On June 28, 1969 – fifty years ago this year – New York City was to witness what happens when a community, long-suppressed and driven to desperation, fights back. The Stonewall Riots, triggered in reaction to police raids on Manhattan’s Stonewall Inn, were foundational for gay civil rights and expression, and their enduring effect can be felt across western culture – not least in literature, where the freedoms gained gave voice to a whole new generation of writers suddenly able to fully depict the spectrum of gay experience.
From Rita Mae Brown’s coming-of-age Rubyfruit Jungle to Larry Kramer’s satirical Faggots, the ensuing decade saw a flourishing of LGBTQ+ writing that matches as great a literary epoch as Modernism and the fin-de-siècle before it. Shamefully, however, many of those books have yet to be duly recognised for their enduring literary merit, and to try and read the rewards of post-Stonewall literature is to scour AbeBooks looking for worn copies of novels long out of print.
One such novel was Andrew Holleran’s Dancer from the Dance. Dancer was a book that I had heard mentioned time and time again. Often compared to The Great Gatsby (and commonly referred to as ‘The Gay Gatsby’) for its portrait of a seemingly Edenic world buckling under the pressures of its own excesses, it was, as Michael Cunningham writes ‘the first gay novel everybody read…the first Big Gay Literary Sensation’. Yet, despite its ubiquitous fame and the fanaticism with which readers would frequently recommend it to me, Dancer was technically unavailable in the UK. Dancer from the Dance had first been published in 1978 in the US, and then here in 1979 by Jonathan Cape, but it had fallen out of print in the 90s. The sheer horror of this – coupled with my finally getting my hands on the novel and discovering what a true classic it is – led to the concept behind commemorating the Stonewall anniversary with a series of reissues.
VINTAGE books has long championed LGBTQ+ writers, be they Jeanette Winterson, Alan Hollinghurst, Derek Jarman, Edmund White, Patricia Highsmith or Christopher Isherwood. Indeed, Jeanette Winterson’s Sexing the Cherry was VINTAGE’s lead launch paperback nearly thirty years ago in 1990. With such an impressive range of celebrated authors already key to VINTAGE, we were eager to ensure that our publishing around the Stonewall anniversary should be guided by a will to always challenge and interrogate the status quo, and so we set out on spotlighting those writers who had been overlooked or were deserving of greater recognition. The result is a series of four books whose imaginative breadth and defiant spirit will speak to everyone, everywhere, transporting readers from the nightclubs and street protests of New York as seen in Dancer from the Dance and Sarah Schulman’s People in Trouble, through to the plains of the American Old West and Sri Lanka’s civil war in Tom Spanbauer’s The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon and Shyam Selvadurai’s Funny Boy.
This series was borne out of many conversations with writers, readers, booksellers and editors all of whom took the time to look back over our publishing and discuss the various merits of books which they wish had connected with a larger readership (or, in the case of Sarah Schulman’s People in Trouble, had never even been considered for publication in the UK). As much as these are books that celebrate the pursuit of love and dignity the world over, I’m very thankful that so many terrific writers – Andrew McMillan, Alan Hollinghurst and Neel Mukherjee – have offered to share their own passions, and champion some of these criminally underrated books, with new introductions that help contextualise the varying circumstances under which each of these novels was crafted.
While we have honed our focus to four remarkable books here, there is still a lot more work to be done in exploring, discovering and bringing new readers to many of these lost or largely forgotten books – and I consider myself very lucky to be in a position to do so.