Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

Lambda Literary Awards: Most Boring Controversy Ever

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | June 06, 2011 12:45 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Media
Tags: Edward Albee, gay literature, gay writers, Lambda Literary Awards

boredom.jpg"Maybe I'm just being a little troublesome about this," said non-gay writer Edward Albee, "who just happens to be gay" of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" fame, during an NPR interview about this controversy. May-be so, mayyybe so.

Albee was awarded a Pioneer Award at the Lambda Literary Awards last week. In accepting the honor from Lambda, Albee told the audience, "A writer who happens to be gay or lesbian must be able to transcend self. I am not a gay writer. I am a writer who happens to be gay."

Some people at the awards were not happy with this "controversial" statement. According to NPR, "Some artists in attendance felt Albee's tone was inappropriate for the event and have said that creating and supporting work that is specifically gay is important to the visibility of the gay community."

In his NPR interview, Albee clarified his concerns. He is troubled by the fact that "so many writers that are gay are expected to behave like gay writers."

Um, what?

What is the behavior of "gay writers" that other writers, who just happen to be gay, are supposed to live up to (or not)? I've known a bunch of gay writers, all of whom happen to be gay, and they all seem to act differently. I've never had the thought "oh, there's another one a them gay writers, acting all gay and everything." After careful exegesis, I'm guessing that what Mr. Albee meant is that gay writers might be expected to write about gay characters, whereas he never has. Actually, I've seen a lot of gay writers, successful ones, also not writing about gay characters, so it's not as if this is some new idea.

And there is the fact that the Lambda Literary Awards is not designed to suppress gay writers writing about non-gay things. Rather, the 23-year old LL Awards are designed to give honor to LGBT-related works, which often receive no notice at all in the literary world.

The eligibility criteria include the following: "In determining whether a book should be submitted for consideration, it should be noted that the Lambda Literary Awards are based principally on the LGBT content, the sexual orientation of the author and the literary merit of the work." (Maybe you Lambda Literary Awards people should think about mebbe adding gender identity in there somewheres. Jes sayin'. But whatever, really.)

Usually it's the trans community that is all up in arms about whether we're supposed to conform to social expectations or, instead, break every single stereotype of anything ever. But this time, it's the gays getting their turn at an old, old, old issue.

Some LGBT writers write about LGBT subjects. Some don't. I think that's fine. Edward Albee doesn't want to be confined as a writer to gay characters. I think that's fine too. Okay, it was a little curmudgeonly of him to take a swipe at gay writers who want to write about gay content. But what a boring controversy.

But then, if it wasn't boring, NPR wouldn't have been interested.


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The LAMBDA awards are the most boring and irrelevant awards. They award a novel "best trans fiction" yet it's by yet another non-trans person interpreting what they think trans lives are. Did Henry James get "best woman's fiction" awards because his books had female characters? I don't blame Albee for going on his little hissy fit, (and he's always been a grump... so what did they expect, smiley Mr. Gay Sunshine?) the man's already won real adult awards like Tonys and Pulitzers. Let's face it, the LAMBDA peeps gave him a toy award for fund raising purposes.


When I asked Jill to cover the controversy, it was because Jerame had heard a news bit on NPR and alerted me to it. I first pointed her to the trans brouhaha thinking that was it, but it turned out to be Albee. I asked Jill how long it would take for someone to point out the trans issue too. First comment. :)

Nothing beats the fiasco when Jethro Tull won the grammy for best metal performance.

Uendellino | June 11, 2011 3:20 PM

Ho hum. Albee's been running this line for decades -- twenty that I know of -- in part because he knows it's always good for a few days of publicity. A couple of pieces I wrote after his appearance at OutWrite in 1991: http://ricketts-portfolio.blogspot.com/1991/02/what-do-we-want-from-edward-albee.html, http://ricketts-portfolio.blogspot.com/1991/03/straitjacket-of-rhetoric-edward-albee.html. I think any thoughtful writer has to agree with him, but I too wish he'd stop taking swipes at writers who choose to identify as gay or to focus on gay issues/content/characters. That's where his homophobia comes out, not in the comment about not wanting to be pigeon-holed as a gay writer.... Wendell Ricketts