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The Power of Queer Books

Jessica Max Stein Aug 13, 2014

I first suspected I was queer when a friend gave me a copy of Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle, and I was both shocked and turned on by its content. Similarly, for writers Sassafras Lowrey and Hugh Ryan, curators of the “Queer Book Diorama Show” at Manhattan’s beautiful Jefferson Market Library, LGBT literature was essential to the process of establishing their queer identities.

The latest offering from the trangressively transient Pop-Up Museum of Queer History, “Queer Book Diorama Show” showcases 11 charming dioramas paying tribute to classic LGBT books such as Ann Bannon’s Beebo Brinker Chronicles and Andrew Holleran’s Dancer from the Dance, as well as quirkier selections such as Munro Leaf’s The Story of Ferdinand and Christina Crawford’s Mommy Dearest.

My beloved Rubyfruit Jungle merits not one but two dioramas: Kate Conroy’s thoughtful mashup of it and Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, and Victoria Baker’s fantastically detailed depiction of nearly the entire book using over 50 clothespin figurines, featuring among them protagonist Molly Bolt wielding a grapefruit.

The diorama format is a particularly apt one for queer literature, as the viewer peers through a hole in the deceptively simple cardboard casing for daniel lang/levitsky’s diorama on Samuel R. Delaney’s Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stone to glimpse its nuanced, glittering interior; or looks through the cutout glasses in Jenny Lin’s treatment of Jack Halberstam’s Female Masculinity, literally seeing the book through her eyes. 

The Jefferson Market Library is worth checking out on its own; once a courthouse, it stands next to the former site of a women’s prison that housed the likes of Angela Davis, and the castle-like edifice has been transformed into a library and garden. The show builds on the history of the building, and of course of Greenwich Village, to bring a queer flair to an already special location.

Participating artists are largely based in the New York area, but some have also come from Toronto, Montreal and South Africa. Writes Ryan, “In our own small way, this show is a gift to the community and an offering to all other queers who like us stood before a card catalogue or library shelf looking for belonging.” And it looks like the offering is being embraced: of the 120 or so attendees of the show’s August 1 opening, 17 signed up for library cards!

“Queer Book Diorama Show” runs through mid-September at the Jefferson Market Library,  425 6th Avenue.

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