LGBT Book Fair
Today through Sunday
Starts Friday evening at 6:30 p.m.
D.C. Center for the LGBT Community
1318 U Street, N.W.
‘Women Write Gay Erotica’
Continues Saturday at the Reeves Center
2000 14th Street, N.W.
Ends Sunday with events starting at 10 a.m.
At the D.C. Center
Visit thedccenter.org for full schedule and details
It would be a mistake to assume that all the authors appearing at this year’s OutWrite LGBT Book Fair are small-time writers who’ve all self-published their work.
Novelist Manil Suri, who will be presenting his adventure novel “The City of Devi,” had his first book “The Death of Vishnu” become a bestseller in several countries that has been translated into 27 languages. Poet Joseph Ross — like Suri, a teacher/professor — had his books published by Main Street Rag Publishing based in Charlotte, N.C., and even though William Sterling Walker’s short story collection “Desire: Tales of New Orleans,” is his first book, it was published by Chelsea Station Editions (which will exhibit at this year’s fair) and his stories have appeared in several magazines and anthologies.
“We got a lot of submissions from folks who want to come read so it’s actually become quite competitive,” says David Mariner, director of the DC Center, which produces the fair, now in its third year. “We were lucky to have [lesbian writer] Julie Enszer on the planning committee this year and she was … very valuable in the process.”
Mariner says in previous years the readings typically attract 30 or 40 people at any given time with a “couple hundred” visiting the fair altogether. It kicks off tonight and runs through Sunday. Saturday the events will be in the atrium at the Reeves Building. Tonight and Sunday, readings will take place at the Center’s current location on U Street. Mariner says the events will not be affected by last week’s announcement about changes to the Reeves Building’s fate, where the Center had been planning to move permanently.
Mariner says “the majority” of this year’s authors have had their work published by traditional publishers but he says that’s less a significant distinction than it may have been several years ago as the industry is changing rapidly.
“It’s a little harder to say now who meets that criteria because the lines have really blurred,” Mariner says. “In fact, that’s one discussion we’re going to have at the fair.”
Ross has been writing poetry since college about 20 years ago. The D.C. resident says his poetry book “Gospel of Dust,” which came out in July, touches on everything from the notion of various riots being somewhat ritualistic in nature and the sometimes unexpected places religious elements are found in everyday life such as in the lives of people like Rosa Parks or Matthew Shepard and even in the work of local graffiti artists.
“Poetry has the power to move us both emotionally and intellectually,” Ross says. “No one says, ‘Would you read an essay at our wedding?’ It’s there in our important moments — births, deaths, marriages, people turn to poetry. It’s not above anything else, but it moves us in ways other genres can’t.”
Suri’s latest book, which came out in February from Bloomsbury, tells an adventure story of a woman searching Bombay/Mumbai (Suri’s native land where all his books are set) for her missing husband with — unbeknownst to her — a gay guy who had been her husband’s lover. Suri says the book, which he spent about 12 years working on off and on, offers a snapshot look at gay life in India.
“You see some of that in the characters,” he says. “Initially it was very oriented toward anonymous sex and been sort of 10 or 20 years behind the U.S. but now you see more liberal attitudes and people are thinking about settling down and having relationships and … you see how people treat Jaz and Karun as a couple even though they don’t know they’re together explicitly.”
Walker says the nine short stories in his book “Desire: Tales of New Orleans” all pertain to the title city in some way and have gay themes.
“I’m gay and I have always considered myself as having a gay audience,” he says. “I’ve always felt that way. I consider myself a gay writer with gay sensibilities.”
He says it’s important for gay writers to have spaces such as the OutWrite festival.
“There are very few venues left for gay books,” he says. “There are very few gay bookstores left and other independent bookstores are going away too. … I think it’s very important for writers and readers to connect and to do so on the face-to-face level and this is one way to do it.”
“The overarching message of all of our arts programming is that it’s very powerful and moving and affirming when we hear our own stories through our own voices in our own spaces,” he says. “It’s a powerful and important part of building our community.”