Writers Honored During Virtual Lambda Literary Awards Ceremony

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Rakesh Satyal was the master of ceremonies during the virtual event.

Last year’s Lambda Literary Awards were given out, but the ceremony was canceled. In June, 2020, we were months from the vaccine, and here in New York City, things were still sad and dangerous.

A year later, the Lambda Literary Awards ceremony was held on June 1, with dozens of awards given on a screen near you.

While the in-person ceremony features a red carpet and open bar, the virtual ceremony drew a glamorous crowd from around the globe.

In addition to most of the United States, people checked in from Canada, Belize, the United Kingdom, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Belgium, Australia, and more.

City Lights Books in San Francisco, publishers of Pamela Sneed’s “Funeral Diva,” which was nominated for (and won!) Best Lesbian Poetry, said hello to its fans and customers, along with lesbian literary icon Jewelle Gomez (“The Gilda Stories”) and Dr. François S. Clemmons, the singer, musician, teacher, and beloved character on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” whose book, “Officer Clemmons: A Memoir,” was nominated for Best Gay Biography/Memoir.

As the crowd settled in, people “shouted” each other’s names across the virtual room. In addition to its annual awards, Lambda gives special awards to writers in various stages of their careers to support their work.

Special Awards

Rakesh Satyal, who is vice president of the Lambda Literary Foundation and an executive editor at Harper One/Harper Collins, was the master of ceremonies and welcomed the crowd. He introduced a new Special Award: the Randall Kenan Prize for Black LGBTQ Fiction, given to a writer whose fiction explores themes of Black LGBTQ life, culture, and/or history.

Ana-Maurine Lara, (“Streetwalking: LGBTQ Lives and Protest in the Dominican Republic”) the Dominican-American lesbian poet, novelist and Black feminist scholar, was the inaugural recipient of the award, which includes a $3,000 grant. The award is presented in memory of Kenan, the prize-winning author and teacher who died last August.

“I’d like to thank our Black literary elders and peers for accompanying and sustaining me on this journey,” Lara said.

The Lammys started asking winners to pre-record their acceptance speeches when many nominees, spread across the country, couldn’t come to the ceremony in person. The practice served the organization well, as every winner but one was able to give an acceptance speech.

This year’s other Special Award winners were Sarah Gerard (“Binary Star and “True Love”) and Brontez Purnell, author of “100 Boyfriends,” recently featured in the “Pride” documentary series. Gerard and Purnell won the Jim Duggins PhD Outstanding Mid-Career Novelist Prize.

“I hope I can be one-millionth the badass Jeanne Córdova was,” Nancy Agabian said in her acceptance speech for the Jeanne Córdova Prize for Lesbian/Queer Nonfiction.

William Johnson presented T Kira Madden and Taylor Johnson with the Judith A. Markowitz Award for Emerging LGBTQ Writers.

More than 20 different awards were given to the year’s best LGBTQ books at this year’s ceremony, in genres including Fiction, Poetry, Non-Fiction, Biography/Memoir and Drama.

The presenters spoke from around the country and the world. Legendary gay novelist Alan Hollinghurst said: “I’m delighted to be presenting the fiction awards. Less delighted I’m doing it from my home in London, rather than the most glamorous party in New York. Hollinghurst added that this year is “one of the richest years I can remember for gay and lesbian fiction.”

The presenters and winners were eloquent, talking about the need for LGBTQ work by people of all genders, ethnicity, and ability, as a light and a guide for the next generations. ASL interpreters were pictured throughout the ceremony.

“As a queer woman of color, Lambda has meant so much to me over the years,“ said Zaina Arafat, winner of the award for Bisexual Fiction with “You Exist Too Much.”

“For all the sissies, all the queers, all the pinoy boys, I see you,” Mike Curato said when he received the Lammy for LGBTQ Young Adult book, “Flamer.” “For anyone who has dwelled in darkness, there is light in you even if you can’t see it.”

“My younger self and I are very proud of this moment today,” Yilong Liu told the audience when he accepted the LGBTQ Drama prize for “The Book of Mountains and Seas.”

“Gracias! I’m really speechless,” said Juli Delgando Lopera, who won Lammy for Lesbian Fiction for her novel “Fiebre Tropical.” “It’s a little hot here in Miami! I have to thank the people who came before me, the people who have been experimenting with language. It means a lot that this book receives such a distinguished award, when other people were told they are not writing in proper English.”

Iconic lesbian novelist Katherine V. Forrest’s remarks were warmly received when she addressed the recipients, nominees, and spectators as she presented the Lammys for Lesbian and Gay Memoir/Biography.

“We’ve all been through a year only a writer could imagine,” she said. “The memoirist Janet Mock said telling our stories first to ourselves and then to one another in the world is a revolutionary act.”

After all the awards were handed out, the ceremony concluded with a musical performance by Meshell Ndegeocello with Chris Bruce of the song “Good Day Bad.”

While there was no official afterparty, the world of artists who show the way for LGBTQ people, and the people who love them, was a bit closer and friendlier on a warm Tuesday evening in June.

Watch a recording of this year’s Lambda Literary Awards (including audience chatter) below.

A complete list of the winners, with links to purchase their work is available at Lambdaliterary.org.

The In Memoriam segment from this year’s ceremony can be viewed below:

Complete list of winners of the 2021 Lambda Literary Awards


Lesbian Fiction

Fiebre Tropical, Juli Delgado Lopera, Feminist Press

Gay Fiction

Neotenica, Joon Oluchi Lee, Nightboat Books

Bisexual Fiction

You Exist Too Much, Zaina Arafat, Catapult

Transgender Fiction 

The Thirty Names of Night, Zeyn Joukhadar, Atria Books


Bisexual Nonfiction

Wow, No Thank You: Essays, Samantha Irby, Vintage

Transgender Nonfiction

The Black Trans Prayer Book, J Mase III & Dane Figueroa Edidi, The Black Trans Prayer Book

LGBTQ Nonfiction

The Lonely Letters, Ashon T. Crawley, Duke University Press


Lesbian Poetry

Funeral Diva, Pamela Sneed, City Lights Books

Gay Poetry 

Guillotine, Eduardo C. Corral, Graywolf Press

Bisexual Poetry

Salt Body Shimmer, Aricka Foreman, YesYes Books

Transgender Poetry

I Love You and I’m Not Dead, Sade LaNay, Argos Books


Lesbian Memoir/Biography

My Autobiography of Carson McCullers, Jenn Shapland, Tin House Books

Gay Memoir/Biography

A Dutiful Boy: A Memoir of a Gay Muslim’s Journey to Acceptance, Mohsin Zaidi, Square Peg


Lesbian Romance

Written in the Stars, Alexandria Bellefleur, Avon Books

Gay Romance

The Ghost and Charlie Muir, Felice Stevens, Self-published


Love after the End: An Anthology of Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer Speculative Fiction, Joshua Whitehead, Arsenal Pulp Press


King and the Dragonflies, Kacen Callender, Scholastic


Flamer, Mike Curato, Henry Holt Books for Young Readers


Apsara Engine, Bishakh Som, Feminist Press


The Book of Mountains and Seas, Yilong Liu, New Conservatory Theatre Center


The Nerves, Lee Suksi, Metatron Press


I Hope You’re Listening, Tom Ryan, Albert Whitman & Company


Everyone on the Moon Is Essential Personnel, Julian K. Jarboe, Lethe Press


Becoming Human: Matter and Meaning in an Antiblack World, Zakiyyah Iman Jackson, NYU Press