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20 classic works of gay literature

August 4, 2010 |  2:09 pm

Jamesbaldwin_1979 Today U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker struck down Proposition 8, ruling that gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry. Proposition 8 was a 2008 ballot initiative that banned gay marriage in California.

Both sides had said that, should they lose, they intended to appeal the ruling. Walker's decision is expected to be appealed to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and then up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

On a day that will find many gay rights activists celebrating, we look to the books that have provided a richer understanding of the joys and challenges particular to gay life.

20 classic works of gay literature

"Giovanni’s Room" by James Baldwin -- a man discovers his sexual identity in Paris

"Nightwood" by Djuna Barnes -- early postmodern fiction of women in Paris in love

"Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic" by Alison Bechdel -- a graphic novel memoir of her troubled gay father and her own coming out

"Rubyfruit Jungle" by Rita Mae Brown -- the 1973 tale of a young woman’s coming of age

"Naked Lunch" by William S. Burroughs -- the focus of a breakthrough obscenity trial, a landmark experimental novel

"Oscar Wilde" by Richard Elmann -- bio of the lively writer whose gay relationship got him sent to prison for “gross indecency”

"Maurice" by E.M. Forster -- a love story written when homosexuality was illegal in England; published posthumously

"The Well of Loneliness" by Radclyffe Hall -- groundbreaking lesbian novel of the 1920s

"Invisible Life" by E. Lynn Harris -- an African American law student's sexual discovery

"Howl" by Allen Ginsberg -- the poem was subject to an obscenity trial in part because of its explicit gay themes

"Our Lady of the Flowers" by Jean Genet -- published in 1944, sexual adventures in Paris' criminal underground

"American Studies" by Mark Marlis -- an aging man looks back; won the LA Times book prize for first fiction

"Tales of the City" by Armistead Maupin -- in San Francisco, the stories about Michael Tolliver continued in five sequels

"Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir" by Paul Monette. A breathtaking yet matter-of-fact, day by day account of the death of his longtime partner from AIDS.

"Brokeback Mountain" by Annie Proulx -- a story of cowboys in love, from the collection "Close Range"

"City of Night" by John Rechy -- a novel of gay street hustlers in the 1950s 

"The Complete Poems" by Sappho -- a woman's love poetry from the seventh century BC

"The Queen Is Dead" by Hubert Selby Jr. -- a story of a transvestite's death, from the collection "Last Exit to Brooklyn"

"The Master" by Colm Toibin -- an imagining of the life of Henry James

"Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit" by Jeanette Winterson -- a young woman’s sexual awakening that won the Whitbread Prize for first fiction

-- Carolyn Kellogg, Nick Owchar and David L. Ulin

Photo: James Baldwin in 1979. Credit: Los Angeles Times