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The annual Triangle Awards, recognizing excellence in gay and lesbian literature, were presented last night at The New School’s Tishman Auditorium in New York City. Also honored were activist and literary agent Frances Goldin, winner of this year’s Leadership Award, and cartoonist Alison Bechdel, who received the 2012 Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement.
The evening began with a welcome from Publishing Triangle Treasurer Trent Duffy, who quipped that despite the Pulitzer Prize Committee’s recent inability to settle on a worthy fiction winner, 2011 had been a great year for gay books.
So great, in fact, there were four finalists for this year’s Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction instead of the usual three. Presented by Martin Hyatt, the Debut Fiction award went to Lara Fergus for My Sister Chaos (Spinifex Press). Fergus, who had flown in from Australia for the awards (along with a large and enthusiastic group of supporters in the audience), joked that there are just “not enough lesbians in Australia,” before thanking the Publishing Triangle for their inclusiveness towards lesbian Australian authors.
Next, activist Jeanne Córdova won the Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction for her memoir of the radical ‘70s, When We Were Outlaws (Spinsters Ink)—her first literary award, she shared in an acceptance speech read by Magnus Books publisher and LLF board member Don Weise.
Mark D. Jordan received the Randy Shilts Award for Gay Nonfiction for his book Recruiting Young Love: How Christians Talk About Homosexuality (University of Chicago Press), accepted by his agent on his behalf.
Halfway through the ceremony, Michael Denneny presented Frances Goldin with the Publishing Triangle Leadership Award, noting in his introduction that Goldin, who left the Communist Party early because it wasn’t radical enough, is one of the most colorful people he’s ever met in New York–“which is saying something.”
Goldin, a long-time political activist, founded her literary agency in 1977 with a commitment to never publish sexist, racist, or homophobic writing. She’s been tirelessly at work ever since, amassing an impressive client list including Barbara Kingsolver and Dorothy Allison. Now 87, with the front patch of her short white hair dyed a light purple, she walked onstage last night with the sign she’s famous for carrying at the Gay Pride Parade each year, which reads: “I Adore my Lesbian Daughters.” In her speech, she reflected on how the experience of being “Other” lends itself to a greater generosity of spirit, and encouraged the audience to foster this impulse. She also decried the disproportionate scarcity of people of color working in publishing today and urged everyone in attendance to participate in the Occupy movement, of which she has been avid supporter:
You can’t leave it to the people who are now there. If you—everybody in this room—doesn’t support Occupy, you’re missing a valuable piece of history that is going to change our country. You don’t want to live to tell kids, ‘I wish I had done more.’
The radical spirit was reaffirmed in the next category, when Minnie Bruce Pratt‘s collection Inside the Money Machine (Carolina Wren Press) won the Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry. In an acceptance letter read by poet Scott Hightower, Pratt wrote that she hoped the book could be part of a bridge towards the end of capitalism.
The Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry went to Henri Cole for his book Touch.
Claiming the Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBT Fiction for his novel The Unreal Life of Sergei Nabokov (Cleis Press), Paul Russell made history, becoming the first author to receive the award for a second time (Russell won previously for 2000’s The Coming Storm). Presenters Stephen Greco and Sarah Van Arsdale shared that the Nabokov manuscript had been rejected by numerous mainstream publishers before being picked up by independent, queer-focused Cleis Press. Russell, in his acceptance speech, remarked that he had an ideal experience working with the team at Cleis and thanked them for bringing his book to fruition.
Finally, Firebrand Books founder Nancy Bereano took the stage to present Alison Bechdel with the Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement. Beginning her introduction with a funny anecdote about her first experiences in therapy (like many us, not so positive)–and her realization that everyone has their own neuroses–Bereano lauded Bechdel for her ability to transform the material of her own life, and her particular neuroses, into works of genius.
Bechdel is one of America’s most celebrated contemporary cartoonists, best known for her Dykes to Watch Out For series and her graphic memoir Fun Home. Spryly jumping onto the stage to accept the Lifetime Achievement Award, she joked that while it might be “a trifle premature,” she was honored to be introduced by Bereano, her first publisher and an early mentor (who Bechdel said “discovered me virtually before I had discovered myself”), as well as to be recognized alongside Frances Goldin, whose agency represented Fun Home. In her speech, Bechdel also pointed to her peculiar positioning between the past and present of lesbian publishing:
I feel very conscious of being an odd bridge between our publishing past and present, and very conscious that without firm footing in that past–that pioneering moment that Nancy and Firebrand were such a pivotal part of–I would not be a bridge at all. I’d be floundering in the river or perhaps would have had to go to law school.
Publishing Triangle Chair Carol Rosenfeld delivered the closing remarks, before a reception at The New School’s Wollman Hall.
For the full list of winners and finalists, click here.