An Ivy League school is trying to archive gay history and literature.
If you hear titles like Biker’s Lust, The Book of Studs, The Leatherman’s Handbook, and Astrogay, you normally wouldn’t think of cherished tomes held by Brown University. But, they are.
The John Hay Library at Brown University has collected over 4,600 paperback books for its gay pulp fiction archive. The collection of books from the 1950s and 1990s is being kept so that LGBTQ expression and art, no matter how NSFW it is, is cherished and remembered.
Curator Heather Cole spoke to the WBUR about the collection saying:
“If you think about gay communities before the internet was around, before it was legal in many places to engage in gay relationships, in gay sexual activity, this was a way that they could kind of explore their interests, which is a pretty tame way of saying it.”
But what are pulps? They were paperback books sold for mere cents in the last century. While pulps came in varying genres, they were often erotic or taboo. But despite these tales being NSFW, they also told the story of LGBTQ existence before Stonewall.
But how did this collection start? According to the archive’s internet page, efforts began in 1997 with the acquisition of a large private collection. Then, collectors Scott O’Hara and James Jackson insisted on the supplementation of more works.
And it’s not just academic professionals or pornographic connoisseurs who enjoy the books. There are students who use them as resources as well.
Rising junior Finch Collins is spending his summer working on a project about fan culture and is using the pulps as a resource. Speaking to the WBUR, he shares:
“Gay pulp novels provided people a way to see what life could be like, no matter how unrealistic or how fantastical they are,” says Collins. “I think that fantasy is really important, especially when you’re looking at the fantasy of people who could not express it publicly.”
But now that the internet has taken over the world of pornography and erotica, there isn’t much need for pulps. But according to Cole and Collins, their modern function has evolved into something else. Fan fiction.
Yes, while fan fiction is getting HBO in trouble with One Direction fans and Louis Tomlinson, the medium is a great space for LGBTQ youth to explore their sexualities. While being LGBTQ, and specifically gay, no longer needs cloak and dagger techniques and books like pulps to share their existence, fan fiction is still a written connection to this piece of gay history. That and, of course, Brown University’s gay pulp fiction archive.