Why Aren’t You Reading Queer?
To celebrate the fourth Same Same But Different festival – the only LGBTQI writers festival in New Zealand, held every year in February as part of Auckland Pride – we suggest some contemporary NZ reads: twenty-plus books either by queer writers, with queer content, or both.
1 Peter Wells: Boy Overboard (2014, Penguin Random House)
Wells, the founder of SSBD, is a visionary mover and shaker in NZ lit. A regional finalist for the 1998 Commonwealth Prize, Boy Overboard is the story of eleven-year-old Jamie, staying with family friends in a place called Hungry Creek and trying to work out who he is and where he fits in the world. A poignant novel about self-discovery, sexuality and coming of age.
2 Witi Ihimaera: Nights in the Gardens of Spain (1995, Penguin)
Which life should you follow? Ihimaera’s semi-autobiographical book is the story of David Munroe, a man who confronts his double life and the impact that his coming out has on wife, children, friends and career. Now in its fourth edition (and adapted for TV in 2010), Nights in the Gardens of Spain explores points of conflict between sexuality and social mores, and within contemporary gay culture.
3 Gina Cole : Black Ice Matter (2016, Huia)
Cole’s-award winning stories transport you to unlikely places, from Suva to Auckland, up Fox Glacier to inside a toxic sweatshop. Whether it’s exploring lesbian dating dynamics or coup politics, this story collection stuns. It won best first work of fiction at the Ockham NZ Book Awards 2016: the judges called Cole ‘a new, assured and vibrant voice’ and said the stories ‘burn you down, freeze you in your tracks, comfort or cool you’.
4 Georgina Beyer: A Change for the Better – the Story of Georgina Beyer (1999, 2002, 2010, Random House)
Sex worker, famed actor, entertainer, politician and the world’s first openly transgender mayor in 1995, Georgina Beyer became a household name as the first openly transgender Member of Parliament in 2000. A long-standing human rights advocate, Beyer’s legacy includes a long and powerful list of legislative reform, but it hasn’t been easy. A Change for the Better documents Beyer’s turbulent life and times.
5 Chris Tse: He’s so MASC (2018, AUP)
After reckoning with the dead in the award-winning How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes, Tse has turned to issues of identity and how to live today in his powerful second collection. Enter a world of self-loathing poets and compulsive liars, of youth and sexual identity, and of the author as character — pop star, actor, hitman, and much more. These are poems that delve into hyper-masculine romanticism and dancing alone in night clubs. Acerbic, acid-bright, yet unapologetically sentimental, this collection reflects on what it means to perform and dissect identity, as a poet and a person.
6 Peter Wells and Rex Pilgrim, editors: Best Mates: Gay Writing in Aotearoa New Zealand (1997, Reed)
This rich collection of a century of gay writing in New Zealand includes work by Stevan Eldred-Grigg, John MacDonald, James Allen, Sir Toss Woolaston, Witi Ihimaera, Samuel Butler and Frank Sargeson. The collection includes Bill Pearson’s story ‘Purge’, a small masterpiece, but no Charles Brasch, thanks to an over-sensitive estate. It’s a scandal that this book is out of print, but you can find it at most libraries.
7 John Huria, editor: Huia Short Stories 3 (2007, Huia)
This outstanding collection of thirty-five of the best short stories from the 1999 Huia Short Story Awards for Maori writers includes Anton Blank’s story ‘Queen’ about a young rural queer Maori man, super confident in himself, who leaves his nurturing whanau to experience the Auckland city gay scene, the drag queens, and a life that is ‘fabulous’.
8 Courtney Sina Meredith: Brown Girls in Bright Red Lipstick (2012, Beatnik)
CSM’s first book introduced a bold, charismatic new voice of Urbanesia. Her first-ever published poem, ‘Jam Sandwich on the Lawn’, was – she’s said – a way of getting her queer experience out there. Edgy, sensual and provocative, these poems went viral: read it and you’ll see why.
9 Hinemoana Baker: Waha | Mouth (2014, VUP)
Baker is a writer with an eye for the comedic and – as a singer/songwriter – and ear for the musical. But she’s also prepared in this, her third collection of poetry, to delve deep into dark times of grief and loss. Her work is spare but rich, managing to be both smart and playful with language.
10 Annaleese Jochems: Baby (2017, VUP)
Another best first book of fiction winner at the Ockham NZ Book Awards, Jochems’ debut is a novel about a flawed and spoiled young bisexual woman who steals from her family, lounges on a yacht called Baby and fantasises about an older female fitness instructor. Sparse, tense and jam-packed with dark humour and tension.
11 Hannah Mettner: Fully Clothed and So Forgetful (2017, VUP)
Mettner’s debut poetry collection hit the ground running, winning the Jessie Mackay Prize for best first book at the 2018 Ockham Awards. Relationships with women, both family and female friendships, are central to the collection, along with themes of coming out and sexuality, and nods to Gertrude Stein, Janet Paul, Adrienne Rich, and Katherine Mansfield.
12 Chris Brickell : Mates and Lovers: A History of Gay New Zealand (2008, Godwit)
From shearing sheds to pubs, movie theatres and public toilets, the landscape of this book spans the country, and 175 years of male-male love and sex in NZ. Includes interviews with recognised members of the queer community such as Samuel Butler, Norman Gibson, Frank Sargeson, Chris Carter, Witi Ihimaera, Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, Noel Virtue, Carmen, Fran Wilde, and Peter Wells, and other men with fascinating tales to tell – plus hundreds of photographs, court records, diaries, and newspaper archives.
13 Graeme Aitken: 50 Ways of Saying Fabulous – 20th Anniversary Edition (2015, Random House [Australia])
Billy-Boy prefers culture to cows, but when you’re the only son of a rugby-loving Kiwi farmer, you buckle down and do your chores – and escape into a fantasy world of cross-dressing and theatricals. This coming of age book set in rural New Zealand was adapted into a feature film and was an official selection for the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival. It also became a popular hit on the queer film festival circuit.
14 Hera Lindsay Bird: Hera Lindsay Bird (2016, VUP)
Bird’s eponymous poetry collection became such an instant global success that it required a re-print the morning after its launch. The collection includes dead poets, birds, sex, raunchy lines and poetry Bird wrote when she was in her first queer relationship and was ‘trying to figure the whole thing out’.
15 David Lyndon-Brown: Skin Hunger (2009, Titus Books)
The late and much-loved Lyndon-Brown was the author of a story collection, Calling the Fish, and novel, Market Men, set – like this poetry collection – in a seedy bohemian Auckland of vulnerable outsiders and transgressors.
16 Joanne Drayton: The Search for Anne Perry (2012, HarperCollins)
We’ve all seen the Peter Jackson film ‘Heavenly Creatures’ but what happened to Juliet Hulme, the teenager involved in what was perceived as an ‘unnatural’ friendship, who committed matricide in New Zealand? She grew up to become Anne Perry, international bestselling crime writer with 25 million books sold worldwide, published in 15 different languages. Acclaimed literary biographer Drayton draws parallels between Perry’s own experiences and her characters and explores the adult she became, her compulsion to write, and her view of the world in the context of her past.
17 Annamarie Jagose : Slow Water (2003, VUP)
Tragedy, vanity and moral hypocrisy abound in this based-on-a-true story novel about a famous gay scandal. In 1836 English evangelist William Yate fell in love with third mate Edwin Denison during a four-month ship voyage to New Zealand. Yate was eventually turned upon by fellow voyagers, betrayed to church and civic authorities, and came within inches of hanging. Told from both Pākehā and Māori perspectives, this 2004 Montana NZ Book Awards winner is meticulously researched and presented.
18 Mark Beehre: Men Alone – Men Together (2010, Steele Roberts)
Workmates, neighbours, gardeners, jewellers, priests and more: the immense diversity of the gay world is explored through documentary photography and oral histories. Beehre examines the lives of 45 gay men — couples, singles and one trio — and their takes on contemporary relationships.
19 Elizabeth Knox: The Vintner’s Luck (1999, VUP)
This celebrated novel follows Sobran Jodeau, a handsome young vineyard heir in 19th-century France, who meets a beautiful male angel named Xas. Their annual midsummer rendezvous — interwoven with Sobran’s marriage, village life with its affairs and mysteries, the horror of the Napoleonic wars, scientific progress, fatherhood, and wine-making success — turn inexorably sexual, as Xas and Sobran fall in love, even while Xas’ ‘fallen’ nature is revealed. Daringly exploring the spiritual worth of sensual pleasure, The Vinter’s Luck won a tall stack of awards in NZ and overseas.
20 Renée: These Two Hands – a memoir (2017, Makaro Press)
Dramatist and fiction writer Renée thought she would die at forty-two, but instead, at fifty, started to write plays and novels, all featuring queer protagonists. With wit, intelligence and honesty, in These Two Hands Renée writes her story, spanning the Great Depression until now, and told in patches, like a quilt, one for every year of the life she’s lived so far. Renée has received the Playmarket Award (2017) and Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement (2018) in recognition of her significant contributions to writing in New Zealand.
21 Marilyn Waring: 1 Way 2 C The World: Writings 1984-2006 (2009, University of Toronto Press)
Public intellectual, politician, leading feminist thinker, environmentalist and social justice activist Waring assembles some of her most provocative work in this stimulating collection of essays and reflections. With typically lucid clarity, Waring examines issues around gay marriage, human rights, globalization, the environment, and international relations and development.
22 . Tina Makereti: The Imaginery Lives of James Pōneke (2018, Penguin Random House)
Sixteen-year-old James (Hemi) Poneke is a ‘live exhibit’ in Victorian London, gazed upon and examined by day. But by night James turns his gaze on the great city and its inhabitants, wandering the streets and learning about its hidden places and disguises. This dark and beautiful novel – just longlisted for this year’s Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize at the Ockham NZ Book Awards – explores both past and present ideas of equality, LGBTQ, colonialism and the savagery and nobility of nineteenth-century London.
23 Sharon Mazer – with foreword by Witi Ihimaera: I Have Loved Me a Man (2018, AUP)
The true story of a queer brown boy in a big white world is no ordinary biography. From the Old Mill Disco in Timaru to San Francisco’s ACT UP protests, through Jazzercise and drag, AIDS and homosexual law reform, I Have Loved Me a Man explores a social revolution in NZ through the prism of Māori performance artist Mika.