When we talk about the best LGBTQ+ books ever, it’s impossible to disregard the earliest works of modernist queer fiction and nonfiction. After all, many LGBTQ+ masterpieces have evolved from timely hits to timeless classics–impacting countless lives along the way.
The most groundbreaking LGBQT+ books keep opening eyes, minds, and the essential doors for voices still to come. They uniquely connect us all. And today, LGBTQ+ authors continue spreading and expanding powerful messages while inspiring others to live their truth with pride.
No matter where you start on this list, they’re worth a read. So, let’s start with the most modern classics, shall we? From 2000 through today, here are some of the most notable LGBTQ+ books you should seriously consider adding to your bookshelf (or Kindle) right now.
Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman
If you’re in the market for a moody and moving summer romance with staying power, start here. Translated into 32 languages, Call Me By Your Name encapsulates its own language of love in profound, precocious, and universal ways. It also won the 2007 Lambda Literary Award for Men’s Fiction. Set in 1980s Italy, boy meets boy, boy falls in love at first sight, and then a blossoming tale of human intimacy endlessly deepens.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
Acclaimed poet Ocean Vuong’s debut novel, this semi-autobiographical work quickly became a New York Times Best Seller in 2019 and Best Book of The Year many times over. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is an unfolding letter from a Vietnamese-American son to his mother who cannot read. It masterfully unpacks issues surrounding race, class, masculinity, and identity. The Amazon description says it’s as much about “the power of telling one’s own story” as it is about “the obliterating silence of not being heard.”
The Queer Bible: Essays
This intimate collection of essays published in 2021 is a celebration and exploration of LGBTQ+ history and culture, edited by model, activist, and GQ contributing editor Jack Guinness. It’s described as a “love letter to the queer community,” full of poignant works written by some of the most famous and inspiring queer figures, as they reflect on those who’ve inspired them and what they’ve learned about who they are.
Black Girl, Call Home by Jasmine Manns
A Most Anticipated Book of 2021 by Oprah, this poetry collection about race, feminism, and queer identity has been dubbed a 2021 bookshelf must-have by critics and audiences alike. Vogue called Black Girl, Call Home “[n]othing short of sublime” and said the territory Mans explores “couldn’t be more necessary.” We’d tend to agree with that take.
We Are Everywhere by Matthew Riemer and Leighton Brown
From the creators and curators of the popular Instagram account LGBT History, We Are Everywhere tells its timeless and timely story through moving photographs. PEN America has called it “a much-needed portrait of trans and queer histories to dream about and learn from.” Featuring over 300 images, the story comes to life through the lenses of protests, power, and eternal pride and it’s considered “an essential and empowering introduction to the history of the fight for queer liberation.”
Tomorrow Will Be Different by Sarah McBride
Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, and the Fight for Trans Equality stands in a league of its own. When it debuted in 2018, People called it “a brave, powerful memoir that will change the way we look at identity and equality in this country, from the activist running to become the first openly transgender state senator in US history.” And that sounds about right. From McBride’s early struggles with coming out to becoming the first trans person to speak at a national political convention, the book explores not only the personal impact of being trans but McBride’s national and societal impact.
We Have Always Been Here by Samra Habib
This 2019 memoir by a queer Muslim author won countless awards when it was first published, and for very good reason. The question it seeks to answer is “How do you find yourself when the world tells you that you don’t exist?” and the journey proves painful and powerful. In We Have Always Been Here, Habib’s quest for personal truth and meaning explores how truth intrinsically lives in each of us, no matter where we go in our lives or where we come from.
Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex by Angela Chen
As noted in The Washington Post, Angela Chen masterfully “loosens stigmas about relationships, emotion, and sex” in a culture forever fixated on sexuality. Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex explores an often-overlooked facet of the queer experience.
Less by Andrew Sean Greer
Less is not only a 2017 national bestseller, it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It’s a story about skipping town, falling in love, and the heartbreaking–and sometimes hilarious–bits of experience that connect everyone in the most bittersweet of ways. Christopher Buckley of the NYT book review called Less “excellent company,” adding “It’s no less than bedazzling, bewitching, and be-wonderful.”
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Winner of the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Comic Book and Time Magazine’s #1 Book of the Year, there’s much more to Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic than meets the eye. You can’t miss this cornerstone piece of contemporary queer media, which was even adapted into a Broadway musical!
How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones
From acclaimed poet Saeed Jones, this modern masterwork is the winner of the Kirkus Prize, the Stonewall Book Award. How We Fight For Our Lives was voted one of the best books of the year by The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, Time, The New Yorker, O, The Oprah Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, and BuzzFeed, and more. Jones writes, “People don’t just happen,” continuing, “We sacrifice former versions of ourselves. We sacrifice the people who dared to raise us. The ‘I’ it seems doesn’t exist until we are able to say, ‘I am no longer yours.’”
In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
This genre-bending memoir innovatively and intimately documents abuse within a queer relationship, and its worthy buzz continues growing. Revered for its originality, openness, and sharp wit, In the Dream House was awarded the 2019 Rathbones Folio Prize and has been longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction.
Born Both by Hida Viloria
Written by one of the world’s foremost intersex activists, Born Both is “a candid, provocative, and eye-opening memoir of gender identity, self-acceptance, and love.” Hilda Viloria details their lifelong journey of being raised female, feeling different, discovering the term “intersex” at 26, and ultimately, owning their gender fluidity and breaking out of societally designed boxes that never quite fit.
Over The Top by Jonathan Van Ness
Written by Queer Eye star Jonathan Ness, Over The Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love is a laugh until you cry and cry until you laugh kind of memoir. Critics and audiences alike have said they read this 2019 bestseller in one sitting. Chances are, you’ll have a hard time putting this one down, too.
Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta
By Nigerian-American author Chinelo Okparanta, this beautiful work won the 2016 Lambda Literary Award for “Best Lesbian Fiction.” Its synopsis reads, “Inspired by Nigeria’s folktales and its war, Under the Udala Trees is a deeply searching, powerful debut about the dangers of living and loving openly”–and it’ll crack your heart wide open.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Give this one a little more time and it’ll likely be declared a modern LGBQT+ classic. When A Little Life was first published, The Atlantic proclaimed “the great gay novel might be here.” Winner of the 2015 Kirkus Prize, it boldly chronicles queer life in America from the “social and emotional” perspectives of gay men.
The Tradition by Jericho Brown
This Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of poetry was published in 2020. The Tradition sets out to encapsulate and dissect “the normalization of evil and its history at the intersection of the past and the personal.” All in all, it manages to do just that in the most complex, cutting, and elegant ways.
Sissy, A Coming of Gender Story by Jacob Tobia
In 2019, the New York Times declared Jacob Tobia’s Sissy one of the latest novels sure to “sow the seeds of progress.” It quickly became a national bestseller and the budding comic memoirist has been compared to prolific writers like David Sedaris and Nora Ephron.
Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls: A Memoir by T Kira Madden
This 2019 coming-of-age story is playful in parts, painful in others, and engaging from start to finish. In her debut memoir, acclaimed essayist T Kira Madden chronicles her queer biracial experience as a teenager with an unflinchingly honest perspective, unwavering strength, and a striking delivery throughout.
Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian) by Hazel Jane Plante
Published in 2019, Little Blue Encyclopedia won a Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Fiction. This touching novel explores unconditional and unrequited love between two trans women. It was also a finalist for a Publishing Triangle Award for Trans and Gender-Variant Literature. If you’re looking for something that is loaded with the highs, lows, and pangs of longing–but in a lively way–this one might be for you.
Postcolonial Love Poem: Poems by Natalie Diaz
Natalie Diaz has been dubbed an important up-and-coming voice in the queer community. The 2021 Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry, Postcolonial Love Poem is said to be “an anthem of desire against erasure.” For this award-winning collection, Diaz tightly focuses on the unique experiences of queer women of color while simultaneously pushing the genre far beyond where many thought it could go. Even if you’re not big on poetry, this book will likely surprise you.