To celebrate Pride Month, Emory University’s Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library features queer pulp fiction books in an exhibit titled “Forbidden Loves and Secret Lusts: Selections from the Golden Age of Queer Pulp Fiction”.
The exhibit, which includes about 30 rare books on lesbian and gay relationships — along with images of accompanying artifacts like movie covers and posters — is located on the 10th floor of the Robert W. Woodruff Library.
“Forbidden loves and secret lusts” will be available until October 7, the first Atlanta Pride festival day. The Rose Library will be host its second annual drag show at 7:00 p.m. Oct. 5 in Woodruff Library’s Jones Room to close the exhibit, according to Rose Library associate director Carrie Hintz.
“We’re holding it…so it can kind of connect those two proud moments,” Hintz said.
The displayed pulp fiction books – which are cheap, mass-produced works of fiction, often on sensational subjects – date mainly from the 1950s until the mid-1960s, and include the lesbian novels “The Price of Salt” by Patricia Highsmith, “I am a Woman” by Ann Bannon and “Never Love a Man” by Dominique Napier. There are several books featuring gay people, including spy thrillers and cowboy stories, which were popular genres at the time.
Hintz said some non-fiction pieces, which are “presented as part of the secret life of gays and lesbians,” are also included.
The queer pulp fiction exhibit is Hintz’s brain child. She wrote her master’s thesis on lesbian pulp fiction novels and helped establish “Forbidden Loves and Secret Lusts” as the first comprehensive exhibit dedicated to queer pulp fiction at Emory.
“It’s something I’ve had in my mind for a while now, seeing the collections we have and knowing what kind of stories I could tell with those books,” Hintz said.
Emory has been collecting original copies of queer pulp fiction for years, but has recently purchased and borrowed reprints of some of the novels, which were made by feminist presses in the 1980s and early 2000s, Hintz added.
“We’ve always focused on queer pulp collections on the original books from the 1950s and 1960s, but I also wanted to show how those novels, at least some of them, had lives beyond that period of l ‘story,” Hintz wrote.
Most of the books were published in the “golden age” of queer pulp fiction, Hintz noted. Books were expensive in the 1940s, as they were often only available as hardcovers in major city bookstores. However, the literature became more accessible in the 1950s with the rise of mass-produced pulp fiction—inexpensive little books of fiction were sold in lunch counters, pharmacies, and cigar shops.
There are stories, Hintz explained, of queer women finding these books on shelves at the pharmacy and realizing for the first time other lesbians existed and the feelings they had were normal.
“They weren’t completely isolated,” Hintz said. “For a lot of people, these books were really hugely important forms of representation and the first time they saw queer desire represented in their lives.”
However, the books were published amid government censorship. American obscenity laws, which still exist today, to forbid the distribution of “obscene materials”, including inappropriate language and depictions of sexual abuse. In the days when queer pulp fiction books were written, homosexuality was often considered obscene, so a book ending with a happy lesbian or gay relationship would be “tolerating an immoral lifestyle,” Hintz explained.
To avoid appearing as if the authors supported homosexuality, stories often ended in tragedy – the lovers died, converted to heterosexuality, or were institutionalized to allow publishers to produce a more “moralistic” book, explained Hintz. These endings often served as a warning to readers telling them what might happen if they engage in same-sex relationships.
“Some of the books are likable or were written by queer people, but many others were trashy sensational novels that didn’t even try to portray real queer people and their lives, loves and desires,” wrote Hintz. “There were certainly as many dehumanizing or harmful portrayals in these books as there were positive and sympathetic portrayals, and conversion plots are very common and particularly pernicious and isolating to readers.”
But the books’ endings haven’t deterred LGBTQ people from reading them. Queer pulp fiction, especially those depicting lesbian relationships, skyrockets in popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, both for the representation they gave closed readers and for the connections they fostered in the real world.
“If someone is showing someone a particular title, it could be a way of saying, sort of, to signal, ‘This is who I am, are you like this too? ‘” Hintz said. “It was such a vital way for people to understand themselves, to understand the world, and to understand a different way of fitting into it than they might have without these novels and without these books.”
The Rose Library drag show will feature performers from Atlanta and the South, according to Hintz. It is separate from the Student Programming Council’s October drag show, which features student performers.
Hintz wrote in a June 21 email to the wheel that the Rose Library decided to host the drag show to “celebrate our rich holdings” which document LGBTQ history, culture, politics and activism. . The streak history is included in “Forbidden Loves and Secret Lusts”, which showcases materials such as recordings from “The American Music Show”, the local cable program where Drag Queen RuPaul Andre Charles launched his career.
“The choice to do a drag show was born out of the Rose Library’s desire to highlight how our collections connect with the living cultures and subcultures in which our students, guests, scholars, faculty and staff can participate,” Hintz wrote. “As far as we know, the Rose Library was the first university research library in the country to host a drag show.”