Finding Pride at the Rainbow Book Fair

The arrival of June heralds yet another Pride Month, where we celebrate the brilliance and resilience of LGBTQ+ people around the world. This year marks the 55th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising and the liberation movement that followed. This pivotal event in Greenwich Village inspired a flourishing of queer literature that continues unabated five and a half decades later. As the LGBTQ+ Studies librarian, I am tasked with collecting this literature and expanding our sizable holdings at Emory.

Shown: a selection of LGBTQ+ books at the Rainbow Book Fair this spring.

Shown are selections of LGBTQ+ books at the Rainbow Book Fair this spring.

Keeping with this mandate, I seized the opportunity this past April to travel to Greenwich Village myself and attend the Rainbow Book Fair, the largest LGBTQ+ book fair in the United States. Organized within the three-story complex of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center, vendors of various sizes lined the exhibit spaces on each floor. When I stepped foot in The Center, the first thing I did was connect with the academic presses. Although we have longtime standing orders with many of these presses already, it was exciting to hear what books were coming down the pike from NYU Press or University of Kentucky Press, for instance.

Yet, my main objective was to form relationships and purchase books from independent presses, whose holdings were not yet in our collections. I was soon nabbing titles like “Vulgarian Rhapsody” from Three Rooms Press and “Fit for Consumption” from Lethe Press. I ventured upstairs and met incredible comic book artists and graphic novelists like Morgan Boecher, Jennifer Camper, Jeff Krell, and Carlo Quispe. Their vivid illustrations and heartfelt stories were some of my favorite finds from this trip.

Shown: a selection of LGBTQ+ books at the Rainbow Book Fair this spring.About two hours into my excursion, I was thumbing through a book on a member of the Cockettes when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to find none other than Perry Brass, poet, storyteller, and co-founder of the Rainbow Book Fair. He kindly invited me to a panel featuring him and other contributors of “The Male Muse: A Gay Anthology,” the first anthology of gay male poetry ever published. After I made my way to the classroom where the panel was taking place, I sat in awe, listening to writers like Felice Picano and Ian Young recount the early days of gay liberation and explain why the work of collecting the poems of gay poets was so necessary. Here, I was reminded of the reason for Pride Month — to advance the legacy of the courageous generations that came before.

Shown: a selection of LGBTQ+ books at the Rainbow Book Fair this spring.As the day ended, I somehow accumulated 36 books that I now needed to carry. Walking up ten blocks in Midtown Manhattan, I found the nearest shipping center and mailed these materials to Woodruff Library. Unpacking the boxes once they arrived and arranging the books in my cubicle was a delightful coda to my trip. I proudly showed them off to any interested colleague that stopped by. Alas, they couldn’t stay with me forever, as they needed to be processed and catalogued by our Order Services and Resource Services teams.

Once these titles begin to circulate in our collections, I hope they inspire the same passion that animated the many authors and publishers at the Rainbow Book Fair. Pride, as it turns out, is a tradition that is meant to evoke powerful feelings of freedom and belonging, with literature being just one conduit.

—by Russ Peterson, head of instruction and engagement and LGBTQ+ Studies librarian, Robert W. Woodruff Library