School of Communication Professor E. Patrick Johnson’s latest scholarly book, Black. Queer. Southern. Women.: An Oral History, has garnered in 2019 a trio of prestigious honors from leading LGBTQ literary advocacy organizations.
In March alone, Black. Queer. Southern. Women., which was published in October, was named a finalist for both a Lambda Literary Award and a Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction. In January it was recognized as a 2019 Stonewall Book Award—Israel Fishman Non-Fiction Award Honor Book. Each organization is renowned for its recognition of LGBTQ writers of scholarly works as well as fiction and nonfiction.
“We might say that 2018 was a watershed moment for women coming into voice in a profound way, whether through speaking out against gender violence with #metoo or a record number of women being elected to public office,” says Johnson, who is the Carlos Montezuma Professor of Performance Studies and African American Studies at the University. “Black queer southern women are also a part of that movement, yet their voices are not always the ones being elevated—due to racism, homophobia, and even a condescending attitude toward the South.”
“In this way,” Johnson adds, “Black. Queer. Southern. Women. fills an important void by providing a platform for these women’s voices to be included and, more importantly, heard.”
The book, which was nominated in Lambda Literary’s LGBTQ Studies category, delves into the lives of more than 70 black women aged 18 to 80, born and raised between East Texas and Maryland (and one woman in Puerto Rico), who love, desire, and are in relationships with other women. Through his interviews, Johnson facilitates an exploration of their intersectional identities—along racial, sexual, gender, and class lines—all with the common thread of their southern heritage.
“I am thrilled that the book is a finalist and hoping that it has the same kind of impact that Sweet Tea, did,” Johnson says, referencing his landmark 2008 book illuminating the experiences of black queer southern men.
“There’s nothing like it,” he adds of his recent work. “This is the first oral history that focuses specifically on black southern queer women, so that’s a big deal. And given some of the themes that emerge, I think it will make a powerful impact—that women are speaking out about their experiences of sexual abuse and sexual trauma.”
Indeed, Black. Queer. Southern. Women. stands out among the other Lambda Literary finalists for being the only oral history of lesbians in the category (though Johnson cautions against referring to his sources as lesbians, since they do not) while the other books are theoretical or academic.
“Usually books on lesbians are written by lesbians,” Johnson says. “I stand out in that regard as well.”
The Lambda Literary Foundation aims to elevate, protect, preserve, and advocate for LGBTQ writers and their work. This year’s finalists were selected by a panel of 60 literary professionals who read submissions from more than 300 publishers. The Lambda Literary Awards, or “Lammys” have honored the community for more than 30 years, and the 2019 ceremony to announce the award winners will be held in June.
The Judy Grahn Award is given by the Publishing Triangle, the association of lesbians and gay men in publishing. The award will be announced at a ceremony in April.
The Stonewall Book Award is given by the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table of the American Library Association, which is dedicated to serving the information needs of this library community.
E. Patrick Johnson was previously named a Lambda Literary finalist in 2017 for his anthology No Tea No Shade: New Writings in Black Queer Studies. Professor and Department of Performance Studies chair Ramón H. Rivera-Servera won a Lambda Literary Award in 2012 for his book Performing Queer Latinidad: Dance, Sexuality, Politics.
Black. Queer. Southern. Women. is published by University of North Carolina Press.