The Publishing Triangle was founded in the winter of 1988–89 to bring book publishing professionals together for networking and mutual support, provide a forum for solidarity and community, and to advance the cause of an exciting and fast-emerging LGBTQ literature.
Three people opened their Rolodexes and invited as many LGBTQ people as they knew in the industry to the initial organizing meetings. They were Michael Denneny, an editor at St. Martin’s Press; David Groff, an editor at Crown Publishers; and Robert Riger, an executive at the Book-of-the-Month Club, who hosted the meetings.
Even as a subcommittee led by Trent Duffy of E. P. Dutton was writing bylaws and getting the organization incorporated, the Publishing Triangle was giving out its first award: Edmund White was presented with the initial Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement in conjunction with an event held by another recently formed LGBTQ organization, the Lambda Literary Foundation, at the American Booksellers Association convention in Washington, DC, in the spring of 1989. Giving out this award was a first step in the Publishing Triangle’s emerging public profile, and honoring LGBTQ writers and books would grow over the decades to become the Publishing Triangle’s most prominent purpose.
The first steering committee took office in the spring of 1990, it was chaired by Michele Karlsberg of Amethyst Press and Michael Denneny; Carole De Santi was secretary and Trent Duffy was treasurer. Other leaders included a range of authors, editors, agents, marketers, booksellers, and other publishing professionals, among them Lew Archibald, Malaga Baldi, Christopher Bram, David Cashion, Jane DeLynn, David Groff, Robin Hardy, Stan Leventhal, Ethan Mordden, Roz Parr, Howard Reeves, Matt Sartwell, Lawrence Schimel, Anna Sequoia, Carrie Smith, Mary South, and Sharon Stonekey.
In its initial years, the Publishing Triangle’s leaders soon realized that, while their goal to provide a networking community was important, the group should help LGBTQ literature garner more attention and to combat the barriers, in both the industry and American society, preventing queer books and writers from reaching a wider audience. This led to a variety of programs and events, including the following:
The Publishing Triangle hosted forums about book publishing and issues in LGBTQ culture, including a 1990 event in support of the so-called NEA Four—the transgressive performance artists, two of them queer, whose government grants from the National Endowment for the Arts had been vetoed.
Led by editor and writer Stan Leventhal, with much support from Brian Phillips of Grove Atlantic, it founded an LGBTQ lending library, named for the writers Pat Parker and Vito Russo; the library would later become a permanent part of New York’s LGBTQ Community Services Center.
Spearheaded by marketer and publicist Michele Karlsberg, the group set up and funded National Lesbian and Gay Book Month, which supported exhibits and events in queer and non-queer bookstores and other venues nationwide every June. That program helped establish an organic, continuing effort to publicize and celebrate LGBTQ literature as part of pride festivities.
Led by writer Stanley Ely, the Publishing Triangle also established a program called BookAIDS. It collected unsold paperback books from publishers and sent to them queer community centers and HIV/AIDS-related medical clinics across the United States, to be distributed for free to people living with AIDS.
In 1997, the Publishing Triangle added two more awards, in nonfiction, named in honor of Judy Grahn and Randy Shilts; by that point, it was presenting its lifetime achievement award in a joint ceremony every April with the Ferro-Grumley Literary Foundation, which had set up awards in lesbian and gay fiction, and with the Robert Chesley Foundation, which was honoring queer playwrights.
Another program in the late 1990s was a selection of the 100 best lesbian and gay novels. The Triangle asked a group of 14 diverse writers and scholars to pick the 100 most outstanding queer novels up to that point, partly in order to promote discussion among all readers, gay and straight. The resulting list proved both thought-provoking and controversial, because it included some novels in which the queer content was all in the subtext (e.g., Melville’s Billy Budd) and other novels with no queer content but in which the major character(s) stand as outsiders to the society around them—in a way that can be coded as queer (e.g., Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird). So many readers objected to the inclusion of those books at the expense of more popular LGBTQ classics that a second list was compiled from visitors’ comments. Both lists can be viewed here.
In 2001, the Publishing Triangle—under its then chair, editor and poet Charles Flowers—added two poetry awards, named in honor of Audre Lorde and Thom Gunn. In 2006, it added an award in queer debut fiction, named in honor of Edmund White. In 2016 an award in trans and gender-variant literature was added. All awards come with significant cash prizes and have been underwritten by generous donors and members and other supporters of the Publishing Triangle.
As the LGBTQ book world has continued to evolve, so has the Publishing Triangle, with stakeholders in LGBTQ literature coming together at its annual holiday parties, awards ceremonies, and other events, and also virtually through its website and its social media presences on Facebook and Twitter. After more than thirty years, the Publishing Triangle continues to find new ways to support LGBTQ books and the people who write, edit, sell, support, and read them.