The Wild Boys inspired David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, along with Alex from A Clockwork Orange—that’s how much of a counter-cultural influence Burroughs’ oeuvre has had upon queer and queerness of the twentieth century. A follow-up to Naked Lunch, Burroughs’ pinnacle compilation of vignettes, A Book of the Dead envisions a queer futurity whereby a group of guerrilla boy warriors live in hedonism in a post-war wasteland, after their families have fled in exile. Despite a sordid reputation, Burroughs carved out a place in post-war American literature as the grandfather of science fiction and as a bastion of Beat poetry, and his milieu is still relevant in queer culture and in academic curricula today.
Imogen Binnie, Nevada (2013)
Nevada won a LAMBDA award last year in the Transgender Fiction category. Imogen Binnie’s tale of a young transgender woman was praised for its nuanced depiction of trans, interwoven with a darkly comedic depiction of the bleakest parts of American landscape. Literally—protagonist Maria bikes over the Williamsburg Bridge in the rain every day to work, has bad sex in bar bathrooms, and finally abandons her New York life and drives across the country with nothing but a pop mixtape and a bag of heroin in the passenger seat. Mainers might resonate with the small-town mentality that characterizes Maria’s final destination in Nevada, where she meets a young transwoman with whom she fosters a mentoring relationship. And, Binnie used to work at Longfellow Books and play in the local queer-punk doom band Correspondences. Cool.
Brian K. Vaughn, Y: The Last Man (2003)
In this weird, early 2000s, commentary on gender, political power, and terrorism amidst a mass die-off of all humans due to a genetic test gone awry, two male survivors seek to remain autonomous in world run completely by women. The epidemic killed off every living thing with a Y chromosome, which has complex and sometimes hysterical (get it?) implications on identity politics—sex relations are redefined when self-identified lesbians interact with the conservative wives of now-deceased Republican leaders, the latter of whom are fighting off an army of femme terrorists who seek revenge for the worldwide consequences of previous US foreign affairs.
Jean Genet, The Thief’s Journals (1949)
In arguably his most famous work, Jean Genet recounts a fictional autobiography of a young man’s experiences with gay subcultures across Europe. Though sometimes excluded from the literary “gay canon” in college courses, Genet is a bastion of French literature and queer culture—staged productions of his six plays often involve violence, sex, and the avant-garde, and yet early feminist Helene Cixous credited him (and novelist-poet James Joyce) with having added to the oeuvre of “women’s writing.” As a Bohemian and a self-identified social outcast, Genet had perhaps the best vantage point from which to write about people and their desires, and his work stays relevant and fresh today.