Two of our website’s core values are representation matters and visibility is vital. We’re always striving to connect readers with books they see themselves in.
All of us (Miranda, Em, & TB) have received emails from readers thanking us for including characters who they can relate to.
To honor Lesbian Visibility Day, we asked authors to share the first lesbian fiction book they read and how it impacted them.
In the comments below, please let us know what was the first lesbian fiction book you read and how it impacted you.
And, now for all the lovely authors who are helping us celebrate Lesbian Visibility Day.
I stumbled across “None So Blind” by LJ Maas when I was at university. I grew up in a tiny little village of 800 people, with no openly LGBTQ+ people around, so finding that book opened up a whole new world for me and showed me that there were other people like me out there…and they got their happy ending!
My father gave me Jacqueline Carey’s ‘Kushiel’s Dart‘ when I was fifteen, telling me he thought I’d like it but warning it was a bit spicy. I loved it and wow, yeah, it was. It was my first reading experience with positive sex, with polyamory, with bdsm, and with sapphic relationships. Phedre and Melisande stuck with me for decades as one of the sexiest relationships EVER. Of course, as an adult, I’d argue that Kazul and Princess Cimorene from ‘Dealing with Dragons‘ might actually have been my first sapphic reading experience, hidden behind the guise of middle-grade level pals.
Sarah Waters’ Tipping the Velvet changed my life. It first gave me sleepless nights, filled me with excitement and emotion even if my life was none of that. Back then I was married to a man and deeply closeted. I did this in order to give my kids the joyful and protected lives I had lacked as an adolescent. Eventually, though, accompanied by Sarah’s books, I was able to break the confinement. I divorced, fell in love with a beautiful woman, and married her. My kids are doing well and my writing career was inspired, publishing my novel Arribada, and many short stories.
Michele L. Rivera
The first lesbian book I ever read was “Taking the Long Way” by Lily R. Mason. I was so excited to be reading a lesbian love story! This was right after I began writing my very own lesbian romance book. “Taking the Long Way” was really flushed out and carried the reader through a journey of young love into adult love. It was beautifully written (finally) there was a love story about a lesbian that didn’t end horribly. I was hooked on lesbian romance/lesbian fiction books ever since.
The first lesbian fiction book I read was “Empress of the World,” by Sara Ryan. It was published in 2001. At the time, there were so few LGBT books that had been commercially published that I only found out about it by accident. And my library had such limited LGBT content available that I had to specially request it from another library system. What I remember has nothing to do with the plot or characters. It’s the fact that there wasn’t a single LGBT YA book that I could read from my own library, or even the next library over. The utter absence of queer content on the shelves during my formative years is one of the things that inspired me to eventually write my own YA books, always with LGBT protagonists. Times may have changed in the last 20 years, but I want young (and old!) readers to have more choice and more opportunity than I did.
In my early twenties, I had struggled with coming out to myself and searched for novels with lesbians in bookstores and libraries, but never found anything without a sad ending. (Didn’t know about fanfiction either.) At thirty, I had been reading sci fi and fantasy novels for over 15 years as these were genres with strong female characters where the (hetero) romance wasn’t the focus. One day I browsed the fantasy aisle in a large bookstore in London and found The Walls of Westernfort by Jane Fletcher among all the mainstream stuff. And Bold Strokes Books was so clever to include lots of recommendations in the back. So after I finished my first lesbian fiction, I never turned back and 12 years and 2500+ books later I’m still not over the genre. I made friends online connecting about the books and started to write my own.
I walked into my very first lesbian bookstore, Womencrafts (Provincetown, MA), nearly forty years ago, and an entire world opened to me. There, on the shelf, was a detective mystery by Katherine V. Forrest. It was titled, Amateur City. I. WAS. HOOKED! There were other lesbians in the world? And authors were writing about them??? I felt seen, and validated, and finally at home. At the time, I was in my early twenties and just figuring it out. I thought there was something wrong with me. Katherine V. Forrest showed me, right there in the pages of a book, that I wasn’t alone. And that is why I write what I write. So that others can see themselves in the pages of a book.
Book Title: Rubyfruit Jungle
Author: Rita Mae Brown
When I first began perusing this book, I was struck at how open and funny the author was about such a serious subject. It was such an intriguing read, that I could not put it down until the final page which left me wanting more. More humour, more candid and easy flowing story telling. Growing up in a homophobic society such as the one I came from, reading this book inspired me not to take things about the lifestyle so seriously. Just live my life like the Molly character did in Rubyfruit Jungle and maybe the rest will not be so stressful to manage.
Anya Leigh Josephs
The first lesbian fiction I ever read was Malinda Lo’s ASH. I picked it up at my school library because it was a fantasy book, and at that point I read every fantasy book I could get my hands on. I didn’t know there were lesbians in this book. Frankly, I didn’t know I was a lesbian, or what it would mean to be to be one. I was about fifteen. Reading ASH changed something in me. I had already started writing the story that would become my own first novel, QUEEN OF ALL, but at that time I didn’t know the main character was going to be a lesbian. I didn’t know how important that representation was, or how much it hurt me that it was missing, until I found it. Last year, there were literally hundreds of YA books with lesbian protagonists published, including mine. Thank you, Malinda, for being the first.
I used to travel a lot for work, and one of my guilty pleasures was buying myself a new book for my flights. I still remember the moment I saw Tipping the Velvet at the airport’s Hudson News, with its lushly provocative cover that promised a story I didn’t even know could exist, let alone get its own table in the front of the store. That was one of a few early moments that brought hope the world was changing into a better and more open place.
The first lesfic book I read was Fool For Love, book one in the High Rise series by Harper Bliss, (quickly followed by the next 3 books in the series). The book sounded interesting and as I read it I suddenly felt something stirring within me. It made me curious and also hesitant. I had no idea what it was, but a while later it became apparent it was my true sexual awakening from straight to what exactly? I identify as pan but wonder if I’d read this book 20 years earlier what my truth would be. I suspect it would be woman/women all the way. I have been fortunate to find love with a woman… followed by heartbreak. That’s life, but this book had a huge impact on me as you can see. Thanks Harper.
I wish I could specifically recall which book was my first lesfic, but it was so long ago, that I’ve only narrowed it to three possibilities, that I read all around the same time. Two are from one of the greatest Sapphic authors ever…Katherine Forrest. I remember feeling like I’d found heaven when I read An Emergence of Green and Curious Wine. Finally, the lesbian didn’t die at the end or lose out to the pressure of society to conform. At about the same time, I had also read the classic, Rubyfruit Jungle. I remember loving that story, despite the ending which was more depressive than the books that would come off of NAID press. I loved going to the women’s bookstore to get my next fix. For years I interspersed my WLW books with other works of fiction because there weren’t that many to choose from in the eighties. With the explosion of ebooks that is no longer a problem. Now I almost exclusively read WLW books.
I’m not sure if it was Curious Wine or the Kate Delafield series by Katherine V. Forrest that I read first in the 80’s. I had to drive two hours to Tallahassee to Rubyfruit Books to find lesbian books and every trip was a treat. These books brought me hours of pleasure and I eagerly awaited the next release. I was hooked as a reader and rarely left the store without a bag full of books. Ms. Forrest’s books brought me new worlds to imagine and a desire for more.
I found a copy of Claire McNab’s LESSONS IN MURDER on a table of mysteries in a Sydney bookshop. Not only was it Australian but it featured a lesbian detective. We contacted Claire and she recommended other authors like herself. She also suggested I try writing a lesbian romance for Naiad Press and the rest, as they say, is history. So I suppose you’d say our friend Claire McNab is responsible for our lesfic reading addiction.
I was in my early twenties when I walked into a place called the Women’s Archive. It’s a small library where I found an entire shelf of lesbian mysteries, and in the following weeks, I read every single title they had in the genre. I had just come out and was eager to read everything, non-fiction, fiction, whatever I could get my hands on. Finding stories in the genre I loved, with sapphic MCs, was a revelation to me. One of my first was Lessons in Murder by Claire McNab. The Carol Ashton series is one of my favorites to this day. Connecting with these books, and people who read them, made a difference for me: I found my community – and I learned that there were readers for the kinds of stories I wanted to write.
The first lesbian fiction book I remember reading, loving, and changing my world was A Little Bit of Spice by Georgia Beers. It made me want to buy all the lesbian fiction books on Amazon! Of course I couldn’t quite pull that off, so Kindle Unlimited became my new best friend. These books led me to writing my own stories and has enriched my life beyond my wildest dreams.
The first lesbian book I read was Curious Wine by Katherine V. Forrest. Published in 1983, I didn’t find it until the end of the 1990’s when I was in my late teens; it literally changed my world. At that point, there were very, very few lesbians on TV and in film, and those that did exist tended to be murderous psychos. Just the role models you need as you’re desperately trying to find your place in the universe! Stumbling onto lesbian fiction was easily the best thing that happened to me as it suddenly catapulted me into a world where women like me existed. At that point, I’d never met another queer woman and I certainly wasn’t in a hurry to announce myself either. The romance in Curious Wine, between Diana and Lane, showed me I wasn’t alone, and that I wasn’t destined for the horrendous ending reserved for lesbians on TV! It opened the door to a genre of literature that I fell into with absolute abandon, devouring whatever I could get my hands on – which wasn’t easy given the cost of those books back then! Despite the 1000s of lesbian stories I’ve read since then, I can still recall so many details from Curious Wine without even having to think hard. That could be because I read it over and over, until the cover fell off, but I honestly think it would have stuck with me just as well if I’d only read it once.
The first book I read about a woman loving a woman was “Curious Wine” by Katherine V. Forest. It wasn’t about love as it was about two women coming to accept the changes that love precipitated in their lives and in how they viewed themselves. The author perfectly captured depth of feeling as the two women first admitted their attraction, then came to accept it and accept who they were becoming. I had read a lot of traditional romance novels in the past, some meaningful and some trivial, but this novel touched and inspired in ways the mainstream stories could not. Although I was reading it more than thirty years after it had been first published, the emotional aspects were as timely as they’d been the day it came out. I know I will never be the writer or social commenter that Ms. Forest is – few are – but this work made me want to try.
The first lesbian book I ever read was Katherine V. Forrest’s “An Emergence of Green.” Before this, I had only heard Sarah Waters’ novels, and the historical piece of that didn’t really appeal to me. Forrest’s work, although it was released at a time before my years, felt like it connected me to something different and meaningful. I began writing my own books after that, because I wanted to continue feeling that level of connection to a story. While writing my fifth novel, I moved on to reading other works in the lesfic genre including “The Price of Salt” and then more contemporary works such as those by Clare Lydon and Harper Bliss. By finding Forrest’s book, it launched me into a beautiful world filled with stories that I related to and it drove my passion to continuing penning my own.
My first experience with genuine lesbian fiction was Touchwood by Karin Kallmaker. I was given a paperback copy of it by someone dear to me in 1993. At that time the book had been published by Naiad Press. The impact it had on me was huge and two-fold.
Touchwood was the first book I had ever read that had fully developed lesbian main characters with a focus on their relationship being the main plot. In short, it was my first ALL lesbian book, and I was thrilled. It also told me as a reader that there were many more out there to be devoured, and that is what I did. I’ve read every lesbian title I could get my hands on from that moment forward, including many of Kallmakers.
I was also hugely impacted by this book as a writer. I had started writing fiction earlier in my life and in the 1980’s wrote my first novel, a romantic suspense targeting the mainstream market. When I learned in the mid-90’s that a lesbian fiction market existed I was done with mainstream. I do still read some mainstream fiction, but my writers heart belongs to WLW fiction. In that sense, I attribute my ongoing career as a WLW author to Karin Kallmaker and consider her one of my true inspirations. She will always have my deep gratitude and hold a very special place in my heart.
Aster Glenn Gray
The first work of lesbian fiction that I read was Naomi Kritzer’s Fires of the Faithful, a fantasy novel that I picked up for its unusual faux-Italian setting. It was a wonderful surprise to discover that it featured one of my favorite themes, an intense friendship between two girls, and when I realized that this friendship was in fact a romance, it filled me with an awed and giggly delight. At the time I yearned to become a fantasy author, and finding a real published novel that seriously portrayed a lesbian romance exploded my previous feeling that lesbian love was a fringe theme that could only be explored in fanfic. If other people were publishing novels about intense friendships that developed into romances, then I could do it too.
The very first sapphic story I ever read was Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown. One rainy afternoon, a fellow camp counselor and the first out queer woman I had ever known gave me a battered copy. Although the story has not held up well over time, it was the first time I had ever read a book that acknowledged and celebrated women loving women, and it had a happy ending. For the first time in my life, I believed I could have a happy ever after too.
Dawn K. Lake
One of the first lesbian books I read as a teenager was “Kissing the Witch” by Emma Donoghue. This is a beautiful collection of loosely linked short stories featuring women from fairy tales, each telling a re-imagined version of her story. There are suggestions of romantic elements between several of the characters, though they are kept pretty low-key since this was back in the late 90s when gay content was a lot more controversial. But even if subtly portrayed, it was fantastic for me to discover and read about these complex and wonderful characters who obviously had real and deep feelings for each other. There was such a dearth of good representation that I had access to that it was difficult to even fully understand what my own feelings and hopes were towards other women, and having such a sweet and positive book of stories around lessened some of that constant feeling of confusion and aberration. I recently picked up a copy of “Kissing the Witch” since I never actually owned it when I was younger, and I’m hugely looking forward to reading it again when I have a spare moment.
A. L. Brooks
I was fresh out of the closet at the age of 22. I’d never had a girlfriend, never even kissed a woman, but I knew I wasn’t straight. I browsed the shelves of lesbian books in Silver Moon Bookshop, London, and even looking made me feel more at ease with myself. If that many books had been written by women about loving women, then it was okay, right? I bought Curious Wine, by Katherine V. Forrest. I read it as soon as I got home, all in one sitting. It answered soooo many questions and made so many pieces fall into place, things I’d still been struggling with even though I was now calling myself a lesbian. Women *did* get turned on by other women. Women *did* want to have sex and fall in love with other women. I remember feeling such a sense of relief about who I was, and also a buzz of excitement about the potential for finding something as wonderful as the love that Diana and Lane shared. Years later, at the GCLS Con in Las Vegas, 2018, I got to meet Katherine and thank her personally for writing the book that had such an impact on me. It was a truly special moment for me!
The first Lesbian Fiction book I read was Dear Taylor by Eija Jimenez. It inspired me because I first read it back when it was a fanfic, and when I saw it get published as a real novel, it taught me that A. Lesfic was a viable genre and B. I wasn’t alone in wanting to read more!
Tiffany E. Taylor
Like many queer women of my generation, Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown was the first lesbian fiction book I ever read. I was nineteen when I came out in 1982 and there wasn’t much to speak of back then as far as sapphic fiction went. My first girlfriend was the one who introduced me to Rita Mae and RFJ, which I read three times in a row without pause. I still remember my feelings of disbelief in realizing there were other women out there just like us who wanted to read explicitly lesbian-themed novels, too. But RFJ was more than that as well—it was a feminist coming-of-age novel that dealt candidly with gender inequality and prejudice in an age where nothing else like that existed, and completely changed how I looked at the world around me as a newly-out queer woman. Remarkably, Rubyfruit Jungle still remains a life-altering work for many lesbians almost fifty years after its publication and is a book every queer female needs to read, no matter where she is in her life.
The very first lesbian story I read, was The Well of Loneliness and it was very depressing. Thankfully, not long after that, I came across the lesbians in the Renunciates of Darkover, which inspired my love of wlw fantasy. That’s probably why I love to write about strong queer women in fantasy settings.
The first lesbian fiction book I read was None So Blind by L.J. Maas, and it completely took my breath away. I was always an avid reader, but for the first time in my life I actually felt a connection to the characters, making the story seem all the more real as I followed these women on their journey through the pages. It became almost like a euphoric high. I purchased and read as many lesfic books as I could get my hands on, until one day I realized I was searching for the stories I had inside of me, and no one else could tell them.
The first book I can remember reading was Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters. Not only did I fall in love with her writing (the descriptions are stunning), but I adored the story. I already knew I wanted to be a writer, but after reading this book, I realized I could write stories that mattered to me.
Don’t forget to tell us about your first lesbian fiction book in the comments below.
Thanks for stopping by today!
Miranda, Em, & TB