By Sarah E. Rowley
Book News and Awards
In January 2017, out bisexual author Roxane Gay pulled her forthcoming book How to Be Heard from major US publisher Simon & Schuster, in protest of the company’s decision to publish white supremacist Milo Yiannopoulos. Best known for his racist, sexist online campaign against black comedienne Leslie Jones, Yiannopolous, an out gay man, has argued for the banning of women from the internet, the recreational murder of fat people, and made many anti-transgender and anti-Muslim statements. Gay’s decision inspired other S&S authors to follow her and independent bookstores to pledge not to sell the book. S&S ultimately canceled Yiannopoulos’s contract in February, after videos in which he promoted pedophilia resurfaced on the internet. Gay has since found another publisher for How to Be Heard.
The Body’s Alphabet, a poetry collection by Bi Women Quarterly contributor Ann Tweedy, won the 5th annual Bisexual Book Award for Poetry earlier this summer! The book was also nominated for the Bisexual Nonfiction category of the 29th Annual Lambda Literary Awards. The latter prize went to Ana Castillo’s Black Dove: Mama, Mi’jo, and Me, the Chicana author’s memoir about her mother, sexuality, experiences with biphobia in feminist circles, and her beloved son’s incarceration. And our very own Tiggy Upland won Bi Writer of the Year at the Bi Book Awards for Advice from a Wild Deuce: The Best of Ask Tiggy.
This year’s Lammys also brought attention to some fiction about bi women:
Alexis M. Smith won the Bisexual Fiction Award for Marrow Island, an exquisitely written novel (previously featured in this column) about the reunion of two bisexual women in a disaster-ravaged Washington State. The other contenders were:
- Beautiful Gravity by Martin Hyatt, a Southern gothic novel
- Mouth to Mouth by Abigail Child, a poetry collection focusing on romantic and sexual relationships with women and men
- When Watched by Leopoldine Core, a short story collection set in New York City by the 2015 Whiting Award winner, featuring sex workers and artists, trans lovers and siblings
This year, the Lesbian Fiction category featured at least two novels centered on women who do not label themselves but explicitly have relationships with both women and men as adults: Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson, and They May Not Mean To, But They Do, by Cathleen Schine (both previously featured here). The ultimate winner was Nicole Dennis-Benn’s Here Comes the Sun (also previously featured), a novel about a Jamaican lesbian and her family.
The inagural winner of the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Fiction is Deepak Unnikrishnan’s Temporary People. This brilliant magical-realist novel-in-stories about guest workers in the United Arab Emirates brings home the humanity of the South Asian immigrants who power the Persian Gulf’s economy. The book is frank about the reality of male bisexuality in these cultures and the costs of society refusing to acknowledge it.
Likewise, Mackenzi Lee has won the New England Book Award for Young Adult Literature for her second novel, the Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, which features a male bisexual lead. Henry Montague, a lovable English lord’s son, travels around 18th century Europe with his sister and best friend on a series of madcap adventures that force him to confront his many privileges. The book has gotten rave reviews for its fast-paced plot, well-developed characters, and deep sense of fun.
Finally, and belatedly, the 2014 Philip K. Dick Award for Distinguished Science Fiction went to Meg Elison’s The Book of the Unnamed Midwife. It follows a middle-aged bisexual midwife who survives a plague that wipes out most of humanity and leaves childbirth fatal. Dressing as a man to survive, she wanders the dystopian western US and eventually finds a queer-positive community.
New Fiction Featuring Bisexual Women
- Exit West, the fourth novel from immensely talented Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid, has garned well-deserved acclaim for its beautiful writing and hopeful and generous take on the global migration crisis. The story follows Saeed and Nadia, a couple who flees their politically disintegrating city, through a series of magical doors to new nations. Nadia, the female lead, comes out as bisexual over the course of the story. Highly recommended!
- British author Zadie Smith’s acclaimed novel Swing Time traces the unnamed narrator’s relationships with three difficult women: her mother, a Black Caribbean working-class woman who becomes a successful politician; her childhood friend Tracey; and her pop star boss. Though she never uses the word, the narrator’s mother appears to be bisexual.
- Out bisexual writer C.B. Lee has published the first in a trilogy about young queer superheroes. Not Your Sidekick centers on Jess Tran, a bi teen of Chinese and Vietnamese descent who also happens to be the powerless daughter of two superpowered parents. Jess’s friend, a superpowered black transman, is the hero of the upcoming sequel, Not Your Villain.
- A Good Idea by Christina Moracho centers on Finley, a bisexual girl who returns to her small hometown in Maine seeking revenge for the death of her childhood best friend. Reviews praise the fast-paced mystery plot and realistic and complex characters.
- How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake centers on Grace, a teen piano prodigy with a narcissistic and unstable alcoholic mother, who falls in love with another girl. Reviews note that Grace is confident in her bisexuality, and that the book affirms bi orientations instead of dismissing them.
- Lesbian author of multiracial heritage Nina LaCour has published her fifth young adult novel. We Are Okay is a quiet and introspective tale about Marin, a grieving college student, who reunites with Mabel, her former best friend and lover, and tries to make sense of a family tragedy. The book is deeply respectful of Mabel’s bisexuality.
Bisexual Biography and Memoir
- Linda Heywood’s new biography, Njinga of Angola: Africa’s Warrior Queen, brings to life the fierce and wily seventeenth-century ruler who opposed Portuguese colonialism. Often compared to Elizabeth Tudor and Catherine the Great for her political and military talents, Njinga survived assassination attempts, outmaneuvered male competitors, and flouted gender norms, taking both male and female lovers.
- Not content with the activism described above, Roxane Gay has also published a memoir, the extraordinary Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body. While Gay briefly discusses her attempts to convince herself she was a lesbian rather than bi, her focus is on her relationship with her body, and how that has been indelibly shaped by being gang-raped as a young teen and our society’s deep hatred of fatness. Highly recommended!
- Out bisexual author Melissa Febos, known for Whip Smart, a memoir about her four years working as professional dominatrix in New York City, has just published a collection of autobiographical essays. The new book, Abandon Me, explores her complicated family history, Native American heritage, heroin addiction, and longtime relationship with an abusive woman.
- Laura Jane Grace, founder of the punk rock band Against Me!, has published a memoir, Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout. Grace has spoken publicly about how her sexuality became more fluid after she transitioned to female in 2012.
- Ariel Levy, the out bisexual author of Female Chauvinist Pigs, has published a memoir, The Rules Do Not Apply, which explores relationships with her wife and a male partner, as well as the aftermath of a miscarriage. Readers highly praise her writing, but some complain that Levy does not respect her male partner’s trans identity, or recognize his behavior as abusive.
Sarah is co-editor of the 42-country anthology Getting Bi: Voices of Bisexuals Around the World.