This month’s column highlights OutWrite 2023, an annual LGBTQ+ literary festival, running August 11th through the 13th. OutWrite amplifies voices and stories in the LGBTQ+ community, with emphasis on BIPOC, Trans, and Nonbinary people.
OutWrite 2023 offers a full weekend of virtual workshops, panels, and readings. Panels and readings will be live for viewing on The DC Center’s YouTube page. Workshops are Zoom-based. Register in advance at: www.youtube.com/@thedccenter.
I spoke to 2023 festival chair Emily Holland about the many special touches that make OutWrite not to be missed.
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. The publishing world has historically skewed towards white, straight, cisgender writers and readers. We hope that by platforming queer writers, 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, for virtual book sales during the festival.
HR: How does OutWrite’s focus on LGBTQ+ storytelling and 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. OutWrite receives 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 inclusion of LGBTQ+ writers who author popular genres (such as true crime, spec fic, sci fi, etc.)? Why is it important
to feature genres that are sometimes considered
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 proven that there is a demand for queer stories in any and all genres.
Readers want to see themselves inside a story, a character or a narrative or a life that they identify with in some way. 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.
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.
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 work that is explicitly queer.
HR: Is there any event, activity, or reading in the festival that you personally are truly excited about?
EH: 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.
So many exciting voices are 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. 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. But truly, I cannot wait for all 15 of these free events. There is something for everyone!
Terrific Reads to Look Out for in August 2023
Release: August 15th, 2023. A whimsical and flirty queer time-travel romance, New Adult is the story of Nolan Baker, would be stand-up-comic, who receives a bag of crystals from “DOOP” that forebodingly promise, “It’s never too late to make a change.” Nolan sets an intention: to be a successful comedian who is “universally loved.” He wakes up years later, finding that he is about to film his own comedy special for Netflix and is in line for parts in major movies. But all of his closest relationships are in tatters. As Nolan rebuilds the trust of those he loves, he learns that success is empty without the love and earned respect of the man who makes his heart sing. Pre-order at East of the City Bookshop. Join author Timothy Janovsky and TJ Alexander for a book discussion on August 15th, 2023. More info: eastcitybookshop.com
When Washington Burned: The British Invasion of the Capitol and A Nation’s Rise from the Ashes
A fascinating and highly readable historical account of the British capture and burning of Washington, DC in 1814, When Washington Burned shares the missteps that led to the city’s siege. Among engrossing characterizations of President James Madison, First Lady Dolly Madison (Queen Dolly), Vice-Admiral Alexander Cochrane, and Rear-Admiral George Cockburn, readers will be particularly buoyed by Watson’s coverage of the young clerks who courageously risked their lives to save precious documents, including the U.S. Constitution. More about Robert Watson at: robertwatson.net
Remedies for Disappearing
I first encountered Alexa Patrick’s poetry at an open mic at the Busboys and Poets in Shirlington—in turns gritty, lyrical, and confessional, a reminder of the power of seeing and being seen. More about Alexa Patrick: alexapatrick.com.
Fozzie’s Great Adoption Day Adventure
Fozzie’s first day on Capitol Hill doesn’t go as planned. Fozzie slips his new owner, encounters neighborhood firefighters, a police officer on a bicycle, others on Segway scooters, and a wedding party. All help to bring Fozzie and his new family back together. Illustrations by Christine Vineyard.
Available at East City Books, Capitol Hill Books, Fairy Godmother, Groovy, Howl to the Chief, and Capitol Hill Animal Clinic.
Little District Books: Subscription Boxes
Queer owned and independent, Little District Books celebrates LGBTQ+ authors, readers, and stories. Check out Little District’s Subscription Boxes, which include 1 or 2 queer books and paired swag each month. For more info, visit: littledistrictbooks.com
Michelle LaFrance is Associate Professor of English at George Mason University. She teaches creative nonfiction, life writing, and civic writing at the Hill Center and can often be found in the company of a cranky chihuahua. She blogs about writing, announces her upcoming classes and events, and offers coaching services at writinglostriver.org.