It was a day of beginnings.
Lighthouse Bookshop in Edinburgh were staging their Radical Book Fair for the first time in two years – after Covid-19 had forced them to cancel in 2020. As the lights came up in the huge, freezing hall of the Assembly Roxy, Mairi Oliver of Lighthouse welcomed everyone back to the familiar – but new and different – event.
The Fair has hosted dozens of writers and community activists over the years. Today it was Lavender Menace’s turn. The archive had asked Kate Charlesworth to design cards and bookmarks celebrating queer writers – to raise funds for a new phase as we work to establish a home for our growing collection of 800 books.Kate – known on social media as @AuntieStuds after one of the characters from her comic strip, Plain Tales from the Bars – has illustrated LGBT+ stories, feminist history, scientific articles and more. In 2019 she published Sensible Footwear: A Girl’s Guide (Myriad Editions), a cartoon history of the last 70 years of queer UK life.
She told the audience how she had decided to portray the six queer writers on the cards and bookmarks, using the rainbow colours based on the Progress Pride Flag (designed by Daniel Quasar).
It was a celebration of the writers and Kate’s dazzling illustrations, and for those who weren’t there, we wanted to share the scene with you. [The full video of the event is available at the end of this blog.]
A new variation of the original eight-stripe rainbow pride flag from 1978; Kate’s twelve-colour version is based on the Progress Pride flag. Each writer has a colour of their, her or his own.
She lived in Finland but spoke Swedish, and was a writer, illustrator and painter. She dated men but then, as she put it, ‘went to the ghost side’. But she was far from invisible. She wrote and illustrated the famous Moomin children’s series, in which her lover, artist Tuulikki Pietilä, figures as a character, as well as adult novels such as The Summer Book.
He was a classic English novelist whose middle-class heroines such as Margaret Schlegel in Howards End are still loved by readers. But he was secretly writing about Maurice the gay accountant and Alex the gamekeeper and went through agonies trying to decide whether to publish their story. He looks anxious in many portraits, but Kate explained that she used a photo taken in Egypt just after Forster had fallen in love.
American poet, memoirist, essayist, and novelist. She started life by teaching herself to read at age 4, even though she was severely nearsighted. She described herself as ‘lesbian, mother, warrior, poet – as well as ‘crazy and queer’. She wrote Zami: A New Spelling of My Name and Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches and founded Kitchen Table Women of Color Press, first of its kind in the US.
English celebrity journalist, broadcaster and, says Kate, ‘author of some wonderfully camp mysteries’. She was never exactly out, but never quite in. Kate’s cartoon queer history, Sensible Footwear: A Girl’s Guide, highlights her as a beacon of hope to the isolated dykes of her day. The lucky ones could encounter her at the notorious Gateways in London.
American novelist and essayist and civil rights activist. After growing up in poverty, with a difficult family background, he won a writing fellowship. Always open about his homosexuality, he wrote his second novel, Giovanni’s Room (1956), about a gay love affair. His later novels followed gay and bisexual characters and interracial relationships.
She disguised herself as the dashing Julian and travelled through France with her lover Violet Keppel. She had a lavender marriage with gay writer and MP Harold Nicolson and later inspired one of the best known novels Virginia Woolf, who celebrated her as a man and as a woman. She was a poet, a novelist, and a gardening writer.
Are they Menaces?
Besides their talent, what is there to remember about these writers today? Depicting them in the colours of the rainbow emphasises their power to make life vivid and clear – and attract attention.
Could you call them menaces? Yes, said Kate. Especially Nancy – and especially, Vita. They were women who did things their way and didn’t let convention set them back. But even the shy and introverted Forster realised his power to disrupt.
They’re on sale now
We want our archive to keep on menacing – so we can conserve these books which have brought so much change. Kate Charlesworth’s cards and bookmarks are now available on our new shop page. When you buy them, you’ll be supporting us in securing space for our collection and more events for artists, writers and queer readers of all generations.
Generously supported by Somewhere Enterprise and Research Fund.
Watch the launch
Cartoonist Kate Charlesworth and Lavender Menace Queer Books Archive launch their new range of cards and bookmarks!
Steps to a Queer Archive – with thanks to Lighthouse Bookshop, Edinburgh
We’d love to hear your comments.
What do you think about them? Are they a useful introduction to the writers themselves? And do you think they’re Menaces?