10 Queer Writers of Classic Books that You Need to Read

Queer writers are more prominent in the literary sphere than ever before, but literature written by the LGBTQIA+ community has been published for centuries.

Including work from Oscar Wilde and Gertrude Stein, this collection highlights ten classic books by gay authors that you need to read. These works, ranging from novels to poetry, provide unique insights into the human experience and the LGBTQIA+ community. Explore the powerful narratives and enduring legacies of these remarkable queer writers.

Celebrating queer love in all its forms, this moving collection champions the richly passionate love letters, poetry, and journals of history’s queer writers. Aiming to capture the diverse array of queer love stories throughout history, Queer Correspondence immortalises the work of gay authors whose words continue to resonate and inspire.

10 Queer Writers of Classic Books

(c. 630–570 BCE)

The first queer writer on our list is Sappho, an ancient Greek poet from the island of Lesbos. One of the greatest lyrical poets of all time, the words ‘sapphic’ and ‘lesbian’ were coined after her, both of which are used as inclusive terms to describe queer women and nonbinary people.

Our collection of her work, Ode to Aphrodite, stands as a quintessential example of her poetic prowess. In the titular poem, Sappho directly addresses the goddess Aphrodite, pleading for assistance in matters of the heart. Her intimate expressions of longing and desire have resonated through the ages, placing her as a significant figure in both queer literature and the broader literary canon.

‘And down I set the cushion

Upon the couch that she,

Relaxed supine upon it, Might give her lips to me.’

—Sappho, ‘The First Kiss’, Translated by John Myers O’Hara, 1910


Lord Byron is renowned for his bold and expressive literary style. A prominent figure in the Romantic era, his life was marked by a series of scandalous relationships and well-publicised affairs with both men and women.

His epic poem Don Juan (1819) offers a satirical and unconventional take on the legendary character’s adventures and romantic escapades. Unlike traditional portrayals, Byron’s Don Juan is depicted as a charming yet often passive young man who becomes entangled in various amorous and adventurous situations. The poem is distinguished by its sharp wit, playful narrative, and incisive commentary on social norms and human nature.

Byron’s exploration of themes such as desire, hypocrisy, and the complexities of relationships showcases his literary brilliance and continues to captivate readers, affirming his significant contribution to classic literature.

‘I certainly love him more than any human being, and neither time nor distance have had the least effect on my (in general) changeable disposition.’

—Lord Byron, Letter to Elizabeth Bridget Pigot, 1807


An enigmatic and prolific queer poet, Emily Dickinson is renowned for her innovative and introspective verse. Her collected poems delve into themes of nature, death, immortality, and the inner workings of the human mind. Dickinson’s distinctive style, characterised by unconventional punctuation and slant rhyme, captures the profound beauty and complexity of her thoughts.

Although she lived a solitary life, rarely engaging in society, Dickinson formed a close bond with Susan Huntington Gilbert. The two women exchanged over 250 of her poems and countless loving letters, although much of their correspondence was edited or destroyed after Dickinson’s death.

Her poetry, often exploring deeply personal and existential questions, has cemented her legacy as one of America’s most significant literary figures, offering readers a unique glimpse into the soul of a solitary genius.

‘If certain, when this life was out,

That yours and mine should be,

I’d toss it yonder like a rind, And taste eternity.’

—Emily Dickinson, ‘If You Were Coming in the Fall’, 1890


The next author on our list of queer writers is one of much speculation. In recent years, there has been a lot of discussion surrounding Louisa May Alcott‘s gender and sexual identity. She maintained close relationships with women throughout her life, and her correspondence and diaries contain expressions of affection towards women that some interpret as evidence of her queer identity.

It’s not possible to posthumously impose modern labels and assumptions onto historical figures. However, many individuals navigating their own identities have found solace and insight reading her writings through a queer lens. Little Women (1868)is a timeless novel chronicling the lives of the four March sisters—Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy—as they navigate the challenges and joys of growing up. Through the spirited and independent Jo, Alcott subtly explores themes of gender roles and societal expectations.

‘I am more than half-persuaded that I am a man’s soul put by some freak of nature into a woman’s body . . .  because I have fallen in love with so many pretty girls and never once the least bit with any man.’

—Louisa May Alcott, Interview with Louise Chandler Moulton, 1883

Katharine Harris Bradley (1846–1914) and Edith Emma Cooper (1862–1913)

Michael Field, the pseudonym of Katherine Harris Bradley and Edith Emma Cooper, was a poetical duo whose Poems of Adoration (1912) reflect their deep emotional and romantic connection. Their work is celebrated for its lyrical beauty, intense passion, and exploration of love and devotion.

Through rich imagery and eloquent language, Michael Field’s poetry profoundly explores their shared experiences and the complexities of their relationship. Their unique collaboration and powerful verse continue to intrigue and move readers, establishing their place in the literary world.

‘My Love and I took hands and swore,

Against the world, to be Poets and lovers evermore.’

—Michael Field, ‘It Was Deep April’, 1893


Perhaps one of literary history’s most famous queer writers, Oscar Wilde has opened many doors for the LGBTQIA+ arts community in the years following his untimely death. In 2014, he was given a star on the Rainbow Honour Walk—San Francisco’s Walk of Fame that celebrates the people who have contributed to the gay rights movement.

Wilde’s De Profundis (1905) is a poignant and reflective letter written during his imprisonment, addressed to his former lover, Lord Alfred Douglas. In this deeply personal work, Wilde contemplates his suffering, the nature of his love, and the profound impact of his experiences in his life and art. De Profundis is a powerful testament to Wilde’s literary talent and emotional depth, revealing a side of the author that is both vulnerable and introspective. This work stands as a significant piece in Wilde’s oeuvre, offering readers insight into his complex character and enduring spirit.

‘Every one is worthy of love, except him who thinks that he is.  Love is a sacrament that should be taken kneeling.’

-Oscar Wilde, De Profundis, 1905


A. E. Housman was a queer writer celebrated for his poignant poetry. His work is noted for its melancholic tone and evocative imagery, capturing the bittersweet nature of life. Through simple yet poignant language, Housman explores themes of unrequited love, longing, and loss, sparking discussions regarding his sexual orientation. His potential romantic attachments to men, particularly his intense infatuation with his Oxford classmate, Moses John Jackson (1858–1923), are well-documented in his letters and biographical accounts. Following the trials of Oscar Wilde in 1895, he wrote a poem titled ‘Oh Who Is That Young Sinner’, alluding to homosexuality being as natural and God-given as the colour of one’s hair.

‘Because I liked you better

Than suits a man to say,

It irked you, and I promised

To throw the thought away.

To put the world between us

We parted, stiff and dry.’

—A. E. Housman, More Poems, 1936


The partnership between Gertrude Stein (1874–1946) and Alice B. Toklas (1877–1967) left an indelible mark on the literary and cultural landscape of the early twentieth century. Their relationship, which spanned nearly four decades, was characterised by mutual love, respect, and collaboration. Stein often told Toklas she should write her autobiography, detailing her early years and their later life together. When Toklas was unable to find the time, Stein wrote it for her in what would become a bestselling work and a highly influential new literary form.

Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933) is a unique and innovative work that presents Stein’s life through the perspective of her partner, Alice B. Toklas. Blending autobiography and biography, Stein offers an engaging and witty account of her experiences in the Parisian art scene, her relationships with notable contemporaries, and her literary endeavours.

‘I went to bed early and got up early and Gertrude Stein went to bed late and got up late and so in a way we overlapped.’

—Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, 1933


Virginia Woolf, a central figure in modernist literature, had a complex and fluid sexual identity. Her most significant romantic relationship outside her marriage was with Vita Sackville-West, a fellow writer and member of the Bloomsbury Group. Their relationship, which began in the late 1920s, was both romantic and intellectual, profoundly influencing Woolf’s work.

Sackville-West inspired Woolf’s novel Orlando (1928), a groundbreaking exploration of gender fluidity and identity. Described by Sackville-West’s son as ‘the longest and most charming love letter in literature’, Orlando details the fantastical journey of its protagonist, who lives for centuries and changes sex from male to female. Often regarded as the first transgender novel in English literature, Woolf’s work offers a richly imaginative and thought-provoking reading experience.

‘Love, the poet has said, is woman’s whole existence.’

—Virginia Woolf, Orlando, 1928

Edna St. Vincent Millay


The final queer writer on our list is Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892–1950), an influential American poet, playwright, and feminist. Her captivating verse made unapologetic explorations into themes of love, desire, freedom, and female sexuality. In the 1920s, Millay met the actress and activist Edith Wynn Matthison, and they entered an intimate relationship that endured for several years. Matthison’s influence on Millay’s work is evident in the dedication of some of her poems to ‘E. W. M.’, as well as in the themes of love and longing that pervade her poetry during this period.

The Lamp and the Bell (1921) is Millay’s five-act fairy tale drama. Melodramatic, moving, and insightful, this play, written in lyrical verse, centres around Bianca and Beatrice whose deep friendship matures into a profound romance. Their relationship is tested as they navigate the complexities of their personal desires and the societal restrictions of their time. Millay’s masterful dialogue and rich characterisation bring to life the intimate relationship between the two women and is a thoughtful testament to the courage required to pursue true love in the face of adversity.

‘You are a burning lamp to me, a flame 

The wind cannot blow out, and I shall hold you  High in my hand against whatever darkness.’

—Edna St. Vincent Millay, The Lamp and the Bell, 1921

Discover more trailblazing queer writers in our new collection of love letters, poetry, and journal extracts from some of history’s most celebrated gay authors.

Literary Love Letters and Lyrics