Halee Kirkwood of Birchbark Books in Minneapolis says one of their favorite books from this year is “The Women’s House of Detention: A Queer History of a Forgotten Prison” by Hugh Ryan.
This history explores a women’s prison in Greenwich Village, New York that became a site of LGBTQ activism before the Stonewall Riots.
In operation from 1929 to 1974, the Women’s House of Detention housed many trans and gender-nonconforming inmates. It also housed such activists as Angela Davis and Andrea Dworkin.
Kirkwood said they were able to hear the author speak at a writer’s conference about the challenges of locating queer history in archival research and reconstructing the lives of incarcerated people, resulting in a work of nonfiction that read reads like an accessible story.
Kirkwood says this accessible history pairs nicely with Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s novel “Chain Gang All-Stars,” which also explores the failings of the prison system.
“He does a really good job of showing that hate and an exclusion of LGBTQ plus people isn't a straight line,” concludes Kirkwood.
“It hasn't always been this way, and that it's always been kind of these like, waves of acceptance and exclusion. That's one thing that I think is really important about this book. It shows the fluidity of queer identity and homophobia and transphobia is not inevitable.”
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