8 Books by Queer Writers Who Came of Age in the 90s
Henry Hoke, author of "Sticker," recommends new books by LGBTQ+ authors that look back in time
The ’90s are back, as if they could ever truly peace out. Between Fear Street and Captain Marvel and the Alanis Morissette musical, the last mostly-offline decade is getting a gargantuan nostalgia polish.
For my memoir Sticker—an exploration of my childhood in Charlottesville, Virginia via 20 stickers—I immersed myself in the sparkle of Lisa Frank binders, the whiff of clove cigarettes, and books by friends and kindred spirits. Queer authors in all genres—’90s kids or those who came of age in that era, who carried the detritus of a gritty analogue world into the seismic event that was the internet—are reflecting on this formative decade in brilliant recent and forthcoming works.
Here are 8 of my faves, because you can turn the number 8 on its side to make infinity, and the ’90s are 4ever.
People I’ve Met from the Internet by Stephen van Dyck
This essential gay coming-of-age memoir—cataloguing everyone the author met from the internet from 1997-2009 —perfectly captures the flashpoint moment when AOL entered the lives of queer young people, opening the world in delightful and dangerous ways. Van Dyck’s epic in micro-meetups—thoroughly indexed by year, location, screenname—is an unflinching odyssey of sex, loss, and liberation.
Margaret and the Mystery of the Missing Body by Megan Milks
A vital experimental novel, Milks’ queer/trans reimagining of ’90s YA is packed with nostalgia bombs, from Fiona Apple to The Babysitter’s Club to The Magic School Bus. Margaret unfolds via a bold range of forms—case files, gender theory, ghost stories—and vacillates between the surreal fun of middle school and the stark brutality of high school, deftly chronicling the protagonist’s bodily struggles.
A Strange Loop by Michael R. Jackson
This Pulitzer prize-winning meta-musical takes its title from the closing track of Liz Phair’s ’90s staple Exile in Guyville. In the same way that album used the structure of The Rollings Stones’ Exile on Main Street to dismantle the male-dominated rock star persona, Jackson’s protagonist—struggling writer-composer named Usher, gay and Black and from a conservative Christian family—threads his play-within-a-play with odes to his inner white girl—a mashup of the icons of his youth, like Phair—who helps him find catharsis.
Mean by Myriam Gurba
Equal parts true crime narrative and survivor memoir, this harrowing hybrid is awash in the attitude, the rage, the defiance of the era, all linked to Gurba’s formative experiences as a mixed-race queer Chicana in California. A rallying cry for meanness as defense against a homophobic, misogynist world, voiced by one of the most riveting prose stylists of our time.
In Full Velvet by Jenny Johnson
Jenny Johnson is a writer and teacher to whom I owe an immense debt of gratitude, who at the tail end of the ’90s introduced teen me to queer theory, Sadie Benning, and the Velvet Underground at the UVA Young Writers’ Workshop. A prescient poetry collection, In Full Velvet assembles an alternate ecology of desire and queer formations, dappled with evocative early memories of difference. Celebrations of endless variance in animals and odes to gay elders give this canon-worthy sequence the rich texture of timelessness, and crystalized scene-poems like “There Are New Worlds” and “Ladies’ Arm Wrestling Match at the Blue Moon Diner” capture tiny, infinite moments.
I Have Devoted My Life to the Clitoris by Elizabeth Hall
A powerful organ gets a powerful exploration in Hall’s bullet-point nonfictional cacophony. Embedded throughout the graphic and gratifying clitoral history, science, and theory are fragments of Hall’s isolated rural upbringing and metropolitan adulthood, vivid ruminations on sexuality and the body, pain and pleasure intersecting and laid bare. An exhaustive-yet-all-too-brief wonder of a book-length essay.
Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden
The warring privilege and precarity of Madden’s childhood in Boca Raton (“the rat’s mouth”), Florida glitter in her skillful authorial hands. Late ’90s hallmarks—the celebs, the products—become closely tied to queer kid awakenings and traumas, all presented with transcendent honesty and rapturous style. The epic third part “Tell the Women I’m Lonely” spans eras of deep secrets, and what unfolds is a striking family saga, as layered and revelatory as any classic novel.
Rainbow Rainbow by Lydia Conklin
Conklin is a true virtuoso of fiction, showcasing a brand of humorous and always surprising realism all their own in this deep and rewarding debut collection. In the mix are youthful ’90s gems like the title story, in which two teens arrange a meetup with one’s adult lesbian AIM crush, and “Pioneer,” a sharp exploration of trans identity, as a 5th-grader refuses to conform to an assigned gender role while reenacting the Oregon Trail, instead choosing to play an ox, and to survive.