Lambda Literary Award Is Created

The Lambda Literary Award was created to fill the gap left by mainstream publishers who did not recognize writing by, for, and about lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender persons. The award, also called the “Lammy,” stimulated the development and maturation of creative talent in all genres of GLBT writing.

Summary of Event

The first annual Lambda Literary Award banquet, sponsored by the periodical Lambda Book Report, Lambda Book Report (periodical) was timed to coincide with the convention of the American Booksellers Association. American Booksellers Association The ceremony, held on June 2, 1989, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., marked the beginning of the first formal recognition extended exclusively to writing by GLBT authors in a ceremony by the publishing Publishing;and GLBT books[GLBT books] industry. The awards have served as a stimulus to the growth of all components of this literary genre since that time. [kw]Lambda Literary Award Is Created (June 2, 1989)
[kw]Literary Award Is Created, Lambda (June 2, 1989)
[kw]Award Is Created, Lambda Literary (June 2, 1989)
Lambda Literary Award
Literature;and Lambda Literary Award[Lambda Literary Award]
[c]Literature;June 2, 1989: Lambda Literary Award Is Created[1950]
[c]Publications;June 2, 1989: Lambda Literary Award Is Created[1950]
[c]Organizations and institutions;June 2, 1989: Lambda Literary Award Is Created[1950]
Maccubbin, Deacon
White, Edmund
Gomez, Jewelle
Maupin, Armistead

Not surprisingly, the idea for the award, soon to be known as the “Lammy,” “Lammy” award[Lammy] originated in one of the oldest GLBT bookstores in the United States, Lambda Rising Lambda Rising bookstore
Bookstores;Lambda Rising in Washington, D.C., founded in 1974, and its bimonthly trade journal, the Lambda Book Report. In 1987, store owner Deacon Maccubbin and two of his staff members had discussed the absence of works by exclusively GLBT authors from the then-extant array of literature awards.

An announcement of the proposed new award and calls for nominations for the competition in twelve categories was sent through notices in the Lambda Book Report, which at the time had been widely distributed as an insert in local GLBT newspapers and through private subscriptions. Fifty-three recommended works issued by thirty-one publishers in the classes of GLBT nonfiction, fiction, small presses, poetry, first novels, mystery and science fiction, and AIDS-related works, by fifty-eight different authors published in 1988, were nominated. The work of some individuals, such as Betty Berzon, Allan Hollinghurst, Karen Thompson, Judy Grahn, and Michael Nava, was submitted under more than one category.

During the ceremony, author Edmund White delivered the first Bill Whitehead Lecture, named for the editor who assisted White and many other LGBT authors in placing their work with mainstream publishing houses. The lecture was awarded by the Publishing Triangle, founded in 1988 as a caucus of lesbians and gays working in the publishing industry. White called upon the writers’ community to continue “the recording of our remarkable differences.”

The event was emceed by writer Armistead Maupin, creator of the popular Tales of the City series. Especially memorable was the keynote address by poet Jewelle Gomez, who sharply criticized gay and lesbian writers for going to major houses seeking what she termed “mainstream heterosexual acceptance.” She admonished the audience to “stay tough when the going gets soft.”

Given their multiple nominations, the winning of six of the twelve awards by Michael Nava, Dorothy Alison, and Paul Monette was exciting if not totally surprising. Monette’s personal volume Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir took both the AIDS and gay men’s nonfiction categories. The poetry award went to the collection Gay and Lesbian Poetry in Our Time, while the editor’s award was presented by Jane Troxelll to Why Can’t Sharon Kowalski Come Home?

The publisher’s service award went to Sasha Alyson of Alyson Publications, both for his decade-long support of LGBT literature and for his coordination of the project that produced the free book You Can Do Something About AIDS. Less-familiar award recipients included Antoinette Azolakov for her lesbian mystery novel Skiptrace, Sarah Lucia Hoagland for the nonfiction work Lesbian Ethics, and Madelyn Arnold for Bird-Eyes, the winner as a lesbian first novel.


The creation of the Lambda Literary Award, although not the first award for GLBT writing, was the first to address specifically a rapidly diversifying genre of GLBT writing in all its forms. It provided a forum for publicizing new works and emerging creative talents. In 1989, the categories of humor, children’s and young adult books, and anthologies were added. What distinguishes the Lambda Award from the award of the American Library Association’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Round Table, inaugurated in 1970, is the Lambda’s broad framework in determining recipients. The award categories are far more specific than those of the American Library Association.

On May 1, 1996, the Lambda Literary Foundation was incorporated in Washington, D.C., as a national organization dedicated to promoting the cause of GLBT literature and recognizing new writers. The foundation had managed the Lambda Book Award and ceremony, published the Lambda Book Report and the James White Review, and presented the Lambda Literary Festival, an annual writer’s conference, until it ended operations in 2005. The foundation has been embroiled in a controversy after it selected for an award a book on male to female (MTF) transsexuality that had been denounced by transgender and transsexual activists and others for its problematic portrayals of MTF individuals and for its “junk science.” Lambda Literary Award
Literature;and Lambda Literary Award[Lambda Literary Award]

Further Reading

  • Sullivan, Mark. “Alison, Monette, Nava Take Home Double ’Lammys.’” Washington Blade, June 9, 1989, 23, 29.
  • _______. “Presenting the ’Lammys.’” Washington Blade, May 26, 1989, 23, 25.
  • Weeks, Linton. “Bookseller’s Success Speaks Volumes: Lambda Rising Owner Helped Bring Gay Literature Out of the Closet.” The Washington Post, April, 2003, p. C1.

July 4, 1855: Whitman Publishes Leaves of Grass

May 25, 1895: Oscar Wilde Is Convicted of Gross Indecency

1924: Gide Publishes the Signed Edition of Corydon

1939: Isherwood Publishes Goodbye to Berlin

1947-1948: Golden Age of American Gay Literature

1956: Baldwin Publishes Giovanni’s Room

1963: Rechy Publishes City of Night

June, 1971: The Gay Book Award Debuts

1974: The Front Runner Makes The New York Times Best-Seller List

1975: First Novel About Coming Out to Parents Is Published

1980: Alyson Begins Publishing Gay and Lesbian Books

1980-1981: Gay Writers Form the Violet Quill

May, 1987: Lambda Rising Book Report Begins Publication

1993: Monette Wins the National Book Award for Becoming a Man