Queer Between The Covers events - exploring literature through poetry, art and film

The Queer Between The Covers exhibition portrays a snapshot of Senate House Library’s collecting of queer literature since its foundation in the 19th century, and tells a multiplicity of stories relating to the textual transmission and expression of LGBTQ+ identities.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of co-curating the Queer Between the Covers exhibition, has been meeting and working with a variety of groups and individuals to gather their perspectives and experiences to create an accompanying series of events. They have been designed to reflect, respond to, or counterbalance the books, newspapers, letters, manuscripts, pamphlets and ephemera on display in the exhibition.

Throughout the 22 week season there will be talks, readings, music, a conference, workshops, a guided walk and film showings.

Cover for Another Country (Corgi) by Baldwin, J.
Online Community Library Bookshelf

Share your story on our community bookshelf online

During the season we will be encouraging visitors to the exhibition to take part in  a special ‘online community library bookshelf’ to gather responses to questions surrounding the act of reading, more specifically to reflect on moments when they have discovered their own LGBTQ+ identity within the pages of books and how and where these books were encountered. To add your own selection, fill out our QueerBook submission form.

LGBT History Month

The private act of reading often requires a public route to access the physical text and the themes of revelation and camouflage, and suppression and liberation, run through the season.

Staff & directors of Gay's the Word bookshop c.1984
Staff & directors of Gay's the Word bookshop c.1984

During February, to coincide with LGBT History Month, we will be welcoming our Bloomsbury neighbours Gay’s the Word bookshop into Senate House. Manager Jim MacSweeney will be in conversation with gay activist and journalist Graham McKerrow to discuss being gay in the 1980s, and to relate the experience of the 1984 Customs and Excise raid on the shop which saw the seizure of thousands of pounds worth of books, an act of censorship that was met with a defiant community defence campaign.

Polari Literary Salon will be travelling from their Southbank home for an evening at the library; hosted by Paul Burston and headlined by the award-winning Neil Bartlett, the readings will take place in the library’s periodicals reading room which, with its many lounge-worthy settees, seems a suitable venue for a salon.

Transmitting Queer Literature

The transmission of queer texts is a thread running throughout the exhibition and in March we explore this theme with two events centred on publishing.

We will be hosting a Wikipedia Editathon run by Wikipedia UK during which attendees will be given the opportunity to augment wiki entries on LGBTQ+ literature, creating a double layer of publishing investigation: highlighting literature already published in print by creating new online content (no previous experience necessary).

This event is followed by our Publishing Queer / Queer Publishing conference allowing for an academic exploration of a wide range of authors, publishers, texts and methods of distribution.

Word on the Street

As spring hopefully blooms around us the Queer Tours of London collective, represented by Dan Glass and Nell James Grace, will be leading us on the trail of queer history both within and without the library space. They have created for the season a new walking tour around our Bloomsbury locale which will explore sites of queer literary activity and also of political activism including those related to the Gay Liberation Front and Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. Reading aloud and sharing stories at the sites en route will be encouraged.

A couple of days later, moving indoors, the Queer Tours of London collective will be revealing the history of gay linguistic expression with a fantabulosa creative writing workshop complete with the chance to learn some Polari and investigate ways of reviving this formerly subcultural language within today’s context.

Queer beyond the covers…

(Re)emergence is the theme of the BFI’s Britain on Film tour programme, which seeks to highlight hidden and forgotten stories, and which is coming to Senate House Library in the form of their 4th and latest selection: LGBT Britain on Film. This 90 minute compilation spans 1909 to 1994 and includes some of the earliest representations of LGBT people on screen. We are privileged to have the film’s curator, Simon McCallum, joining us to introduce this screening.

Triggered by the BFI event, we have chosen to show some additional cinematic expressions of queer identity by screening six free feature films, one Wednesday afternoon a month during the season. The films date from 1961’s Victim to 2016’s Moonlight, with the Killing of Sister George, Sunday, Bloody Sunday, Paris is Burning and Tangerine showing in between.

Queer Art in the Making

The final two events of the season include new artistic works created in response to the exhibition.

Maud Allen
Maud Allan

The Fourth Choir, London's LGBT + chamber choir for advanced singers, will be performing in the Crush Hall, utilising the central space and staircase of the ground floor of Senate House, performing a programme encompassing recitations of queer literature both in song and speech. We are delighted to announce that a new piece of music composed for the season by Stuart Beatch, and inspired by the text of a book on show in the exhibition, will receive its premiere during this performance.

Throughout the exhibition, works created by book artist Theresa Easton will be displayed on the first floor of Senate House, on the mezzanine area near Chancellors’ Hall.

The works reflect Theresa’s own reading of the exhibition and portray aspects of secrecy, revelation and liberation particularly in the works and lives of Oscar Wilde, Maud Allan and Djuna Barnes, and in the experiences of Gay’s the Word.

Following the season, the works created will become part of the library’s collections and we are happy to announce that Theresa will be visiting us in June to talk about these in a ‘With the Artist’ session.

More details of all these events, including how to book, are available via the season website.

We hope to see you there!

Leila Kassir
Research Librarian: British, USA & Commonwealth Literature
Co-curator: Queer Between the Covers: Literature, Queerness & the Library