The best books on LGBTQ history through photography and print

Why am I passionate about this?

I became aware of the struggles of the LGBTQ community as a 22-year-old touring the Dachau concentration camp in Germany, where hundreds of gay men were imprisoned—my mother was a Holocaust survivor who survived Auschwitz. A month later, in October 1978, after I returned to San Francisco, Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone were murdered. As a hippie, San Francisco seemed extremely tolerant, but after the murders, I realized there was a monumental struggle for “unalienable rights” in the LGBTQ community. I started photographing LGBTQ political events and, for six years, documented the “gay liberation movement” as it exploded across the streets of New York and San Francisco.


I wrote...

Castro to Christopher: Gay Streets of America 1979-1986

By Nicholas Blair,

Book cover of Castro to Christopher: Gay Streets of America 1979-1986

What is my book about?

In the late 1970s and early 80s, after Stonewall and before the AIDS epidemic, there was an explosion of gay life in places even then known as “gay paradises.” Most famous were San Francisco’s Castro District, New York’s Christopher Street and Fire Island, and Provincetown, Massachusetts. 

This collection of celebratory black-and-white photographs is a window into this outburst of pent-up freedom and the riotous ebullience of closeted persons who suddenly felt the door of tolerance opening and who could finally live life openly as their true and genuine selves. These complex, witty, and provocative images are time capsules of a few places in America where, for the first time and for a short while, it was okay to be gay. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of A Queer History of the United States

Nicholas Blair Why did I love this book?

I learned so many things that I was not taught in school from this book. As if revealing a parallel universe, I was made aware of the history of LGBTQ life and culture hidden in American history.

I could think about Melville in a new way when he wrote, “..waking next morning I found Queequeg’s arm thrown over me in the most affectionate manner. You had almost thought I had been his wife”.

Or Emily Dickinson, who remained single but was steadfastly devoted to her close friend Sue Gilbert, who had married her brother. She wrote to Sue: “Susie, forgive me, darling, for every word I say–my heart is full of you, none other than you is in my thoughts…”

By Michael Bronski,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Queer History of the United States as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of a 2012 Stonewall Book Award in nonfiction

The first book to cover the entirety of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender history, from pre-1492 to the present.

In the 1620s, Thomas Morton broke from Plymouth Colony and founded Merrymount, which celebrated same-sex desire, atheism, and interracial marriage. Transgender evangelist Jemima Wilkinson, in the early 1800s, changed her name to “Publick Universal Friend,” refused to use pronouns, fought for gender equality, and led her own congregation in upstate New York. In the mid-nineteenth century, internationally famous Shakespearean actor Charlotte Cushman led an openly lesbian life, including a well-publicized “female marriage.”…


Book cover of Dancer from the Dance

Nicholas Blair Why did I love this book?

I was mesmerized by this masterfully written and engrossing page-turner that emotionally landed me in the intimate orbit of Anthony Malone and Andrew Southerland, the book’s two main characters.

Honest and unflinching, it describes a life and culture unknown to me in such a beautiful, romantic way that, although intrinsically tragic, I regretted not being a part of it.

Holleran illuminates a period essential to understanding LGBTQ history, “Imagine a pleasure in which the moment of satisfaction is simultaneous with a moment of destruction: to kiss is to poison; lifting to your lips this face after what you have dreamed, long for, the face shatters every time.”

By Andrew Holleran,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dancer from the Dance as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Astonishingly beautiful... The best gay novel written by anyone of our generation' Harpers

'A life changing read for me. Describes a New York that has completely disappeared and for which I longed - stuck in closed-on-Sunday's London' Rupert Everett

Young, divinely beautiful and tired of living a lie, Anthony Malone trades life as a seemingly straight, small town lawyer for the disco-lit decadence of New York's 1970's gay scene. Joining an unbridled world of dance parties, saunas, deserted parks and orgies - at its centre Malone befriends the flamboyant queen, Sutherland, who takes this new arrival under his preened wing.…


Book cover of Bread & Wine

Nicholas Blair Why did I love this book?

I was overwhelmed with the loving simplicity of this beautifully rendered and highly charged romantic graphic novel. Reading it was akin to watching a film–I was drawn in and held tight until I had finished the last page.

Tender, emotional, cross-cultural, and cross-class, it resonated with me on so many levels but especially reaffirmed my belief that love is possible at any age and despite any obstacle.

By Samuel Delany, Mia Wolff,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Bread & Wine as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Written by black, gay science-fiction writer, professor, and theorist Samuel R. Delany, and drawn by artist/martial arts instructor Mia Wolff, Bread & Wine, based on the poem “Bread and Wine” by the German lyric poet Friedrich Holderlin, is a graphic autobiography that flashes back to the unlikely story of how Delany befriended Dennis, and how they became an enduring couple—Delany, a professor at Philadelphia’s Temple University, Dennis, an intelligent man living on the streets. For casual readers and fans, Bread & Wine is a moving, sexually charged love story, with visuals informed by Wolff’s professional physical pursuits. Her black-and-white, pen-and-ink…


Book cover of Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes

Nicholas Blair Why did I love this book?

I found this to be a phenomenally original and imaginative dive into the tragic period of the AIDS epidemic.

I was gripped by the complex relationship between the different couples, the relationships between the characters, and “queerness” even if they were not. I learned about that dark period in American social history through the entwined lives of a few emotionally charged and engrossing characters.  

By Tony Kushner,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Angels in America as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama
Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes includes Part One, Millennium Approaches and Part Two, Perestroika

“Glorious. A monumental, subversive, altogether remarkable masterwork…Details of specific catastrophes may have changed since this Reagan-era AIDS epic won the Pulitzer and the Tony, but the real cosmic and human obsessions—power, religion, sex, responsibility, the future of the world—are as perilous, yet as falling-down funny, as ever.” –Linda Winer, Newsday

"A vast, miraculous play... provocative, witty and deeply upsetting... a searching and radical rethinking of American political drama." - Frank Rich, New York Times

"A…


Book cover of Loving: A Photographic History of Men in Love 1850s-1950s

Nicholas Blair Why did I love this book?

Emotionally and historically, I was drawn into this astounding collection of riveting images. Through the direct gaze of the subjects, I could feel the love and tenderness they had for each other.

Frank and honest I felt like I was actually sitting across from the subjects while they were photographed. They all seemed so comfortable, open and free, even though living under the yoke of crushing social constraints that were hovering outside the frame.

By Hugh Nini, Neal Treadwell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Loving as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Loving: A Photographic History of Men in Love, 1850-1950 portrays the history of romantic love between men in hundreds of moving and tender vernacular photographs taken between the years 1850 and 1950. This visual narrative of astonishing sensitivity brings to light an until-now-unpublished collection of hundreds of snapshots, portraits, and group photos taken in the most varied of contexts, both private and public.

Taken when male partnerships were often illegal, the photos here were found at flea markets, in shoe boxes, family archives, old suitcases, and later online and at auctions. The collection now includes photos from all over the…


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We Had Fun and Nobody Died: Adventures of a Milwaukee Music Promoter

By Amy T. Waldman, Peter Jest,

Book cover of We Had Fun and Nobody Died: Adventures of a Milwaukee Music Promoter

Amy T. Waldman

New book alert!

What is my book about?

This irreverent biography provides a rare window into the music industry from a promoter’s perspective. From a young age, Peter Jest was determined to make a career in live music, and despite naysayers and obstacles, he did just that, bringing national acts to his college campus atUW-Milwaukee, booking thousands of concerts across Wisconsin and the Midwest, and opening Shank Hall, the beloved Milwaukee venue named after a club in the cult film This Is Spinal Tap.

Jest established lasting friendships with John Prine, Arlo Guthrie, and others, but ultimately, this book tells a universal story of love and hope – about figuring out where you belong, finding your way there, and living a life that matters.

We Had Fun and Nobody Died: Adventures of a Milwaukee Music Promoter

By Amy T. Waldman, Peter Jest,

What is this book about?

The entertaining and inspiring story of a stubbornly independent promoter and club owner 

This irreverent biography provides a rare window into the music industry from a promoter’s perspective. From a young age, Peter Jest was determined to make a career in live music, and despite naysayers and obstacles, he did just that, bringing national acts to his college campus at UW–Milwaukee, booking thousands of concerts across Wisconsin and the Midwest, and opening Shank Hall, the beloved Milwaukee venue named after a club in the cult film This Is Spinal Tap.

This funny, nostalgia-inducing book details the lasting friendships Jest established…


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