In my first year of college, in DC, I worked at Lambda Rising, one of the great gay bookstores of all time. I worked in the warehouse, shipping books in plain packaging to queers in far-flung places. This was 1990, before online shopping, and we took orders by phone and by mail. I remember unfolding the order slips in creaky handwriting, a money order for the fees tucked in the middle, and taking the long, long phone calls of someone in Alaska, who ordered several hundred dollars of books each quarter.
I had just turned 18 and was trying to survive an up or out journalism program that would only let half of us continue past sophomore year. My professor, a former Washington Post editor known as Puff, used to tell me that if it had been twenty years earlier and I’d been a boy, I wouldn’t need to be in college at all. I had what it took — I was fast and clever and knew to make friends with the cleaning staff.
I wanted to be a war reporter.
But working for the campus paper didn’t pay. And the gay bookstore warehouse did. Every day, me and a couple of the guys shrink wrapped books (and really anything else we could find — we loved shrink wrapping) and discussed our inventory of erotic coloring books, foot fetish magazines, and the blossoming world of queer literature with our callers.
College was not a happy time for me. I wound up campus famous for getting rape and death threats for being queerer than a three dollar bill and the whole thing was basically a disaster. But I loved that book store. I loved that shrink wrap gun. And I loved our clique of people — from the Deadhead to the seminary student — coming by after our shifts to go to the bars and cafes before going home to get ready to go to the clubs.
Lambda Rising was seen as a center of the gay literary scene thanks to our store’s owner, Deacon Mccubbin, publishing the Lambda Book Report starting in 1987. That led to the first Lambda Literary Awards in 1989. 32 year later. I’m nominated for one of those awards with Erin. For a gay romance novel about, among other things, the sort of war reporter I never got to be.
Puff died in 1997. The store closed in 2010.
And none of this was what I was supposed to do with my life.
But all of that is why I’m so very very very emotional about being named a Lambda Literary Award finalist for Ink and Ice.
Here’s the full list for 2021.