When Brooklyn Was Queer: A History
The never-before-told story of Brooklyn's vibrant and forgotten queer history, from the mid-1850s up to the present day
Hugh Ryan's When Brooklyn Was Queer is a groundbreaking exploration of the LGBT history of Brooklyn, from the early days of Walt Whitman in the 1850s up through the queer women who worked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard during World War II, and beyond. No other book, movie, or exhibition has ever told this sweeping story. Not only has Brooklyn always lived in the shadow of queer Manhattan neighborhoods like Greenwich Village and Harlem, but there has also been a systematic erasure of its queer history-a great forgetting.
Ryan is here to unearth that history for the first time. In intimate, evocative, moving prose he discusses in new light the fundamental questions of what history is, who tells it, and how we can only make sense of ourselves through its retelling; and shows how the formation of the Brooklyn we know today is inextricably linked to the stories of the incredible people who created its diverse neighborhoods and cultures. Through them, When Brooklyn Was Queer brings Brooklyn's queer past to life, and claims its place as a modern classic.
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About the Author
Hugh Ryan is a writer and curator. His first book, When Brooklyn Was Queer, won a 2020 New York City Book Award, was a New York Times Editors' Choice in 2019, and was a finalist for the Randy Shilts and Lambda Literary Awards. He was honored with the 2020 Allan Berube Prize from the American Historical Association. In 2019-2021, he worked on the Hidden Voices: LGBTQ+ Stories in U.S. History curricular materials for the NYC Department of Education.
Tender, compelling, fascinating-Hugh Ryan is doing essential work here, bringing us stories of the lives we almost lost to time and gentrification...Brave and unstinting.-- "Alexander Chee, author of The Queen of the Night"
Brilliant work...A thrilling portrait of the endurance, resourcefulness, and indefatigable joy queer people brought to bear upon the challenge of their own survival.-- "Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You"
A romantic, exquisite history of gay culture.-- "Kirkus Reviews (starred review)"
Thorough research, engaging storytelling, fascinating stories, and a history of obscurity make this investigation of queer Brooklyn a compelling, essential read.-- "Shelf Awareness"
A lively, character-filled portrait and well-researched analysis of Brooklyn's queer social landscape between Walt Whitman's 1855 publication of Leaves of Grass and the 1969 Stonewall riots in Manhattan...This evocative and nostalgic love song to the borough and its flamboyant past offers a valuable broadening of historical perspective.-- "Publishers Weekly"
A fascinating portrait of gay life in Brooklyn from 1855 to 1969...Greater attention is given, however, to those who, once influential, have now been forgotten. Bringing them alive again is one of the valuable services Ryan's fine work contributes to queer history.-- "Booklist"