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Celebrating LGBTQ+ Writing and New August Reads

This month’s column highlights OutWrite 2023, an annual LGBTQ+ literary festival sponsored by the DC Center, running August 11th through the 13th. OutWrite’s mission statement amplifies the many voices, stories, authors, and readers in the LGBTQ+ community, particularly BIPOC, Trans, and Nonbinary authors and readers.

This year, the OutWrite offers a full weekend schedule of virtual workshops, panels, and readings with over 55 LGBTQ+ authors, on a variety of topics, genres, issues of craft, and community-building. To see the schedule of readings, panel, and workshop and register in advance for all events, visit: https://www.youtube.com/@thedccenter.

According to the event’s organizers, panels and readings will be live and available for viewing on The DC Center’s YouTube page, with recordings of events uploaded and permanently available after the festival. Workshops are Zoom-based, so registration is required.

An Interview with Emily Holland, Chair of the 2023 OutWrite Literary Festival

We were lucy to have the chance to interview the 2023 festival’s chair, Emily Holland. Emily’s responses illuminate the many different thoughtful touches that make OutWrite an annual event that is not to be missed.

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HillRag: Can you speak about the timeliness of this year’s festival focus/theme, particularly the focused support for BiPOC, Trans, and Nonbinary writers?

Emily Holland: OutWrite has always been a space where historically underrepresented writers and readers can thrive and be celebrated. During the past few years, the festival has focused on our community’s resilience in the face of the pandemic, racist violence, and increased attacks on Trans people. Sadly, we are still dealing with the impact of this continued racist and transphobic violence in addition to the ongoing pandemic. This was all at the forefront of my mind when curating the festival events from those submitted. It would be impossible to create a queer literary festival without highlighting BIPOC and Trans writers. The publishing world has historically skewed towards white, straight, cisgender writers and readers. There are so many ways that publishing needs to change, and hopefully will change. We hope that by platforming these queer writers here, other writers and readers will know that there is room at the table—and a hungry audience—for them and their work.

We are also thrilled to be partnering with Loyalty Bookstores, a queer and Black-owned bookstore here in the DMV, once again for virtual book sales during the festival.

HR: How does OutWrite 2023’s focus on storytelling, sharing, and discussion of LGBTQ+ writing serve the community?

EH: Current legislation across the country is aimed at removing books from schools and public libraries. Largely, the books in question are those by BIPOC and Trans writers. OutWrite provides a space for us to stand firm and say yes, our stories matter. People, especially young readers, need to have access to these stories. Storytelling gives us a window into other people’s lives and opens up the possibility for empathy, understanding, and real community. It is not enough for people to “tolerate” LGBTQ+ writers and our stories. We matter and can make a difference. OutWrite is, thankfully, part of that change.

I also have to highlight the support from The DC Center for the LGBT Community and The Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, which makes our free programming possible.

HR: Can you talk about the history of authors in the LGBTQ+ community and traditionally more popular genres (such as true crime, spec fic, sci fi, etc.)?  Why is it important to feature genres that are sometimes considered less “literary?”

EH: As queer writers, we are constantly having to reinvent genre, story structure, and narrative for ourselves. Time and time again, the “mainstream” publishing world has told us that we do not fit into their idea of what is popular or “literary.” But we have, through various means including small presses and independent publishers, LGBTQ+ writing conferences, and events like OutWrite, proven that there is a demand for queer stories in any and all genres.

Often, discussions focus on representation in a binary way—is this good or bad representation, right? But we know that it is far more complex than that. Readers want to see themselves inside a story, a character or a narrative or a life that they identify with in some way. Sometimes, we are not all the heroic main characters of the next great literary novel. These expansive genres allow for a deeper nuance and understanding of the complexities of queer lives, and the ups and downs of our experiences. We can see the reality of our experiences, even if the story itself is a wild sci-fi adventure or a speculative narrative or a poem. I feel that as writers and readers, we go to books in search of some kind of truth, whether that is about ourselves or about the world around us. This truth is present in all writing, not just what someone might deem “literary.”

I don’t truly believe in a hierarchy of genres. Read what you like! And what nurtures your soul. The same with writing. We might all know this Toni Morrison quote by now, but it is so true, especially for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ writers: “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” If we are not seeing ourselves reflected in books, then we must give ourselves the permission to write those stories. And publish those stories. And celebrate those stories.

What is so exciting to me, as a writer myself, is the way that LGBTQ+ authors have overcome these obstacles in order to get their stories into the hands of readers. We are making zines, creating literary journals and independent presses, hosting workshops and readings, all in the name of community and support for each other and our work. We are on bestseller lists, winning prizes, becoming household names. We are finally seeing readers embrace our work that is explicitly queer, when historically queer themes have had to be hidden in the background or subtext of books. Even among these growing spaces, I have to acknowledge that white, cisgendered members of the queer community have historically been the most supported. There is so much work to do, but we are starting to see more inclusivity and more diversity in LGBTQ+ publishing.

HR: Is there any event, activity, or reading that you personally are truly excited?

EH: Being so hands-on with the festival planning, I can honestly say that I am excited for each of these events! I wouldn’t have selected them out of the many proposals if there was not some part of me that wanted to be able to experience the panel, reading, or workshop.

I am thrilled that our schedule this year allows me to attend all of them live virtually and I can’t wait for our livestream audiences to tune in via YouTube.

But, selfishly, as someone who mostly writes poetry, I have to say that I am looking forward to the poetry programming this year. So many exciting voices in the lineup. I am also so thrilled to be in conversation with Mecca Jamilah Sullivan for our Friday night keynote event. Her novel Big Girl is truly amazing and I know our conversation will be lively and fun and a great way to end the first night of the festival. Another event that I am looking forward to sitting in on is the panel “At the Gay Bar,” which will dive into the history of LGBTQ+ bars and how they have evolved as spaces for the community with a lineup of amazing authors and bar owners.

But truly, I cannot wait for all 15 of these free events. There is something for everyone!

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