Words: Florence Robson
The theme for LGBT History Month (this February in the UK) is Poetry, Prose and Plays, in memory of journalist Lyra McKee, who was shot and killed during riots in Derry last year. So often when we celebrate LGBTQ+ writers we look to the past, referencing familiar names such as William Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson or Oscar Wilde. While it’s always worth revisiting their words, we think it’s time that we familiarise ourselves with some of the many living writers from the LGBTQ+ community. With that in mind, here are five living LGBT writers from the UK whose work you should explore.
Poetry: Richard Scott
Born in London, Richard Scott started his career as an opera singer before taking a sideways step into poetry, drawn to its musicality and rhythms. His poems have appeared widely in magazines and anthologies including Poetry Review, Poetry London, Swimmers, The Poetry of Sex (Penguin) and Butt Magazine. He has been a winner of the Wasafiri New Writing Prize, a Jerwood/Arvon Poetry Mentee and a member of the Aldeburgh 8. His pamphlet Wound, published by Rialto, won the Michael Marks Poetry Award 2016, and his debut collection, Soho, was published by Faber and Faber in 2018.
Start with: Soho
Scott’s poetry collection Soho is rooted in queer poetry traditions while carving out its own, distinct style. At turns joyful and painful, it plays with ideas of intimacy, shame, loneliness and desire. A stunning debut, Soho’s wit and lyricism marks Scott as one to watch.
Prose: Juno Dawson
Yorkshire-raised Juno Dawson was working as a teacher when she started writing young adult fiction, eventually becoming successful enough to quit her job. Now a best-selling author, her YA novels include Margot & Me and Under My Skin and her non-fiction works include This Book Is Gay, a manual to all areas of life as an LGBT person. Juno came out as a transgender woman in 2015, writing a column for Glamour magazine documenting her experience of transitioning.
Start with: The Gender Games
The Gender Games is Dawson’s first adult book. Part-memoir, part-manifesto, it’s a funny, moving and informative exploration of gender featuring insights from well-known activists including Rebecca Root, Laura Bates and Gemma Cairney. The book won the UK Black Pride Literary Prize for Non-Fiction at the Diva Awards 2017.
Poetry: Keith Jarrett
An award-winning performance poet and fiction writer, Keith Jarrett is a familiar face on the poetry circuit. A former UK Poetry Slam Champion, his poetry show, Identity Mix-Up, received 5 stars at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. He has written for various publications, including The Mechanics’ Institute Review 5, Tell Tales Vol. IV, Pulp Net and, most recently, Boys and Girls. Fun fact: Jarrett has written and performed in both English and Spanish, as well as organising and running poetry workshops and festivals in both languages in various countries.
Start with: Selah
Jarrett’s full-length poetry collection, Selah, gets its name from the Hebrew-derived word which appears as a musical interlude in the Psalms, often meaning ‘stop and consider’. The poems combine musical intrigue with history and desire, from organ recitals to teenage gospel hip-hop, all presented with wit and sharp-edged social commentary.
Prose: Kirsty Logan
Scottish writer Kirsty Logan is renowned for blending fantasy, magical realism and horror in her work, to compelling (and often terrifying) effect. Frequently compared to Angela Carter, her short story collection The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales was awarded the Polari First Book Prize as well as the Saboteur Award for Best Short Story Collection. Her debut novel The Gracekeepers won a Lambda Literary Award and its prequel, The Gloaming, was published by Vintage in April 2018.
Start with: Things We Say in the Dark
Things We Say in the Dark is a collection of feminist literary horror stories, ranging from chilling takes on fairy tales to disturbing supernatural fiction. From a couple struggling with a lack of connection to their children to a schoolgirl obsessed with female anatomical models in a museum, these dark tales explore themes such as domesticity, violence and desire.
Plays: Peter Darney
Welsh writer-director Peter Darney has brought his compelling, funny and emotional works to stage, screen and radio. A graduate of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Darney’s play, 5 Guys’ Chillin’, was an international fringe hit, playing in cities including Edinburgh, Dublin, Sydney, Toronto and Paris. His directing work includes a production of gay crime thriller Kompromat at the Vault Festival in 2019.
Start with: 5 Guys Chillin’
Graphic and gripping, 5 Guys Chillin’ is a verbatim drama exploring the chem-sex scene and the hedonistic, secret world of Grindr. It was named one of “Ten Plays That Shaped Queer Theatre History” by the Evening Standard, won the Best LGBT Production award at the Edinburgh Festival and was also the winner of the Brighton Fringe LGBTQ Award. It was also a double award winner at the Dublin international Gay Theatre Festival and had a prestigious transfer to SoHo Theatre Off-Broadway.