Patricia Nell Warren

Lambda Book Awards: Real people writing about real things

Filed By Patricia Nell Warren | May 30, 2008 6:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Gay Icons and History, Media
Tags: books in history, Lambda Book awards, Lambda Literary Foundation, pioneer authors

The Lambda Book Awards don't have a red carpet yet, and it's probably just as well. TV viewers wouldn't get to see all those plastic Beautiful People so familiar at the Oscars, Golden Globes, etc. They'd have to look at a bunch of unplastic poets, journalists, novelists, scholars, historians, playwrights and eroticists straggling along the red carpet - along with editors, publishers, agents, critics and other unvarnished ancillary workers in an art that is facing some real economic problems right now.

Yes, the Lammies offer no anorexic actresses in gowns that cost more than most authors earn in a year. No older actors wearing tuxedos and those stretched-tight smiles that tell you how much work they've had done. No TV interviewers who have the same pre-fab look as the celebs they're ambushing with their mikes. Indeed, the occasional effort to look non-plastic and human on the red carpet gets a loud boo-hiss from the Fashion Police.

After 19 years of following BookExpo America to various cities around the country, the Lammies just held their 20th edition in a new permanent home - West Hollywood's Pacific Design Center.

Last night, after a gala reception, the ceremony took place before a packed house in the elegant Silver Screen Theater. To emphasize the permanence of the move, the Lambda Literary Foundation has left its old east-coast haunts and moved to a new office at 5482 Wilshire Blvd, #1595 in Los Angeles.

Mayor John Heilman, city council member John Duran and other city-government notables were on hand to assure everyone of a warm welcome in WeHo.

As one of the presenters, I looked around at the throng of LGBT book people and realized that "real people writing real stuff" is one of the issues around book-industry struggles right now.

Book awards, whether they're LGBT or mysteries or sci-fi or romance or children's books, are all about recognizing good writing. But it's one thing to write a good book, and another thing to get a good book read. Reading takes effort by the reader... especially a well-written novel or book of poetry that might require the reader to use some imagination. When I was young, the newest well-written book by an American literary figure - like Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, published in 1952 -- touched off national headlines and stampedes to bookstores. Today you have to be a tabloid superstar, or a notorious criminal, or a maverick politico like Scott McClellan, to get headlines for your book, and stampedes to your page on Amazon.com. And today, more often than not, your high-profile book is written by a ghostwriter.

For 3000 years or more, books have been there for humanity. Books were the world's prime conveyor of information, news, ideas and artistic sensibilities. Starting with the first use of movable type in China around 1000 B.C., through the West's transition from scrolls to bound books in the early centuries A.D., books hit the 19th century with invention of the motorized rotary press, which catapulted printing into mass volume. The 20th century gave us the digital "print on demand" press that works like a super-copier. Today we go more digital, with e-books that can be downloaded onto Kindle, Amazon.com's revolutionary new wireless portable reading device, that is even shaped like a tome.

Yet the ever-higher tech in books faces an ever-lower rate of literacy. And it isn't the average Americans' fault that they don't read much. Young people get to slide through school without having to read much or use their imaginations. They get most of their news, ideas and information all pre-digested and spoon-fed to them by TV and the Internet. Their attention span is crimped to the 60-second sound byte. Even the job world demands less in the way of reading skills than it used to.

So real writers, and real writing, are finding themselves a little marginalized right now.

Last night at the Lammies, for me, the defining moment was the "In Memoriam" slide show - a presentation of photographs of all LGBT authors who died during the awards' 20 years of history. The presentation was inspired by that memoriam done at the Oscars every year. Photos ran the gamut from world-famous, notorious and well-known to lesser-known.

But author head-shots don't look anything like airbrushed Hollywood head-shots. Seeing them all together, in a single documentary presentation, was overwhelming - those honest faces untouched by the plastic surgeon. They had wrinkles and scars and moles. There were a few funny hats, and strange-looking dresses, and startling hairstyles. All their eyes had that look of hard experience, hard work, the fierce will to tell the story against all odds. In some cases, their faces showed the ravages of advancing illness. Few of those women and men could be called "stunning" or "handsome." Yet their collective legacy is massive.

Last night, as envelopes were torn open and winners came forward, little was said about the problems that the book industry faces. Everybody glowed as Pioneer Awards went to Ann Bannon, Malcolm Boyd and Mark Thompson.

Women's fiction winner Ali Liebegott did touch on the economic challenges when she said, "I thank my publisher, Carroll & Graf...who is now defunct." Her line got a wry laugh from the audience, but it wasn't a ha-ha kind of laugh. The demise of this gay-friendly mainstream publisher, one of the casualties of a distributor's Chapter 11 last year, is a sad thing.

As the crowd adjourned to a dessert reception and more chatter, I couldn't get those images of the author head-shots out of my mind. In fact, I found myself feeling confident that books would somehow weather the storm. Real books and real writers have been around for 3000 years, so they can't possibly linger forever in the present shadow. Perhaps e-books, and inventions like Kindle, will carry books forward into a future where popular literacy will hopefully revive again.

Meanwhile, we have our photo-gallery of living LGBT writers - older writers who are still producing, young writers getting their first books out -- real people who wrestle with the real angels of sexual orientation and gender, who tell the real stories of those wrestling matches, and defiantly show their real faces to the world.


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Thank heavens for LGBT writers who dedicate their lives to chronicling the history of our community, expressing our dreams and desires and developing stories with LGBT characters. Our scribes provide a foundation to our community that lasts beyond the present day for future generations to enjoy.

I salute Charles Flowers and the Lambda Literary Foundation, along with the many LGBT writers dedicated to keeping the printed word alive. Congratulations to all the winners. May your success serve as an inspiration for others to follow in your footsteps.

Of course I always salute you, Patricia. Nobody can weave a story or bring our history alive the way you can.


Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | May 31, 2008 4:36 AM

Without authors, without serious reading in my life, I would be just one more blank page myself. My signed copy of Malcolm Boyd's book, "Am I running with you God?" is the first thing I ever owned signed to my partner and myself. Before we owned anything in common we owned a book together. I am so happy for his recognition.

Without authors, without serious reading in my life, I would be just one more blank page myself.

Amen, Robert.

One small problem with the Lambda Awards though... Patricia, have you ever won an award? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't remember you having won one. They seem to divide everything into gender roles. You write about gay men. You're a lesbian. So you don't really fit the "Gay men fiction" or the "lesbian fiction." It's almost as if they don't know what to do with you.

If there's one single person who completely deserves an award, it's definitely you.

Just a bit more about the Lammies....

As the show's (pro bono) producer who scripted most of the presenters, I opted to go with a positive celebration of the Lambda Literary Foundation's 20th anniversary and move to Los Angeles - only alluding to the economic difficulties plaguing us all (I'm an LGBT journalist working for two LGBT magazine's in a city where the major newspapers continue to lose circulation and lay off staff).

Here's part of what I had event co-chair Terry DeCresenzo say in her welcoming remarks:

"We are very excited about the program tonight because it kicks off our 21st year in our new home in Los Angeles. We hope that this move will prove auspicious – because Los Angeles – and West Hollywood – as we know from the Lammy award-winning Gay LA by Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons – is the seat of the LGBT liberation movement. It is also home to the genius of the film and broadcast arts – and many of the creative souls who produce literature – some of whom are in this room tonight. We hope for - and will work towards - a synergy with the creative class in our new environment that allows our literature and our lives to flourish."

Also - considering the historic California marriage decision - we noted that mystery writer/presenter Michael Nava also happens to be a judicial staff attorney for California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno - one of the "yes" votes...he acknowledged the ovation and said he's taking the response back to Moreno and Chief Justice Ronald George, who wrote the opinion. Also - as John Heilman noted, WeHo City Councilmember John Duran is also board president of Equality California, one of the plantiffs in the marriage case.

There were other poignant moments - such as when Bernard Cooper presented the Pioneer Award to Malcolm Boyd and Mark Thompson and read a statement from Bishop Jon Bruno about how Malcolm continues to inspire him....The near schism in the Episcopal Church is not just because of the elevation of Bishop Gene Robinson - it's also because Bruno conducted a blessing of Malcolm and Mark at the church's center....

The other Pioneer, Ann Bannon, got a shout out from Lily Tomlin who, with Jane Wagner, produced a Broadway play based on Ann's books. Her honor was presented by Katherine Forrest, who later became the foil for a comedy routine by the Gay Mafia.

Lilliam Faderman told the audience about her Gay LA co-author Stuart Timmons' stroke, gays-in-the-military expert Aaron Belkin was one of the Monette/Horowitz honorees, Christopher Rice became the organization's new board president, Calpernia Addams presented in the Transgender category and talked about her Logo reality show, "Transamerican Love Story," Torie Osborn, who just left her post as Senior Advisor to LA Mayor Antonion Villaraigosa to write a memoir, also gave shout-outs to all her mentors in the room....and there were performances by a group from the Gay Men's Chorus and from Tim Miller during the roughly two hour show.

Also - Paul Colichman of here TV! and KCRW's nationally known book critic Michael Silverblatt - "The Book Worm" - were also there.

After I write my piece on the Primaries for the next issue of IN Los Angeles magazine, I'll be working with an editor on producing a broadcast version of the show - which Lambda intends to webcast. We will also post YouTube moments - which will also include the presentation by Patricia Nell Warren. I'll do a blog on it when it's completed.

Anyway - sorry to jump in here and go on for so long - but since I produced the show, I also feel responsible for the tone - and I wanted to explain why I went positive....

And to Patricia's point -I asked WeHo Councilmember John Heilman to be the last presenter in the important categories of Men's Memoir and Men's Fiction precisely to thank him and underscore all the effort he has put into creating a new fabulous West Hollywood Library - where he said he hopes to house all the books written by all the folks in the room - and more....

And thanks for presenting, Patricia.


Just a bit more about the Lammies....

As the show's (pro bono) producer who scripted most of the presenters, I opted to go with a positive celebration of the Lambda Literary Foundation's 20th anniversary and move to Los Angeles - only alluding to the economic difficulties plaguing us all (I'm an LGBT journalist working for two LGBT magazine's in a city where the major newspapers continue to lose circulation and lay off staff).

Here's part of what I had event co-chair Terry DeCresenzo say in her welcoming remarks:

"We are very excited about the program tonight because it kicks off our 21st year in our new home in Los Angeles. We hope that this move will prove auspicious – because Los Angeles – and West Hollywood – as we know from the Lammy award-winning Gay LA by Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons – is the seat of the LGBT liberation movement. It is also home to the genius of the film and broadcast arts – and many of the creative souls who produce literature – some of whom are in this room tonight. We hope for - and will work towards - a synergy with the creative class in our new environment that allows our literature and our lives to flourish."

Also - considering the historic California marriage decision - we noted that mystery writer/presenter Michael Nava also happens to be a judicial staff attorney for California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno - one of the "yes" votes...he acknowledged the ovation and said he's taking the response back to Moreno and Chief Justice Ronald George, who wrote the opinion. Also - as John Heilman noted, WeHo City Councilmember John Duran is also board president of Equality California, one of the plantiffs in the marriage case.

There were other poignant moments - such as when Bernard Cooper presented the Pioneer Award to Malcolm Boyd and Mark Thompson and read a statement from Bishop Jon Bruno about how Malcolm continues to inspire him....The near schism in the Episcopal Church is not just because of the elevation of Bishop Gene Robinson - it's also because Bruno conducted a blessing of Malcolm and Mark at the church's center....

The other Pioneer, Ann Bannon, got a shout out from Lily Tomlin who, with Jane Wagner, produced a Broadway play based on Ann's books. Her honor was presented by Katherine Forrest, who later became the foil for a comedy routine by the Gay Mafia.

Lilliam Faderman told the audience about her Gay LA co-author Stuart Timmons' stroke, gays-in-the-military expert Aaron Belkin was one of the Monette/Horowitz honorees, Christopher Rice became the organization's new board president, Calpernia Addams presented in the Transgender category and talked about her Logo reality show, "Transamerican Love Story," Torie Osborn, who just left her post as Senior Advisor to LA Mayor Antonion Villaraigosa to write a memoir, also gave shout-outs to all her mentors in the room....and there were performances by a group from the Gay Men's Chorus and from Tim Miller during the roughly two hour show.

Also - Paul Colichman of here TV! and KCRW's nationally known book critic Michael Silverblatt - "The Book Worm" - were also there.

After I write my piece on the Primaries for the next issue of IN Los Angeles magazine, I'll be working with an editor on producing a broadcast version of the show - which Lambda intends to webcast. We will also post YouTube moments - which will also include the presentation by Patricia Nell Warren. I'll do a blog on it when it's completed.

Anyway - sorry to jump in here and go on for so long - but since I produced the show, I also feel responsible for the tone - and I wanted to explain why I went positive....

And to Patricia's point -I asked WeHo Councilmember John Heilman to be the last presenter in the important categories of Men's Memoir and Men's Fiction precisely to thank him and underscore all the effort he has put into creating a new fabulous West Hollywood Library - where he said he hopes to house all the books written by all the folks in the room - and more....

And thanks for presenting, Patricia.


This is great. I've only read a couple books on that list, so I have my work cut out for me!