The Gay Book Award Debuts Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The American Library Association’s Gay Book Award, the first of a number of GLBT literary awards to emerge beginning in the 1970’s, has evolved to reflect the ever-changing makeup of the GLBT community. The awards program is now called the Stonewall Book Awards and includes several categories.

Summary of Event

At the 1971 annual conference of the American Library Association American Library Association’s Stonewall Book Awards (ALA), the Task Force on Gay Liberation Task Force on Gay Liberation, American Library Association Gay Liberation, Task Force on, American Library Association presented its first Gay Book Award to Alma Routsong for her self-published novel, A Place for Us Place for Us, A (Routsong) (1969). The book was later picked up by a mainstream publisher (and reissued as Patience and Sarah, Patience and Sarah (Routsong) first in 1972). The award’s initial goal was to honor books that ALA task force members considered landmark publications in gay and lesbian literature. Early winning titles include Lesbian/Woman Lesbian/Woman (Martin and Lyon)[Lesbian Woman] (1972) by Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, Sex Variant Women in Literature Sex Variant Women in Literature (Foster) (1974) by Jeannette Foster, and Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (Boswell) (1981) by John Boswell. [kw]Gay Book Award Debuts, The (June, 1971) [kw]Book Award Debuts, The Gay (June, 1971) [kw]Award Debuts, The Gay Book (June, 1971) Gay Book Award Book Awards, Stonewall Literature;lesbian and gay Stonewall Book Awards [c]Literature;June, 1971: The Gay Book Award Debuts[0850] [c]Organizations and institutions;June, 1971: The Gay Book Award Debuts[0850] Gittings, Barbara Routsong, Alma Fishman, Israel

Lesbian activist Barbara Gittings, left, and novelist Alma Routsong offering

The grassroots, activist philosophy of the award’s task force members in the first decade was reflected in the manner in which award recipients were judged and by the prizes that were given to the authors. Winners were chosen by consensus, and the whimsical prizes—often homemade items created by task force members—were emblematic of the authors and their works. Bestowing the award was an informal process. Some years no awards were given; in other years there were two or three winning titles in a given year.

In its second decade, the awards process became more formalized. In 1981, the task force created guidelines and established a separate committee to solicit nominations and choose winners. Although the Gay Book Award had been presented at ALA conferences since 1971, it did not become an “official” ALA award until fifteen years later. In 1982, task force coordinator Barbara Gittings tenaciously began petitioning ALA to bestow official status on the book award, and, in 1986, in her last official act as coordinator, she could finally announce her success. With its official status came more typical rewards for winning authors, including cash stipends and commemorative plaques.

Over the years, the name of the award has been changed several times, as its focus expanded and its parent body began to recognize the diverse backgrounds and identities of its patrons. In 1987, the Gay Book Award changed its name to the Gay and Lesbian Book Award; in 1994, it became the Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Book Award; and in 1999, it was named the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Book Award. Also in 1999, the status of the award task force was changed to an awards’ round table; it is now called the ALA Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Round Table. Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Round Table, American Library Association Finally, in 2002, the name of the award changed to the Stonewall Book Award.

As the decades progressed, so did the number of GLBT-themed titles under consideration by the various book award committees. While the beginning of the 1970’s saw only a handful of affirmative titles, by the 1980’s, there were more than five hundred published works. More recent committees have had to choose among almost three times that amount.

In 1990, concurrent with this exponential growth in GLBT publishing, the book award expanded to recognize books in two “new” categories: nonfiction and literature. When the award name changed to the Stonewall Book Awards in 2002, the names of the categories changed as well. The nonfiction award became the Israel Fishman Award for Non-Fiction (named after the founder of the ALA Task Force on Gay Liberation) and the literature award was renamed the Barbara Gittings Literature Award for Fiction (after the longtime coordinator of the task force).

To qualify for the Stonewall Book Awards, books must be English-language works published the year prior to the announcement date. (For example, the 2004 winners must have been published in 2003.) Anyone may nominate titles for the award (as long as the nominators are not affiliated with the author or publisher of the title they are nominating). A geographically diverse committee of library personnel from various types of libraries reviews the nominations and selects the five finalists for each category. The committee then chooses the winners from among the five finalists with the runners-up being termed “honor books.” The award winners and the honor books are announced during the ALA’s midwinter conference, which is held every January. The awards are presented to the winners during the ALA’s annual conference, which is held every June.

Eighteen years after the first Gay Book Award was presented at ALA, other GLBT literary awards have emerged. In 1989, the Lambda Literary Foundation established the Lambda Literary Award, or “Lammy,” "Lammy" award[Lammy] as they have been affectionately dubbed. That same year the Publishing Triangle—the Association of Lesbians and Gay Men in Publishing—began its own awards program for lesbian and gay writers called the Triangle Awards.


The American Library Association’s Stonewall Book Awards reflect the sensibilities, aspirations, and controversies associated with GLBT experiences and cultures throughout the post-Stonewall era. As sanctioned ALA awards, Stonewall Book Awards will ensure that library shelves around the United States will include GLBT-themed titles. Gay Book Award Book Awards, Stonewall Literature;lesbian and gay

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gittings, Barbara. “Gays in Library Land: The Gay and Lesbian Task Force of the American Library Association: The First Sixteen Years.” In Daring to Find Our Names: The Search for Lesbigay History, edited by James V. Carmichael, Jr. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2004.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Moore, Lisa. “A History of Publishing Pride.” Lambda Book Report 11, nos. 9-11 (April, 2003): 38.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Preston, John. “Gay Lit Goes Mainstream: The Big Business of Publishing Gay Books.” The Advocate, November 26, 1985, 51-54, 60.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Streitmatter, Rodger. Unspeakable: The Rise of the Gay and Lesbian Press in America. Winchester, Mass.: Faber and Faber, 1995.

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

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

1975: First Novel About Coming Out to Parents Is Published

1980-1981: Gay Writers Form the Violet Quill

May, 1987: Lambda Rising Book Report Begins Publication

June 2, 1989: Lambda Literary Award Is Created

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

Categories: History