Lesbian literature is an extensive genre-spanning over 2,500 years. Though the ancient Grecian poet Sappho is credited with producing the earliest forms of lesbian writing, the genre as we know it today began taking shape in the 19th century. Works from this period relied heavily on subtext and most often ended in heartache or tragedy, while the early 20th century saw the arrival of specific references to lesbianism in literature. The Well of Loneliness, published in 1928, is considered the first English language novel with explicitly lesbian themes. Lesbian literature surged in popularity during the ’50s and ’60s with the publication of pulp fiction novels and Women’s Barracks, Tereska Torres’ dime-store novel about World War II was the first of its kind. The foundational texts of lesbian literature were written in the latter 20th century. Today, the genre has expanded to include a more diverse and intersectional representation.
Overwhelmed with the myriad of great titles to choose from? Hungry for more lesbian literature? Use this list to find the best lesbian books in any genre.
Lesbian Fiction Books
The Price of Salt (1952) – Patricia Highsmith
The critically acclaimed film Carol is based on The Price of Salt, one of the earliest lesbian romance novels with a happy ending. In a tale of infatuation at first sight, discontent department store worker Therese is instantly enamored with Carol, an elegant older woman who purchases a doll for her daughter. Carol leaves her address so the doll may be delivered which Therese uses to send Carol a Christmas card. Carol, who is in the midst of a bitter divorce, responds. As Carol and Therese begin spending time together, their attraction intensifies.
The Color Purple (1982) – Alice Walker
Winner of the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, The Color Purple tells the story of Celie, a poor girl living in the rural South under bitter conditions. Celie is abused by her father then married off to another abusive man, Mister. Mister’s mistress, a sultry jazz singer named Shug, comes to stay with Celie and Mister while recovering from an illness. Celie and Shug develop an intimate relationship.
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe (1987) – Fannie Flagg
While visiting her mother-in-law in an Alabama nursing home, bored housewife Evelyn Couch strikes up a friendship with Ninny Threadgoode, an elderly resident. Ninny tells Evelyn about her childhood in the 1920s when Ruth Jamison, a pious and proper young woman came to live with the Threadgoodes in order to tame rambunctious tomboy Idgie. Idgie and Ruth become inseparable and develop an unspoken attraction. To Idgie’s dismay, Ruth must leave Whistle Stop at the end of summer to marry Frank Bennett. Years later, Idgie and Ruth reconnect.
Stone Butch Blues (1993) – Leslie Feinberg
Jess struggles to navigate life as a butch lesbian in1970s upstate New York. She finds refuge and community in gay bars and is taken under the wings of older butches. Cops raid the bar, harass and arrest everyone inside, and the bar closes down leaving Jess homeless. In a harrowing tale of survival, Jess searches for another place to fit in and finds herself along the way.
Fingersmith (2002) – Sarah Waters
Sarah Waters is a prolific writer of lesbian historical fiction. Fingersmith and Tipping the Velvet, her two most prominent works, were adapted into BBC mini-series. Fingersmith follows Sue, a pickpocketing orphan raised on the streets of Victorian London. One night, she is approached by a con man who seeks her assistance in defrauding the heiress Maud Lilly and having her committed to an insane asylum. Sue agrees and poses as a maid to gain Maud’s trust. When they form an unexpected bond, Sue begins regretting her involvement in the con man’s scheme, but it may be too late.
Sing You Home (2011) – Jodi Picoult
Zoe and her husband Max want to have a baby but are unable to conceive. They try in vitro fertilization and give up after multiple unsuccessful attempts. The couple’s fertility issues strain their marriage leading to divorce. Later, Zoe meets Vanessa Shaw. The two women fall in love, get married, and decide to have children using the frozen embryos from Zoe’s previous marriage. But first, they need permission from Max, now a born again Christian uncomfortable with his ex-wife’s new relationship.
Young Adult Lesbian Books
Annie on my Mind (1982) – Nancy Garden
Annie on my Mind was one of the first young adult books to portray a lesbian love story between teenagers. Annie and Liza are two seventeen-year-olds coming of age in New York City. Annie lives in an upscale neighborhood and attends a private school while Liza comes from a lower-class background. Despite their differences, Annie and Liza meet at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on one fateful rainy day and fall in love.
Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit (1985) – Jeanette Winterson
Though not a memoir, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit is semi-autobiographical and details Jeanette’s experience coming of age in an evangelical household in England. Because of her staunchly religious upbringing, Jeanette is an outcast at school. She begins a relationship with another girl which makes her an outcast at church as well and complicates her feelings about faith.
Keeping You A Secret (2003) – Julie Anne Peters
Peters is a well known YA writer whose books feature LGBT characters. Other prominent titles include Luna, Between Mom and Jo, and Rage: A Love Story. In the novel, 17-year-old Holland is crushing her senior year of high school—she has a great boyfriend; she’s Student Council President, and she’s headed to an Ivy League. But the arrival of new girl CeCe makes Holland question everything.
The House You Pass on the Way (2003) – Jacqueline Woodson
Staggerlee has never fit in: she’s biracial in a predominantly black town and her grandparents were killed in an infamous racist bombing. As a result of unwanted attention, Staggerlee is quiet and keeps to herself. All that changes when Trout, her outspoken cousin, comes to visit. They spend a transformative summer together helping each other come to terms with their identities.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2012) – Emily M. Danforth
In 1990’s Montana, 12-year-old Cameron Post loses her parents in a car crash and is taken in by her religious aunt and grandmother. While processing her parents’ death, Cameron begins questioning her sexuality and falls in love with her best friend Coley Taylor. Cameron’s conservative aunt finds out and resorts to drastic measures in order to “fix” Cameron. The novel was turned into a 2018 film which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.
Lesbian Fantasy Books
Ash (2009) – Malinda Lo
A dazzling retelling of Cinderella, Ash is the story of a teenage girl forced to live with her cruel stepmother after her father’s death. Ash finds solace in fairy tales and wishes a fairy would steal her away. One night, she is approached by a fairy prince with the power to grant her wish, but the next morning she meets the King’s Huntress Kaisa and falls quickly in love with her. Now, Ash is faced with a difficult decision: go with the fairy prince or stay with Kaisa. A prequel, Huntress, is set in the same universe.
Of Fires and Stars (2016) – Audrey Coulthurst
Denna has been betrothed to the prince of Mynaria since childhood, but she has the ability to conjure fire which and magic is forbidden in Mynaria. As future queen, Denna must learn to ride warhorses and her teacher is none other than her betrothed’s sister: Mare. Denna and Mare do not get along, but when an assassin strikes, they must team up for the fate of the kingdom.
Lesbian Vampire Books
Carmilla (1872) – Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
Carmilla is one of the earliest vampire stories, even predating Dracula. When a mysterious girl named Carmilla arrives in town unexpectedly, Austrian teenager Laura is happy to have a new friend. The two become close, but Carmilla’s sudden mood changes and refusal to divulge anything about her past drives a wedge between them. Meanwhile, girls in nearby towns are dying from an unusual ailment. The book inspired the popular lesbian web series Carmilla and a movie of the same name. The entire novella can be read online at Project Gutenberg.
The Gilda Stories (1991) – Jewelle Gomez
Told through a series of vignettes, The Gilda Stories depicts the many lives of a black lesbian vampire over a 200 year period from 1850 to 2050. The novel won two Lambda Literary Awards, one in fiction and one in science fiction.
Lesbian Comic Books
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (2007) – Alison Bechdel
Adapted into a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, Fun Home is a graphic memoir of Bechdel’s relationship with her emotionally distant father who ran the town’s funeral home. When her father dies mysteriously, Bechdel uncovers his hidden gay past while also discovering her own sexuality. Bechdel is the recipient of the MacArthur “Genius” Award. Other works include a second graphic memoir Are You My Mother and Dykes to Watch Out For, a lesbian comic strip that ran for 25 years.
Lumberjanes (2014) – Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, Brooklyn A. Allen and Noelle Stevenson
In this comic book series, Lumberjane Scouts Mal, Ripley, Molly, April, and Jo realize they got more than bargained for when they discover mythical creatures and supernatural phenomena at summer camp. The gang decides to solve the mystery of these strange occurrences, earning scout badges along the way. Noelle Stevenson is also behind Nimona, a sci-fi/fantasy graphic novel about a mad scientist’s shapeshifting sidekick.
Lesbian Romance Novels
When Katie Met Cassidy (2018) – Camille Perri
Successful lawyer Katie Cassidy must reevaluate her ideal of a perfect life when her fiance suddenly dumps her. Reeling from the breakup, Katie agrees to have after-work drinks with a coworker, the confident and dapper Cassidy. Katie and Cassidy push each other out of their comfort zones and a sexy game of cat and mouse ensues.
The Gravity Between Us (2013) – Kristen Zimmer
Payton and Kendall have been best friends since childhood, but Kendall is a rising starlet poised to become Hollywood’s next “it” girl. To keep herself grounded, Kendall moves Payton to Hollywood with her. Payton has been harboring a secret: she is in love with Kendall and terrified her feelings won’t be reciprocated. Payton must pluck up the courage to confess her feelings even if it might ruin the friendship they both cherish.
Lesbian Short Stories
Her Body and Other Parties (2018) – Carmen Maria Machado
A lyrical debut combining multiple genres of speculative fiction (fantasy, sci-fi, fabulism), this collection uses magical realism to center women and their experiences in society. Each story examines what’s inflicted upon women’s bodies whether it’s sexuality and sensuality or violation and violence.
Trash: Stories (2002) – Dorothy Allison
In this collection, Allison interrogates the South’s troubled history with evangelicalism, social class, racism, sexism, and homophobia in raw and realistic detail. These stories offer a visceral portrait of heartache and humanity’s darkest impulses that are difficult to encounter but impossible to ignore. Allison is also the author of the novel Bastard out of Carolina.
New Lesbian Books
The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles) (2018) – Amy Spalding
Out 17-year-old Abby Ives runs a plus-size fashion blog and dreams of making it big in the fashion world. When she has the opportunity to intern at her favorite boutique over the summer, Abby feels like her dreams are finally coming true. Complicating matters, Abby starts crushing on Jordi Perez, a fellow intern she’s competing against for a paid position at the boutique.
Stray City (2018) – Chelsey Johnson
After a drunken hookup with a man, 24-year-old Andrea Morales discovers she is pregnant. Though her tight-knit group of queer friends express concern, Andrea decides to keep the baby. 10 years later, Andrea’s daughter Lucia wants to know more about her father.
Empress of the World (2003) – Sara Ryan
Nicola attends the Seigel Institute, a college preparatory summer program and quickly fits in with a group of new friends. Nic is inexplicably drawn to one of them, the beautiful Battle Hall Davies, and their dynamic soon evolves from friends to something more.
Queens of Geek (2017) – Jen Wilde
Three best friends and proud geeks attend the popular fan convention SupaCon. Charlie, a vlogger and actress who just had a public breakup with her costar Reese has her eyes set on the con’s surprise guest: Alyssa Huntington.
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