Homoeroticism became iconic after the Stonewall Inn bar uprising in New York City in 1969, a small revolt of bar patrons and others that ultimately strengthened an emerging modern gay and lesbian rights movement in the United States. Gay and lesbian writers began to produce works of full self-disclosure. By the end of the 1960’s, gay and lesbian fiction expanded to include various subgenres: In other words, gay and lesbian literature was no longer simply about homosexuality as a “problem.” In Europe, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Genet reveled in picaresque novels. Marie-Claire Blais brought stories of French Canadian lesbians to readers outside Canada, and Ursula K. Le Guin wrote science fiction in which fantasy worlds included gender equality.
The 1970’s was rich in gay inventiveness. Anne Rice and Marion Zimmer Bradley also wrote in the science fantasy genre, with Bradley becoming one of the first science-fiction writers to use independent female characters to explore gender roles. Guy Hocquenghem explored the connections between the body and technology. Mary Renault used classical history to show how bisexuality was once a cultural norm.
During the 1970’s and 1980’s, the new taxonomy of gay and lesbian writing was consolidated. The rise of small presses specializing in gay and lesbian (and lesbian feminist) writing ensured the publication of diverse writers and genres. The “coming-out” and semiautobiographical novels of Andrew Holleran, David Leavitt, Rita Mae Brown, and Jeanette Winterson explore a wide range of experiences, including parental disgust and rejection, dispossession of home, the death of innocence, and various discourses on love. Also remaining popular was the “colonialist” tradition of upper-class men seeking erotic adventure with foreigners or working-class people—already encountered in nineteenth century and early twentieth century novels. Alan Hollinghurst is most notable in this tradition.
The 1970’s also included Ann Allen Shockley’s Loving Her (1974), the first black lesbian novel published in the United States. In 1977, Barbara Smith, in “Toward a Black Feminist Criticism,” decried the overt dismissal of literature by black women and black lesbians. Her essay led to a radical rethinking of the place of African American literature in the literary canon. Novels such as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple (1982), which feature lesbian sexuality as central themes, soon followed. Also in the 1970’s, black gay men, working to promote literature by men of color, especially through small presses, were influenced by black lesbians and feminists of all races and ethnicities.
The confluence of the gay and lesbian rights movement and the rise of third-wave feminism ensured that lesbian writers could tell their stories from a lesbian-feminist perspective. June Arnold envisions women taking control of their own destinies and Dutch writer Anna Blaman uses language to upend social stereotypes. Feminist literary theorists helped to shape lesbian writing as well, even outside the academy. Canadian...