Alison Bechdel, the creator of the “Dykes to Watch Out For” comic series and author of the graphic memoir “Fun Home,” received the Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement at the Publishing Triangle’s 24th annual awards ceremony held April 19 at the New School’s Tishman Auditorium.
The group, the association of lesbians and gay men in publishing, drew a crowd of about 300 for the awards, bestowed in tandem with the Ferro-Grumley Literary Awards, one of the pioneering programs to honor achievement in LGBT publishing.
The Bill Whitehead Award alternates annually between male and female recipients. Insisting her award was “a trifle premature,” Bechdel promised she has more work in her. Nancy Bereano, former publisher of Firebrand Books, which brought out the first ten “Dykes to Watch Out For” volumes, beginning in 1986, presented Bechdel with her award, which includes a $3,000 cash prize.
There are, Bereano said, “very few graphics people who write as well as Alison does,” explaining she has the unique ability to “to turn her constantly chaotic life into an adventure we can enjoy on the page.” She called Bechdel a “patron saint of poetry” because of her profitability for Firebrand, which leveraged her success to publish money-losing genres.
The Publishing Triangle gave a special Leadership Award to Frances Goldin, founder of a Greenwich Village-based literary agency whose LGBT authors have included Dorothy Allison, Martin Duberman, Alix Dobkin, Adrienne Rich, and Staceyann Chin. Veteran editor Michael Denneny presented the award to Goldin, who gave a lively speech and carried a banner onto the podium proclaiming, “I adore my lesbian daughters.” Lesbian and gay pride parade attendees, she said, often approach her to speak to their parents about showing similar enthusiastic support for them.
“I take their numbers down and call them,” she said.
Goldin lamented what she described as the “disgusting lack of people of color in our industry” — a situation she termed “really shameful” — and called upon audience members to “get your ass off that chair” and join Occupy Wall Street to “occupy whatever it is that you want to occupy the most, but be part of that movement.”
She ended with a shout to “free Mumia,” a reference to Mumia Abu-Jamal, an African-American journalist and activist serving a life sentence after being convicted — unjustly in the view of many — of murdering a Philadelphia police officer in 1981.
The Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction, named for the prolific author whose most recent book is “Jack Holmes and His Friend,” published by Bloomsbury, was given to Lara Fergus for her book “My Sister Chaos,” published by Spinifex Press. The Randy Shilts Award for Gay Nonfiction — named for the late author of “And the Band Played On,” about the early days of the AIDS epidemic, and “The Mayor of Castro Street,” a biography of Harvey Milk — was given to Mark D. Jordan for his book “Recruiting Young Love: How Christians Talk about Homosexuality,” published by the University of Chicago Press.
The Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry was given to Minnie Bruce Pratt for “Inside the Money Machine,” published by Carolina Wren Press. The award is named for the revered poet and essayist who died in 1992 and was herself a Bill Whitehead Lifetime Achievement Award-winner.
The Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBT fiction was originally a separate award program, begun in 1988, a year before the Publishing Triangle Awards. It honors authors Robert Ferro and Michael Grumley, two prominent early out gay writers and life partners who died that year of AIDS. This year’s award was presented by Stephen Greco, head of the Ferro-Grumley Literary Awards, and Sarah Van Arsdale, a longtime board member, to Paul Russell for his Cleis Press book “The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov,” an historical novel about the gay brother of famed “Lolita” author Vladimir Nabokov.
Russell is the only writer to have received a Ferro-Grumley Award twice, previously honored in 2000 for his novel “The Coming Storm.” Russell said.
“I really have to say I didn’t think I would win because I won before,” he said. “There are lots of talented writers out there. They should spread the riches around a little more. It could make a lot of difference for another struggling author who needs to be recognized.”
He added, “Having said that, I am absolutely happy to receive it again.”
Dean Van de Motter, editor and publisher of the LGBT book blog queerreader.com, attended the awards ceremony looking to meet authors of books he has reviewed. He said he was amazed by the variety of this year’s Publishing Triangle Awards submissions and nominees.
“This was really a strong field for queer fiction in terms of the quality of those showing,” he said. “The judges had a lot of material that would be hard to choose an individual winner from.”
For a complete description of all Publishing Triangle Awards recipients, visit publishingtriangle.org. The next major LGBT books event is the Lambda Literary Awards ceremony on June 4 (lambdaliterary.org), held during the Book Expo America convention, the largest publishing event in the nation.