Growing up here in South Texas, LGBTQ books and films were always difficult to find. Local libraries didn’t have much to offer, and what they did have was mostly dry, academic fare. Things have changed since then, and local libraries are finally stocking up on a variety of LGBTQ books and films.
The Lavender Literary League is a new LGBTQ book club that was founded this past Summer at the McAllen Public Library. It’s the first of its kind in the Rio Grande Valley and is growing in attendance with each passing month. The club reads a different LGBTQ book every month and prioritizes books written by and about people of color.I spoke to Elizabeth Hollenbeck, reference department supervisor and co-founder of the group alongside reference librarian Claudia Villarreal-Quiroz to discuss the origin of this club, the different titles that have been read, why this gathering matters, and how people can get involved with the Lavender Literary League.
Neta: How did the discussions around the Lavender Literary League start?
Elizabeth Hollenbeck: Discussions for the book club really came out of the Pride programming series that our library has engaged in with community partners the last couple of years. Many attendees expressed interest in having ongoing programs, not just June (Pride month) programs. We had thought maybe a book club that met every month could be one way to meet that community need. So we started out by reaching out to our partners and hosting some focus groups to ask people, “Would this be interesting? How often would anyone want to meet? What types of books will we read? How would it work?” We got a lot of community input, and that’s how the Lavender Literary League was born.
Neta: For those who are not familiar with the Pride programming series, can you explain exactly what that was?
EH: We partnered with other organizations like Aquí Estamos RGV, Valley AIDS Council, South Texas Equality Project, and every week in June, we would try to have an educational program. Last year we had a trans town hall which was really exciting. A lot of people got to come together to talk about specific issues for the trans community, especially in the RGV…We’ve had different programs about relationships, and the library shared library materials at Pride at the Park. We had a booth at Pride at the Park this last year. So just a variety of different things, just helping the community connect.
Neta: Are there plans to have another Pride programming series this upcoming June?
EH: We plan to, yeah.
Neta: When this idea was first being discussed, what were some of the goals and the mission behind this book club?
EH: Through the focus groups we really listened a lot to what people were saying about what’s important. We actually have a purpose statement. (That) statement is: “To offer adults an opportunity to read diverse literature written by and about the LGBTQIA+ community. And to extend the library’s safe and welcoming space to the LGBTQIA+ community and allies.”
The Lavender Literary League meets once per month on a Wednesday at 7 p.m. We read books by diverse authors [and] diverse topics relevant to the community. We will read a variety of formats, so that could be anthologies, fiction, poetry, nonfiction, essays, memoirs, YA books, graphic novels, children’s titles, the whole spectrum. We will prioritize books by authors of color, especially those with connections to Texas or the RGV. This is a book club for adults so you just have to be 18.
Neta: How did y’all come up with the Lavender Literary League title?
EH: That kind of happened spontaneously in one of the focus group meetings…We wanted to come up with something that distinguished this group and spoke to the type of literature we are looking for, reading, and sharing. The color lavender is very popular with the community. It has significance. It just kind of came out—Lavender Literary League.
There is also [a] national book awards called the Lambda Literary Awards. Those are the annual literary awards for books that are published within a given year for all different types of literature for and about LGBTQIA+ authors and topics. So we were thinking “literary” something. It just came out [at one of the focus group meeting] and everybody liked it.Neta: So what are some books y’all have included as part of the book club this past year?
EH: We have a really interesting selection so far, and I am really happy to be working with one of the reference librarians, Claudia Villarreal-Quiroz. She and I have worked together on coming up with titles that we think will meet the needs on what our members are interested in. In November we read The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Sáenz. He was one of our featured authors at the McAllen Book Festival in November…The Saturday before our [Lavender Literary League] meeting anybody in the Valley was welcome to come to the book festival [and] to meet and hear from this author. We read his book and talked about it the following week . That was really nice…We also read a memoir in August, House Built on Ashes by José Antonio Rodríguez. The book is very interesting because the author was born and raised in this area and is actually a professor of English at (University of Texas Rio Grande Valley). We actually were able to invite the author to our meetings to talk (about) where this book came from, the writing process, (and) the publishing experience.
Neta: Thanks so much for the information. Any last thing you’d like to say to encourage people to check out the Lavender Literary League?
EH: We welcome everybody. We’re excited to be able to select diverse titles that cover a lot of different issues and topics [in the LGBTQIA+ community and] to be a place where people can come together and have an intellectual conversation, make friends, and share some snacks. Just to feel that connection to the community but also a connection to books and literature. Thankfully, these days, LGBTQIA+ authors are becoming recognized and there is a lot more literature out there where people have more opportunities to see themselves. At the library, we think (it) is extremely important to be able to relate to different things in literature. We have open doors and are really excited.
What: Lavender Literary League January Meeting
When: Jan. 24th, 7 p.m.
Where: McAllen Public Library, 4001 N 23rd St., McAllen, TX.