We generally think of important historical changes as something that happen long before we are born and chronicled on dusty shelves in forgotten libraries, not something we actually experience within the confines of a single lifetime, let alone within a few decades. The last half of the 20th century has seen history in the making in many areas—social, political, and global. The network age is just one example of transformative change that has evolved and progressed so quickly that within a single decade our every day lives have been re-wired. The changes in lesbian fiction have not been quite as rapid as those of the digital revolution, but given the natural history of the written word, the pace has been astronomical. There are plenty of us currently living who have experienced the evolution and revolution in lesbian fiction firsthand.
While Marguerite Radclyffe-Hall's The Well of Loneliness, considered the first work of fiction featuring a lesbian protagonist (1928), was published nearly a century ago, it wasn't until the mid-20th century that works featuring lesbian characters began to appear with any regularity. First came the "lesbian pulps" of the 1950s and 1960s, which for many of us were the first works in which we were able to recognize characters with the same physical and emotional desires as our own. For all the criticism that can be directed at these works in hindsight (particularly the dictate that the books could not have a "happy ending" and often depicted the lesbian hero as being suicidal, alcoholic, or emotionally unfulfilled), these books provided the first image of lesbians in popular fiction. Fortunately, less than 20 years after the first lesbian pulps began to appear, works published by lesbian and feminist presses began to present lesbian readers with more positive and encouraging images of lesbian relationships. The 1970s and 1980s were a time of "lesbian plenty" with dozens of lesbian/feminist presses appearing worldwide. For the first time, we were able to find ourselves within the pages of romances, mysteries, and sci-fi/fantasy fiction. In the 1980s works from collectives like Samois (Coming to Power) and authors such as Pat Califia (Sapphistry: The book of lesbian sexuality) began to explore gender, BDSM, and other issues of lesbian identity, broadening the scope of lesbian literature and opening the doors to sexual exploration.
For the most part, our literature has always been published and promoted by independent queer and feminist presses, although a few authors such as Dorothy Allison have crossed the divide to the mainstream with books featuring lesbian characters. Nevertheless, for the vast majority of lesbian authors and readers, the independent publishers have been the mainstay supporting queer authors and their works. In the late 1990s along with the explosion of the Internet, online fiction, propelled by fan fiction, reached an entirely new reader (and writer) demographic. A plethora of small independent lesbian presses began to publish works by a new generation of authors. In the last 10 years, lesbian fiction has grown in both breadth and depth, and literally hundreds of new authors writing works in every genre are published and distributed internationally. Bold Strokes Books now releases a hundred new titles annually in print, multiple digital versions, and audio by close to a hundred and fifty authors of LGBTQ literature. Topics range from traditional romance to dramatic fiction, and every area in between. Our works continue to affirm our sexuality, our relationships, and our relevance in the world. Those of us writing and publishing today have the pioneers still among us and those forever alive in our memories to thank for our success.
For information about Bold Strokes Books, please visit our website at www.boldstrokesbooks.com.