In one of its final public gatherings before its May 17 closing, LGBT bookstore Giovanni’s Room will host a reading with finalists for the 26th annual Lambda Literary Awards. The event will take place at 5:30 p.m. May 15 at 345 S. 12th St.
Participating authors include Larry Benjamin, Phil Tiemeyer, Brian Teare, L.C. Chase and Michael Klein.
Benjamin has lived in Philadelphia for 26 years, the last 17 of them with his patner. The University of Pennsylvania graduate was born and raised in the Bronx, N.Y.
His book “Unbroken” is a finalist in Lambda Literary’s gay romance category.
For Benjamin, the book was a way to relay his coming-out experience.
“Two years ago, a gay group from New Zealand posted a Tweet and basically asked, ‘When did you first know you were gay?’” he said. “For me, I was in the fourth grade and this kid named Jose walked into the music room and the minute I saw him, I knew. That changed my whole life.”
Benjamin responded to the organization, and was then inspired to write a blog post about his coming-out experience.
“I had written that post and my editor and publisher read the post and said it should be part of a larger story,” he said. “When I sat down to write the book, I wanted to take somebody by the hand and step them through my life — what it looks like to be gay at 6 or 12 years of age,” he said.
Benjamin took the character of Jose and created a story based on a fictional relationship with him.
“I took the idea of Jose and brought the story out of that one particular moment,” he said, noting that he has since reconnected with Jose on social media. “As I was writing the book I found him on Facebook. It was interesting trying to explain to him the effect he had on me. The book takes that interaction and builds a relationship out of it. It talks so much about the effect and what love for me looked like at that age.”
Benjamin said writing has always been a passion but it wasn’t until both he and his partner were laid off at the same time during the economic downturn that he turned to it for income.
“I thought about what I was going to do, so I pulled out a former manuscript, fixed it up and sent it off. For me the whole economic crisis was a blessing — it forced me to do this.”
His other works include his first novel, “What Binds Us,” and a short-story collection, “Damaged Angels.”
Benjamin said he was very humbled by the Lambda Literary nomination.
“I sat down for two weeks waiting for them to say it was mistake,” he said. “There are people with masters’ in fine arts programs from prestigious schools and then there is me. My publisher is a small independent publisher, no one has ever heard of me, so someone appreciated the novel on merit alone.”
Queer poet Klein, 59, hails from New York City and is nominated for his book of poetry, “The Talking Day.”
Klein came out at a young age and considers himself a “lucky queer” for his experience in discovering his sexuality.
“It was not traumatic and everybody knew,” he said. “I grew up in New York and was surrounded by queers and artists. It was not a big deal at all. I never considered my coming-out experience; I simply got older.”
Klein said he used books and writing to escape from a troubled family.
“I started reading poetry from a very young age,” he said. “I was enamored by the idea of beauty in the world because it was hard to find. “
He has since found inspiration in writers such as Louise Glück, Richard Siken and Frank Bidart.
He said he was honored to be named a finalist among his fellow nominees.
“In my category of poetry, the finalists are by far the most competitive ever,” he said. “Every one of those finalists are amazing. They are without a doubt the best gay poets in America.”
Philadelphia University assistant professor of history Tiemeyer is a finalist in the LGBT nonfiction division for his “Plane Queer: Labor, Sexuality and AIDS in the History of Male Flight Attendants.”
The book started as Tiemeyer’s graduate school dissertation and ultimately turned into a 10-year project.
Tiemeyer, 43, hails from the suburbs of St. Louis and has lived in Philadelphia since 2007. He received his undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and attended the University of Chicago for his master’s and the University of Texas for his Ph.D.
Tiemeyer said he came out a little later in life due to his conservative upbringing.
“I grew up in a fairly conservative place and went to a Catholic boys’ school where human sexuality was barely discussed,” he said. “I felt that it was not the right thing for me to be gay, so it took me until I was 27-28 to develop a little more courage and self-confidence to come out.”
Tiemeyer said his love for writing correlated with his coming-out experience.
“I was trying to find an intellectual space in my own life to say it is OK to be gay and that led me to pursue LGBT history as the area I decided to focus on,” he said.
Having the book recognized after 10 years of work is particularly rewarding.
“This has been part of my life for the last decade so to realize that not only did I like it but also the larger queer community also found value in it, and for it to be read and be promoted, means a lot to me.”
Amber Dawn’s “How Poetry Saved My Life” is a finalist in the lesbian memoir/biography category.
Dawn hails from Vancouver and said her upbringing allowed for a lot of acceptance for her queer identity.
“I grew up in a household that didn’t assume heteronormative was going to be the way for me or anyone else in my family,” she said. “I didn’t have much of a process; it was just a matter of making choices that were all pretty quickly adopted by my blood and chosen family.”
Dawn said she draws inspiration from her fellow finalists and particularly enjoys science-fiction and fantasy novels, including works by Octavia Butler.
Dawn’s book tells her story of sex work, queer identity and survivor pride in prose and poetry.
She said she was surprised by the overwhelmingly positive reception.
“It has been one year since my book came out in May of last year, and the big thing in my book is sex work and I was waiting for antagonistic reviews. But I received nothing but good reviews,” she said. “I am so glad I put it out. Everything I was nervous about proved to be nonexistent.”
Dawn said the Lambda Literary nomination is an added honor.
“Lambda Literary highlights what’s happening and what is relevant in queer literature,” she said. “The memoir category is competitive and it is humbling to be recognized in that category. I feel very grateful.”
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