town in Michigan, and speaks to his audience of young readers directly, encouraging them to embrace and truly celebrate their identities.
Elliot Page, an actor known for his appearance in “Juno” and “The Umbrella Academy,” among other film and TV shows, made waves when he came out as transgender three years ago, expressing in his letter the joy and gratitude he felt from finally being able to embrace his authentic self as a queer and trans man, but also the deep fear of the discrimination and violence that transgender people often face. Page’s new memoir “Pageboy,” featured at this year’s Festival, wrestles with these tensions and other intimate moments in his life, reclaiming the power of “stepping into who we truly are.” Elliot has received Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Globe Award nominations throughout his career and has worked on several documentaries.
R.K. Russell is a former professional football player, poet, advocate and now author with the release of his groundbreaking memoir “The Yards Between Us,” which is featured at this year’s Festival. A defensive player for the Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Russell was the first active NFL player to publicly identify as bisexual. Through a televised ESPN interview, Russell came out to share the struggles of keeping his sexuality a secret in order to conform to societal perceptions of masculinity. His book details his journey navigating between two different worlds—his private life as a queer Black man and the highly public sphere of football—as well as his ongoing advocacy for LGBTQIA+ rights and visibility in professional sports.
Henry Hoke’s imaginative prose is brought to the fore in his new novel “Open Throat,” narrated by a queer mountain lion that lives under the Hollywood sign. Lonely and extremely hungry, the lion not only has to navigate the parched landscapes of Los Angeles impacted by the climate crisis, but also questions of their identity and the inequalities of the city. In addition to his hybrid literary works, Hoke has created a play, short film and immersive performance series titled “Enter>text.”
TJ Klune is a writer of fantasy and romance fiction featuring LGBTQ+ characters, and has emphasized the importance of positive queer representation in his stories. Klune has won a Lambda Literary Award for his novel “Into This River I Drown.” His newest book “In the Lives of Puppets” which wasfeatured at this year’s National Book Festival, follows a family of robots and humans that must grapple with humanity’s conflicting capability for both care and pain.
CHILDREN’S AND YOUNG ADULT
Claribel A. Ortega’s cozy, magical fantasy series “Witchlings” is back with “The Golden Frog Games,” featured at this year’s National Book Festival. In this novel of adventure and mystery, our main characters, a young band of witches-in-training, competes in a legendary tournament. Ortega is a writer of middle grade and young adult fantasy books inspired by her Dominican heritage, and she often incorporates her mosaic of interests in “‘80s pop culture, magic, and video games” (Scholastic, 2021) in her works. She is also a podcast host, Marvel contributor and former journalist.
Mark Oshiro is a queer and nonbinary Hispanic author of Mexican, Guatemalan and Salvadoreño heritage who has written several works of young adult and middle grade fiction. In their ongoing blog series “Mark Does Stuff,” Oshiro has reviewed dozens of popular books and TV shows online, resulting in Hugo Award nominations in the Fan Writer category in 2013 and 2014. Their featured book at this year’s Festival is “Into the Light,” a speculative thriller following protagonists who survive different traumatic experiences and are drawn together to confront startling truths, their pasts and the possibility to hope for a better future.
Nisi Shawl is a writer of diverse science fiction and fantasy books who has worked to create spaces promoting greater visibility of people of color in sci-fi and fantasy worlds. They are a Nebula Award finalist for their debut novel “Everfair,” the editor of several anthologies, and have written stories about alternative histories that explore issues of colonialism, globalization and the African and Black diaspora. Shawl’s featured book at this year was “Speculation,” their first book for young readers. Aptly titled after a magical pair of spectacles with the power of granting wishes that begin with “What ifs…,” the young protagonist looks into her family history to fight against a deadly curse.
Trang Thanh Tran is a Vietnamese American author of speculative stories. As a writer of books about “big feelings in small moments, people making bad decisions, and ghosts—real and imagined,” according to their website, Tran is an enthusiast for all things scary and otherworldly. Based on the narratives they love to read and create, their storytelling lives at the intersection of horror and emotional depth. Tran’s debut book “She Is a Haunting” is featured at this year’s National Book Festival, and it explores sexuality, family dynamics and the afterlives of history. The Gothic horror novel centers on a female Vietnamese American protagonist who is spending the summer in her home country in a French colonial house haunted by the legacy of colonialism and the traces of her family’s ancestors.
Mel Valentine Vargas’ work demonstrates that books are powerful spaces for people to see themselves on the page. They aim to “help people who are not often represented feel a little less alone and a lot more love.” Mel identifies as Latinx, is a comic creator, graphic novelist and illustrator of characters that their younger self would have wanted to see, often writing storylines inspired by LGBTQ+ and Hispanic experiences. Their featured book at this year’s Festival is an illustrated graphic novel adaptation of Meg Medina’s young adult novel “Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass.”
Creators’ works are indelibly tied to their identities and lived experiences, and the Library values all voices that contribute to the knowledge, memory, and creativity of this world.
For more information and resources on LGBTQIA+ topics, the Library has several resources related to LGBTQIA+ issues and individuals, such as the LGBTQ Activism and Contributions collection, as well as the LGBTQIA+ Studies Resource Guide. Also check out the special collection of queer artists in the performing arts held in the Music Division, and a fascinating story map following the history of Pride protests and the activists that organized to make it happen.
Spread the joy of reading! Donate to support next year’s National Book Festival.