To follow up our last list, in which we discussed the best queer movies and series of the year, this list instead turns to a medium which queer people have used as a mode of expression for longer. 2022 saw a cast of characters, new and old, join the queer literary canon. New queer voices from around the world were heard, from Irish and Nigerian to Russian and Scottish. Old favourites like Derek Jarman and Paul B. Preciado came back with new revolutionary writing. Queer suffering, love, space, and happiness can be found within the pages below, whether explored through fiction, dystopia, essays, memoir, and theory.
Best American Essays 2022 edited by Alexander Chee
As this year’s editor of the annual anthology series Best American Essays, Alexander Chee works to gather the most original and thought-provoking works within the essay genre, celebrating established names in the American literary world as well as discovering the under-the-radar newcomers with huge careers ahead of them. As the first post-pandemic anthology, human contact, relationships, the Internet, and the act of creating in an unstable world are among the themes that feature most poignantly. With his comes a series of queer essays, both academic and testimonial, from Mellisa Febos’ analysis of animalism and the female body to Alex Marzano-Lesnevich’s essay on gender and futurity.
Queer Love: An Anthology of Irish Fiction edited by Paul McVeigh
Merging once again the voices of literary legends like Colm Tóibín and Emma Donoghue with those of newcomers, discovered through the call out announced by the anthology’s editors, Queer Love seeks to gather for the first time the voices of the Irish LGBT+ community, both from Ireland and abroad. Its scope is broad; we hear from first-generation immigrants, high schoolers, drag queens, and gay mothers. They all recount queer joy, and queer love, unapologetic in the face of Ireland’s religion-induced homophobic past.
There Was Histrionic Laughter at the Clowns Cadaver by N. Alexsander Sidirov
Sidirov’s first poetry collection, conceived when he was just 19 and published at 23, takes us through an avant-garde, trip-like odyssey of his own experiences with his body, gender identity, sexuality, mortality, and psyche, all whilst looking outwards at an equally avant-garde, confusing world. His poems are confessional, simultaneously afraid, and courageous, as his mind floats between dreamy imaginations to reality. He captures his own writing process, commenting on the ways in which creativity can liberate from the confines of heteronormative society. Often described as a work of its own genre, this ground-breaking collection is not one to miss.
Gay Bar: Why We Went Out by Jeremy Atherton Lin
In his memoir turned travel novel turned queer history book, author Jeremy Atherton Lin invites us on a ‘gay night out’ through his journey across the iconic queer space in which most of us first encountered our identities: the gay bar. He weaves together a palimpsest of all the queer clubs, pubs, and dive bars that he has encountered, and takes us along his memories of loud music, drag performances, electric kisses through his hazy popper-induced lens. We move from Hollywood to London, from the 18th century to modern day, as he seeks the answer to his leading question: what is the relationship between space and identity? In the age of the Internet, where digital queer spaces reign and the physical queer spaces that were so important for past generations continue to close, Lin’s immortalisation of our spaces through history achieves a necessary feat.
Whatever Happened to Queer Happiness? by Kevin Brazil
“You never can wholly control the things you cling to. But you can figure out what has made you the surface you are.”
Another work of essay-memoir, or ‘personal becomes political’ writing, Kevin Brazil attempts to answer the titular question- whatever happened to queer happiness? – through the lives and works of artists, writers, and filmmakers of the past. Moving past the tired explorations of queer suffering and shame, Brazil approaches his cultural analysis from the perspective of queer joy and community. He re-evaluates the works of artists such as Wolfgang Tillmans and Derek Jarman, as well as Alison Bechdel, and more. As accessible as it is intelligent, this essay collection is not one to miss.
Read the essay that inspired the book on Granta.
Dysphoria Mundi by Paul B. Preciado
After the release of his two previous books, Testo Junkie (2008) and Can the Monster Speak? (2019), Paul B. Preciado has cemented his position in the canon of queer theory. Weaving together the voices of the likes of Foucault, Butler, as well as psychoanalysis, politics and philosophy, with fragments of his own lived experienced whilst transitioning, Preciado has analysed the heteronormative capitalist pharmaceutical and porn industries with ground-breaking conviction. His new book, released just a few weeks ago, continues this quest, this time in the aftermath of the latest global pharmaceutical phenomenon triggered by the Covid pandemic. The book is future-oriented, looking at gender inequalities as part of a wider global bodily inequality, experienced by us all. It is through this lens that he carries out his radical analysis of a planetary mutation in progress. It’s all in the title. He defines Dysphoria Mundi: “the resistance of a large part of the living bodies of the planet to subordination within a regime of patriarchal-colonial knowledge and power.”
Through the Billboard Promised Land Without Ever Stopping by Derek Jarman
Over his immense artistic corpus, which includes surrealist film, hagiographical memory-recording, literary theory, and art, Derek Jarman has been immortalised as a sort of queer ‘Saint’ even decades after his death. Late last year, he was actually canonised by a group of queer activists known as the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Published posthumously after being written in 1971, this short story (Jarman’s only venture into the realm of narrative fiction) tells a surreal fable, merging the road movie narrative with hauntings of the impending climate crisis that cloud his lyrical natural landscapes. This edition features facsimile excerpts of Jarman’s archival drafts, as well as a link to an audio recording of Jarman himself reading the entire story. It is an absolute gem for Jarman fans as well as those who seek a heart-warmingly personal entry into the mind of one of our greatest queer figures.
Manhunt by Gretchen Felker-Martin
Moving into the realm of fiction with this powerhouse dystopian horror novel, Felker-Martin’s Manhunt explores a deranged capitalist future where TERFs have taken over and an epidemic has led to a new virus threatening to turn any human being with a high enough level of testosterone into a murderous rapist zombie. Protagonists Beth and Fran must navigate this desolate landscape, doing everything they can to survive. Deemed ‘a modern horror masterpiece’ by Carmen Maria Machado, author of the bestselling autobiographical queer theory text In the Dream House, the novel poignantly explores trans identity, relationships, and sex, set against the backdrop of a technocratic future that seems all-too familiar to our own disturbing present.
Content Warning: Everything by Akwaeke Emezi
Only two years after the release of their debut novel Freshwater, which broke new ground with its semi-autobiographical exploration of spirituality and gender, Emezi has come out with not one but two new texts this year. Whilst we definitely also recommend their romance novel, You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty, we decided to give this spot to their debut poetry collection, Content Warning: Everything. Treading new poetic ground, Emezi continues their exploration of Igbo spirituality and Christian religion as the mythological foundations for a more contemporary exploration of complicated familial relationships, violence, and self-harm. Their stream-of-consciousness poetry flows, fleets, and punches in the gut. It is not the easiest read, but nonetheless a necessary part of any queer reading list.
Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart
Another well-established contemporary queer author, Douglas Stuart follows his latest success Shuggie Bain, which swept the literary awards season a few years back, with his new endeavour into working-class queer identity in Scotland: Young Mungo. We follow Mungo and James, two boys who grew up in a housing estate in Glasgow, as they edge towards a dangerous but exciting first love. This pair of star-crossed lovers- for Mungo is a Protestant and James a Catholic- navigate toxic masculinity, local gangs, and turbulent family relationships, all within a (once again) confusing world not made for either of the two. Named by queer photographer Birk Thomassen as one of his artistic inspirations of the year in our recent interview with him, we too cannot recommend Stuart’s modern Shakespearean masterpiece enough.
By Miruna Tiberiu
Miruna Tiberiu is an editor and staff writer at GAY45. She is an undergraduate student at Cambridge University. She has written for numerous publications, including The Cambridge Review of Books, and the Cambridge Language Collective. She is also the co-founder and co-editor of Cambridge’s first all-queer magazine, Screeve. Miruna is currently in Paris carrying out her dissertation research on Franco-Romanian cinema and hopes to continue this work as a postgraduate at Cambridge. To keep up with her work, follow her on Instagram or Twitter @mirunii_t.