Essential Books for LGBT Teens Recommended by Our Favorite Writers

A new initiative is using eye-opening literature to help LGBT teens feel at home.
The National Book Foundation and Lambda Literary have joined forces to launch BookUp LGBTQ, an offshoot of the popular BookUp reading groups that have donated over 30,000 books to young students. The new queer-themed reading groups will meet at the Hetrick-Martin Institute and will be led by kickass poet t’ai freedom ford.

“We created a BookUp specifically for homeless and at-risk LGBTQ teens so that they can experience what the world so rarely tells them: you are part of a community, you have a rich history, you exist, and you matter,” wrote Amy Gall, the National Book Foundation’s program manager.

Related: Heartwarming YA Novels with Gay Characters

To kickoff the program, the foundation has asked some of the most prominent voices in queer literature today to share their favorite books for LGBT teens, or which works they wished they had discovered when they were younger. From poems by Audre Lorde to works by Rigoberto González, Toni Morrison and Alison Bechdel, here are some essential books our favorite writers recommend to young LGBT readers. To read the recommendations in full, head over to LitHub.

Books for LGBT TeensDaisy Hernandez, author of A Cup of Water Under My Bed, recommends Autobiography of My Hungers by Rigoberto González.

“Call it a book for and from the ‘in between’ places — in between Mexico and here, in between poetry and memoir, in between queer and familia,” Daisy wrote.

Naomi Jackson, author of The Star Side of Bird Hill, and poet t’ai freedom ford recommend Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde.

“And then the Queer Gods gifted me Audre Lorde whose poetry I discovered, seemingly by accident, while doing an English paper my freshman year of college. I was like, ‘Wait, she’s writing poetry about loving women?!’ This blew my mind. Audre Lorde made a whole new world possible for me. She gave me all kinds of permission,” t’ai wrote.

Poet Kima Jones and Thomas Page McBee, author of Man Alive, both recommend works by Toni Morrison. Kima reads Sula every year, and Thomas considers The Bluest Eye to have been crucial when he was young.

Books for LGBT Teens“Sula taught me how to be in the world with other women, with myself, and how to love intimately and explicitly and with vigor and vulnerability. Sula is life work, a novel I return to annually, and I wish I had found it at 16 when that work really begins,” Kima wrote.

Thomas also recommends My Gender Workbook by Kate Bornstein, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote and Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Saeed Jones, author of Prelude to Bruise, recommends Please by Jericho Brown.

“I would’ve loved to have gotten my hands on a poetry collection like that when I was a teenager. When I was growing up I didn’t know poems interested in examining the interior life of queer black boys even existed. His poems remind me that, however challenged or seemingly adrift I might feel from time to time, I am here and absolutely worthy of this life and all its shades of love,” Saeed wrote.

Books for LGBT TeensGarth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You, recommends Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz.

“The story of two best friends in bordertown America, this book would have changed my life if I had read it when I was 16. It’s a new kind of gay literature: defiantly untragic,” Garth wrote.

Essayist William Johnson recommends Johnny Would You Love Me… (If My Dick Were Bigger) by Brontez Purnell. 

“It’s a book that says it is alright to be punk-rock, Black, and queer and kind of a mess, and that these qualities can make you an infinitely more interesting and enlightened person. Difference builds character!”

In addition, William recommends Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, as does Megan Kruse, author of Call Me Home.

“Who are we to each other—where does our ‘real’ self begin? Bechdel’s lyric, graphic memoir is about truth, and growing up, and all the blurred lines that construct a family,” Megan wrote.

Oscar Raymundo
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