5 Books that Explore the Vibrancy and Diversity of Gay Male Life Today

What is the life and literature of gay men today? Garth Greenwell looks at the novels, poetry and essays enriching the culture

Coming to New York City from May 1–7, the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature will feature 150 writers and more than 70 panels to address the restive relationship between gender and power in the Trump era. For a complete schedule of events, including Garth Greenwell’s discussion with Ali Asgar, Edouard Louis, and Tobin Low, visit: www.penworldvoices.com

No list of five books could give a sense of the vibrancy and diversity of gay male writing today. Each of the books below stands in for ten or a dozen others.

1. Frank Bidart, Metaphysical Dog

Later this year, FSG will publish Half-Light: Collected Poems, gathering more than fifty years of poems by Frank Bidart. Desire, especially disastrous desire, has always been Bidart’s central subject. His recent work, like that collected in Metaphysical Dog, has seen him expand his already impressive range, adding to his extraordinary candor and fearlessness both lyricism and a new political urgency. He is an essential writer.

2. Brian Blanchfield, Proxies

A remarkable group of writers — Hilton Als, Olivia Laing, Maggie Nelson, and Melissa Febos, among others — are together creating something we might think of as the new queer essay, extending the tradition of Montaigne, Barthes, and Guy Davenport in writing that combines philosophy, confession, and criticism. Brian Blanchfield’s Proxies is a marvel, a kind of fractured autobiography in which the most seemingly haphazard subjects — tumbleweeds, Man Roulette, frottage — open into territories of intellectual and emotional risk. It’s among the most brilliant books I’ve read in years.

3. Rickey Laurentiis, Boy with Thorn

Much of the most exciting writing being done in America today is coming from young queer poets of color, among them Eduardo Corral, Ocean Vuong, Saeed Jones, Danez Smith, Derrick Austin, and Sjohnna McCray. Rickey Laurentiis’s poems are disarmingly gorgeous and armed to the teeth — with intellect, verve, insight.

4. Pajtim Statovci, My Cat Yugoslavia

Statovci’s surreal, compelling debut novel has just been published in the US, translated from the Finnish by David Hackston. It centers on Bekim, who was born (like Statovci) in Kosovo and immigrated as a child to Finland. A novel of dislocation and the search for connection, it explores a range of relationships — from internet hookups to Balkan weddings — seeking through an invigorating mixture of realism and fantasy to get at something new about identity in a fractured and ever more mobile world.

5. Abdellah Taïa, Infidels

Taïa’s dream-like, urgent novel (translated from the French by Alison Strayer) centers on Jallal, the gay son of a prostitute, following his life from Morocco to Belgium and exploring stigma, immigration and extremism. Along with books like Saleem Haddad’s Guapa and Hasan Namir’s God in Pink, Taïa’s work — Infidels is his eighth novel — offers a crucial portrait of queer lives in the Muslim world.

A Syntax Of Doubt: An Interview With Garth Greenwell, Author Of What Belongs to You

— See Garth Greenwell live in conversation with Ali Asgar, Edouard Louis, and Tobin Low at the PEN World Voices Festival — on Wednesday, May 3rd.

About the Author

Garth Greenwell is the author of What Belongs to You, which was longlisted for the National Book Award and shortlisted for the PEN/Faulkner Award, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and the LA Times Book Prize, among others. He lives in Iowa City.


About the Author

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