Remembering the Queer Literary Conferences of the 1990s

Between 1990 and 1999, eight national OutWrite conferences convened, first in San Francisco, then in Boston, gathering gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer literary luminaries for a weekend celebrating literary culture. Initially, OUT/LOOK, the glossy national gay and lesbian magazine that published from 1988 until 1992, organized these gatherings of writers, editors, readers, and activists; then when OUT/LOOK ceased, activists from the Bromfield Street Educational Foundation, better known for its leftist journal Gay Community News (GCN), organized OutWrite. 

OutWrite played a crucial role in defining, expanding, and amplifying LGBTQ literary culture by bringing together many important LGBTQ writers of the 1990s in raucous events highlighted by keynote addresses, plenary sessions, and workshops coupled with late nights of drinking, dancing, hookups, and other forms of literary revelry. The OutWrite conferences helped define a new, queer literary canon and a movement of queer literary production. The speeches, arguments, and ideas from these conferences shaped and continue to shape indelibly the work of LGBTQ writers, and this history provides a touchstone for contemporary LGBTQ writers and activists imagining what the future might hold for our creative, literary, and artistic work. 

Now a selection of these writers’ conversations from these conferences will be available in the book OutWrite: The Speeches That Shaped LGBTQ Literary Culture (Rutgers University Press, 2022). The Georgia Review is pleased to feature portions of two outstanding speeches from the book from Southern writers, calling the feature “ ‘OutWrite’ Southern.” 

In 1992, Allan Gurganus offered a keynote address at OutWrite. Gurganus had published the first short story with a gay theme in the New Yorker, and now Gurganus was culturally aglow as a result of his best-selling debut novel, Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, published in 1989. It is not an exaggeration to say that in March 1992 Allan Gurganus was a rock star for the OutWrite audience.

In 1996, OutWrite welcomed Minnie Bruce Pratt as a keynote speaker. Pratt’s work as a poet was well-known, including the story of losing her children recounted in Crime Against Nature (1990). When she took the stage at OutWrite, she was celebrating the publication of her new book S/HE, published by Firebrand Books in 1995. In another public conversation at the conference, Pratt and her lover Leslie Feinberg each read from their new books, Pratt from S/HE, about her relationship with Feinberg, and Feinberg from Transgender Warriors. It was an electric public conversation between these two luminaries. 

We thank Rutgers University Press for publishing this important project. Gurganus and Pratt’s speeches have been lightly edited for the volume.

 

READ IMAGINATION AND THE MOCKINGBIRD by MINNIE BRUCE PRATT

READ WHAT FICTION MEANS by ALLAN GURGANUS

 

Julie R. Enszer is the author of four poetry collections, including Avowed (Sibling Rivlary Press, 2016), and the editor of OutWrite: The Speeches that Shaped LGBTQ Literary Culture (forthcoming from Rutgers University Press), Fire-Rimmed Eden: Selected Poems by Lynn Lonidier (forthcoming), and Sister Love: The Letters of Audre Lorde and Pat Parker 1974–1989 (2018) and The Complete Works of Pat Parker (2016), both from A Midsummer Night’s Press. Enszer edits and publishes Sinister Wisdom, a multicultural lesbian literary and art journal.

Elena Gross (she/they) is the Director of Exhibitions and Curatorial Affairs at Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco and an independent writer and culture critic living in Oakland, California. She specializes in representations of identity in fine art, photography, and popular media. Her research has been centered around conceptual and material abstractions of the body in the work of Black modern and contemporary artists.