LGBTQ+ Literature: Chronological Survey – 5,000 Years of Gay Male Literature

Welcome! Although this page was originally the homepage for a discussion group focused on the indispensable Columbia Anthology of Gay Literature, it also serves as an outline of exceptional gay male writing, from the Epic of Gilgamesh (2,000 BCE) to the 1990s. In the future I hope to create an inclusive Outline of LGBTQ+ Literature.

Between March 1999 and February 2000, our Chronological Survey Group met each month in Manhattan to explore this extraordinary 4,000-year tradition through discussions of the The Columbia Anthology of Gay Literature, ed. by Byrne R.S. Fone. This superb collection — divided into nine sections (summarized below) — features fiction, drama, poetry, essays, diaries, and other documents, plus commentaries and bibliography. Below are reviews plus additional resources.

Columbia Anthology’s Nine Sections

I. INVENTING EROS: Literature of the Ancient World from the Earliest Texts to the Beginning of Premodern Times

  • Epic of Gilgamesh and the Old Testament
  • Greek Literature (Homer, Thucydides, Lucian, Plutarch on “Sacred Band of Thebes,” Plato, Pindar, Euripides, Theocritus, the Greek Anthology)
  • Roman Literature (Catullus, Virgil, Ovid, Petronius, Martial, Juvenal)

II. INVENTING SODOM: The European Middle Ages from the Third to the 13th Century

  • Scripture and Law from the Sodom Story to 1290
  • Romantic Friendship between Men, Fourth to 14th Centuries (Maurus, Strabo, the Ganymede Tradition, the Lancelot & Galehaut Story, the Amis & Amile Story)
Shakespeare

III. PLATONIC DIALOGUES: European and English Literature from the 14th to the 17th Century

  • Italian Renaissance (Ficino, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Tasso)
  • English Homoerotic Literature 1500–1685 (Spenser, Drayton, Marlowe, Barnfield, Shakespeare)

IV. REINVENTING SODOM: Homophobia and Resistance 1625–1869

  • English Homophobia (Smollett, Cleland, legal documents)
  • English Literature (Bentham, Byron)
  • French Literature (de Sade, “Les Enfans de Sodome…1798”)
  • German Literature 1820–1869 (Zschokke, Hoessli, Ulrichs, Kertbeny)

V. HEIRS OF EROS: English Literature 1850–1969

  • Romantic Friendship and Homosexuality in 19th Century English Poetry (Tennyson, Cory, Hopkins, Lefroy, Crowley)
  • Inventing Themselves: Imagining “Homosexuals” in English Fiction and Theory (Symonds, Carpenter, “Teleny,” Bloxam, Ellis)
  • Symbolic Sodomite: Society, Oscar Wilde & the Law
  • Athletic Love (Housman, Forster, Owen, Lawrence, Ackerley, Isherwood, Spender, Chubb, Auden)
Proust

VI. MODERN LOVE: European Writers from 1870

  • France 1870–1945 (Rimbaud, Verlaine, Proust, Gide, Cocteau, Genet)
  • Germany 1899–1939 (Kupffer, “Gotamo,” Mackay, Friedlander)
  • Russia 1836–1922 (Pushkin, Klyuev, Esenin, Kuzmin)
  • Egypt (Cavafy)
  • Italy (Penna)
  • Spain (Cernuda, García Lorca)
  • Latin America and Cuba (Caminha, Barba-Jacob, Villaurrutia, Keifer, del Casal, Ballagas, Lezama Lima)

VII. MASCULINE LANDSCAPES: American Literature 1840–1933

Whitman
  • Homoerotic Texts 1840-1908 (Thoreau, Emerson, Whitman, Taylor, Stoddard, Peirce, Prime-Stevenson)
  • Camp Sites: Armies of Androgynes (Lind, McAlmon, Nugent, Scully, Ford & Tyler)

VIII. DECONSTRUCTING “MANHOOD”: American Literature 1916-1969

  • Inventing & Enforcing Modern Homophobia 1933–1969 (“Andrews,” Wilmer, de Gillies, Malloch, Crane, Duncan, Vidal, “Cory,” O’Hara, Ginsberg, Wieners, Burroughs, Rechy, Giorno, Purdy)

IX. OUT THERE: American Literature from 1969

  • Becoming Gay (Pomeroy, Barber, Brass, Norse, Field, Pitchford, Cady, Brainard, Brooks, Rumaker, Corn, Iozia, Holleran, Dixon, Holland, Borawski, White, Morse, Everhard, Baldwin, Gunn, Holland, Lassell, Hine, Hemphill, Reynolds, Fisher, Green, Woods, Saint)
Baldwin

From the Publisher

In the decades since New York City’s Stonewall rebellion, gay literature has exploded as a distinctive form of cultural expression. In a variety of styles and genres, gay men have increasingly begun to articulate their sexual identities. At the same time, gay writers and scholars have begun in earnest the search for a literary history long denied by the refusal to recognize homosexual love as an integral part of Western literature. Yet to date, no single volume has brought together the full history of literature from poetry, fiction, essays, and autobiography that portray love between men.

From the Epic of Gilgamesh to the poems of Allen Ginsberg, The Columbia Anthology of Gay Literature draws together hundreds of texts from Western literary history that describe experiences of love, friendship, intimacy, desire, and sex among men. While other anthologies have focused primarily on poetry, drama, or fiction, this volume is the first to include a full range of genres. Spanning more than [four] millennia, from ancient Mesopotamia to the late twentieth century, and covering an impressive scope of world literature, this anthology brings together the best-known texts of gay male writing – such as the poetry of Martial and Walt Whitman, and E. M. Forster’s Maurice – with lesser-known works that reveal a hidden heritage.

In The Columbia Anthology readers become acquainted with the early bonds of male companionship found in Homer’s writings on Zeus and Ganymede, and with the homoerotic poetry of Catullus and Juvenal. From Shakespeare’s Sonnets to the philosophy of de Sade, to the political writings of Edmund White, this masterful anthology traces a multifaceted tradition.

Arranged chronologically, sections are supplemented by illuminating introductory essays; many individual pieces include background commentary on the writer and the work. Fully annotated with suggestions for further reading, The Columbia Anthology of Gay Literature will be invaluable to students and scholars in need of a guide to a massive body of literature at the very heart of every world culture. This collection also serves as a landmark for the enduring spirit of gay writers, an essential addition to the libraries of anyone searching for the historical foundations of gay identities.

The Columbia Anthology’s editor Byrne R. S. Fone is professor of English literature at the City College of New York. He is general editor of the 55-volume Bell’s British Theatre, editor of Hidden Heritage: History and the Gay Imagination, and author of Masculine Landscapes: Whitman Before Homosexuality, A Road to Stonewall: Homosexuality and Homophobia in English and American Literature, and Homophobia.

Reviews

  • From Michael Bronski: It would be impossible to compile a complete survey of gay male literature; the very looseness of the definition of “gay” (not to mention the wealth of possible material) would overwhelm the project. Despite that, Byrne R.S. Fone has fashioned a useful, intelligent, and amazingly functional volume that traces gay male themes from classical antiquity to the present day. Drawing on a variety of traditions and cultures – from ancient Greece to modern Egypt, from the Hebrew Bible to the Russian revolutionary Sergei Esenin – Fone has reprinted not only significant texts, but has also supplied readable, intelligent introductions that illuminate the subject. Most of the material here, apart from a short section on Latin American and Cuban writing, is steeped in a Western European tradition; the book nevertheless conjures a good case for a gay sensibility – or rather a series of sensibilities – that amazes, alarms, and endures.

  • From Kirkus Reviews (May 11, 1998): Editor Fone offers what may well be the landmark gay anthology the publisher claims it to be – a volume that, unlike similar collections, includes a broad range of genres. Even straights should be moved by the passion in much of the material here, especially the Walt Whitman and Constantine Cavafy poems…. Fone’s editorial “we” refers to gay men rather than lesbians, who have their own texts and anthologies. Students and nonacademics will find this commendably readable. Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP.
Wilde

Additional Resources

For more information, see editor Claude J. Summers’s superb one-volume reference work, The Gay and Lesbian Literary Heritage: A Reader’s Companion to the Writers and Their Works, from Antiquity to the Present, which features over 350 outstanding essays on authors, forms, genres, and national literatures — NOTE: the entire updated contents of Prof. Summers’s book, with additional sections relating to history, the social sciences, music, the visual arts, and more, is now available free online at glbtq.com. A wide-ranging lesbian anthology is Chloe Plus Olivia: An Anthology of Lesbian Literature from the Seventeenth Century to the Present (1995), ed. by Lillian Faderman. Free online is Edward Carpenter’s landmark 1908 anthology of same-sex “friendship literature,” Ioläus. Much information on GLBT history, from ancient times to the present, is available at People With A History.

Begun 1997 / Revised September 3, 2020

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