Queer edited by Frank Wynne

Queer is an anthology of, as its subtitle states, ‘LGBTQ writing from Ancient Times to Yesterday’, with a range of poetry and prose starting with Homer and Sappho and ending with current writers. Frank Wynne has collected together works from authors with various experiences and identities, originally written in different languages, and these are complete or in extract, with short biographical notes about the author before each one. In the introduction Wynne gives the criteria for inclusion: the authors had to be LGBTQ and the texts had to be addressing gender and/or sexuality in some way.

The anthology is an impressive endeavour, particularly in the range of (mostly post-20th century) translated texts alongside those written in English. As Wynne discusses in the introduction, there’s no way of being definitive, but the range given by the translations was refreshing. The book starts with a lot of familiar touchstones (Homer on Achilles, Sappho, David and Jonathan, Shakespeare’s sonnets, Anne Lister’s diaries), which are useful for people exploring LGBTQ literature from a more introductory viewpoint but not so exciting otherwise, so it was good that it quickly moved into a more diverse range of writers. It was a chance to read some writers I’d heard of but not read, and discover others for the first time.

My main issue with the anthology is the context given for the authors and their works. I found the biographical notes gave some useful details, but there was no context given for the piece(s) in the book. The contents notes when the given text is ‘from’ a larger work, but the section for the author does even use the word ‘from’, never mind giving context about what is happening in the wider work or how the poems or short story might fit into the author’s writing more generally. For example, I went into reading the Radclyffe Hall story assuming it was an excerpt from The Well of Loneliness (which I’ve read) as that was the only text mentioned in the biographical note, but then realised it wasn’t. Maybe some people prefer texts out of context, but personally, I needed to know if I was reading a short story or an except from when I started reading, to know if I needed to ‘catch up’ or not.

One thing I would’ve liked (other than more context) would’ve been some excerpts from plays; Wynne states in the introduction that these aren’t included because they’re meant to be spoken (as song lyrics aren’t because they should be sung), but I think that reading plays can be very important, especially for getting to experience the works of LGBTQ writers regardless of your circumstances for getting to the theatre. However, the anthology already has a lot in it, so I suppose space was an issue as well.

This collection is a really useful way to experience a lot of LGBTQ writing at once, and it’s nice to have a range of more recent writers in there. It’s particularly useful for discovering new writers and I can see how it would be good to flick through, see what you felt like reading, and then go away to discover more of that writer’s work. As someone who doesn’t often feel like reading short stories I enjoyed the chance to read some by authors I’ve read novels by, and to discover some new poets as well, though the earlier (mostly pre-20th century) part is perhaps more useful to people who’ve not already tried to read as much of the classic literature that isn’t so straight and cis already.