The first Winnipeg Pride Parade was in 1987. Back then, about 250 people marched, some covering their heads with bags in order to protect their identity. Now, Pride is more than just a parade – it has become a 10 day long festival.
There is a lot the LGBTTQ community can be proud of, including the strides society has made in terms of recognizing LGBTTQ rights. However, there is still work that needs to be done so we can continue to move towards tolerance, acceptance and love. Writers do this kind of work every day – they put art into the world that provides a different point of view, challenges assumptions, and gives a voice to untold stories.
I’ve long been a fan of prairie literature – most of my absolute favourite authors write about western Canada. However, I was embarrassingly unaware of the number of talented LGBTTQ fiction writers the prairies can claim. The four texts below are written by award-winning authors that are not only changing the literary landscape, but have a specific connection to Winnipeg. You can find all of these books at the Winnipeg Public Library.
Casey Plett’s first short story collection, A Safe Girl to Love, is honest, humorous and heartbreaking. Each piece is a snapshot of life from the perspective of a different transgender woman. These protagonists navigate new and existing relationships, all the while trying to find their place in the world. It’s difficult to provide a more eloquent description of this book than the one on the back cover: “These stories, shiny with whiskey and prairie sunsets, rattling subways and neglected cats, show growing up as a trans girl can be charming, funny, frustrating, or sad – but never predictable.” The collection won the 2015 Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Fiction and received an Honour of Distinction from the Dayne Ogilvie Prize for emerging LGBT writers in Canada. Plett currently resides in Winnipeg.
Chandra Mayor’s All the Pretty Girls is another excellent set of short stories and is the 2009 winner of the Lambda Award for Best Lesbian Fiction. The theme of same-sex relationship and desire is certainly present in the collection, but makes up only one aspect of Mayor’s writing – more obvious subject areas include children, poverty, abuse, and hope. As one reader put it, there doesn’t “seem to be enough lesbian books where being a lesbian is part of the story, not the story.” While her prose is simple, Mayor frequently strikes the reader with beautifully crafted lines of poetry, making it quite difficult to put this book down. Mayor is from Winnipeg!
Somewhere Else is a novel about a sixteen-year-old Mennonite girl, Jess, whose coming out is cut short by her mother’s refusal to listen. Realizing that her family will never accept her sexual orientation, Jess leaves for the big city (Winnipeg!) She meets a cast of characters along her journey, all of whom help her discover her identity outside of the Mennonite community. Originally hailing from our lovely provincial neighbour to the west, Jan Guenther Braun now calls Winnipeg home.
Raziel Reid currently lives in Vancouver but he spent his childhood growing up throughout Ontario and Manitoba, including Winnipeg. I’m certainly willing to claim this bright, young, award-winning author as one of our city’s own. Reid’s Young Adult novel, When Everything Feels Like the Movies, won the Governor General’s Award for English-language Children’s Literature and was included in the 2015 edition of Canada Reads. His novel is a coming-of-age story about a flamboyant teenager, Jude, who steals his mother’s high heels, secretly strutting his stuff in the basement. Whether in heels or not, Jude constantly pretends that he’s on the red carpet. But glamour doesn’t mean that life is easy – Jude has to face all the challenges of high school, including homophobia.
It looks like Winnipeg Pride’s tagline, ‘Pride of the Prairies,’ is not only applicable for the festival – Winnipeggers should also be proud of the remarkable LGBTTQ literary contributors coming out of our city. We’re looking forward to talking books with everyone at the Parade on Sunday, June 5 – keep an eye out for the WPL walking group!