The Ultimate Guide to Queer Literature in Philadelphia

From queer-owned bookstores and book clubs to a reading list of classic and new works, here are some of the places and spaces that make Philadelphia one of the best cities in America to be queer and bookish.

lgbtq bookstore queer literature philadelphia

Giovanni’s Room, just one of Philly’s many resources for queer literature.  / Photo by C. Benner, courtesy of Visit Philadelphia

To be queer today is to live at the center of a contradiction: perhaps at no point in history have LGBTQIA+ people experienced such widespread social acceptance and cultural prominence and yet perhaps at no point in recent memory have we also been the target of such intense legal and cultural attacks, from laws that would criminalize our choices, to attacks on our vital healthcare, and bans of books that tell our stories. In 2023 alone, lawmakers proposed more than 500 anti-LGBTQ bills and more than 300 trans people (mostly trans women of color) were murdered.

To be queer in Philadelphia is also to be part of both a unique, long lineage of activism, joy, pride and resistance. Philly is a majority-minority major East Coast city situated within a politically salient swing state, and we’re part of a rich literary community of queer stories that have generated nuanced, lasting conversations and put us on the national literary map. The shape and flavor of Philadelphia’s literary queer ecosystem reflects the local queer commitment to intersectional coalition building, documents our powerful and scrappy arts landscape, and shows our deep hunger for truly queer stories.

From queer-owned bookstores and vibrant queer-focused reading series and book clubs, to a wide community of local queer writers who are creating books that document or imagine queer life, here are some of the places, spaces, people and books that make Philadelphia one of the best cities in America to be queer and bookish.

Queer-Owned and Queer-Friendly Bookstores in Philly

queer literature giovanni's room

Giovanni’s Room, who’s served Philly’s queer literary community since 1973, is the longest continuously running LGBTQ+ bookstore in the United States. / Photograph by J. Kaczmarek for Visit Philadelphia

Giovanni’s Room

Founded in 1973 and reborn in 2014 with Philly AIDS Thrift as its proprietor, Giovanni’s Room in the Gayborhood holds the title of oldest LGBTQ bookstore in America. The store is volunteer-run, stocks the newest LBGTQ releases as well as used classics and zines, and boasts a healthy slate of literary events including a monthly queer book club (see below). 345 South 12th Street.

The Head and The Hand

This queer-owned nonprofit independent publisher and community bookstore in Fishtown has a small footprint. But its curated selection routinely highlights LGBTQ fiction, nonfiction and children’s books, and has its finger on the pulse of queer stories through its reading series and author events. It also encourages couples to rent out the store for intimate date nights and has been the site of many queer marriage proposals. 2230 Frankford Avenue.

A Novel Idea

Having quickly established itself as a fixture on the East Passyunk business corridor, this friendly, queer-owned bookstore has a focus on queer stories, science fiction and fantasy, tarot, and all things delightfully weird. It also serves as South Philly’s literary hub with events, open mics, and classes. 726 East Passyunk Avenue.

Big Blue Marble

Owned by Sheila Allen Avelin and managed by Jennifer Woodfin, who are both queer, this longtime mainstay of the Mount Airy neighborhood has long had a focus on feminist and queer books and community building, featuring LGBTQ+ author readings as well as book clubs, crafting groups, and more. 551 Carpenter Lane.

Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books

Uncle Bobbie’s seeks to highlight Black voices most of all, but is also committed to amplifying all “underrepresented voices on vital subjects” including queerness. Owned by TV personality, author and academic Marc Lamont Hill but employing many queer booksellers, this gorgeous bookstore/coffee shop in Germantown features a hefty LGBTQ+ section and hosts an annual bell hooks Symposium. 5445 Germantown Avenue.

Harriett’s Bookshop

Committed to highlighting women and gender expansive authors, primarily of color, this lovingly-curated and nimble bookstore project helmed by Jeannine Cook has amplified queer stories since its inception, and features constantly changing book displays that are art pieces in and of themselves. It also has a sister bookstore, Ida’s, in Collingswood with a similar ethos. 258 East Girard Avenue.

Wooden Shoe

Another nonprofit and volunteer-run collective, Wooden Shoe has a focus on social justice movements of all kinds but specifically labor and anarchism. The South Street store carries new and used books as well as zines, striving to “provide our local community with radical and non-traditional sources of written, digital, and spoken information.” They are also currently running a Year of James Baldwin reading group. 704 South Street.

philly bookstore crawl harriet's

Harriett’s Bookshop / Photograph by R. Rabena for Visit Philadelphia

Queer Book Clubs & Reading Series

Queer Books Philly

A just-announced collaboration between local bookish influencer and trans rights readathon organizer Bee Knight and social programming collective Queer Space Philly, this book club will feature democratically chosen books highlighting a range of queer stories and authors with an aim to center QTBIPOC authors as well as indie and small-press authors. Their first pick is the novel Chlorine by Jade Song, and they will meet on June 29th from 4 to 6 p.m. in Clark Park to discuss.

Philly Queer Book Club

This monthly book club that meets in the upstairs of Giovanni’s Room “celebrates queer literature and those who love reading and discussing it.” Though the club has taken many forms over the years, its current leader is Danny Maloney, a local queer public school teacher and bibliophile. June’s pick was Nevada by Imogen Binnie; July’s is The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith.

Personal Velocity

This quarterly-ish reading series held at The Head & the Hand hosts women, nonbinary, and gender expansive readers of essays, cultural criticism and other nonfiction, and skews heavily queer.

Lavender Pansies

This queer social space for femme/woman, lesbian, intersex, non-binary, trans, and agender (FLINTA) people fosters community through its Instagram account and Discord channel, and also organizes a gender expansive book club. Their next meeting is June 27th at 7 p.m. at 5527 Catharine Street discussing Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor.

You Can’t Kill a Poet

This long-running poetry series for queer and trans writers in Philadelphia meets upstairs in Tattooed Mom, where audience members can sit in little bumper cars.

Online Resources

Lit Friends Podcast

Two queer Philly-area friends and authors Annie Liontas (Sex With a Brain Injury, Let Me Explain You) and Lito Velázquez interview writers who are friends on and off the page (many of them queer).

Collective Lit

Local queer writer Julian Shendelman highlights Philly literary resources and events with a queer bent.

Blue Stoop (and their community calendar)

This nonprofit offers classes in the craft of writing, as well as events like a summer masterclass series of intensives, career advice, and Q&As with area writers. In addition, their community calendar is a great place to see what literary events are happening all across the city.

Queer Liberation Library

A non-location-focused library that offers free membership to access a range of digital and audio queer books.

The Reading List

james ijames, who just won the pulitzer prize for drama for his play fat ham, an adaptation of hamlet

James Ijames, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play Fat Ham — which you can find in book form on our Philly queer literature reading list. / Photograph courtesy of James Ijames

Some iconic books and authors:

Samuel Delany, Dhalgren (1975)

Called “one of the most profound and bestselling science fiction novels of all time,” this story of a troubled and magical city at the center of the United States by longtime queer Philly resident and Temple University professor is a must-read.

Joseph F. Beam, In the Life: A Black Gay Anthology (1986)

Born from years of frustration with gay literature that “had no message for — and little mention of — Black gay men” this anthology edited by Philadelphia native Beam broke new ground. 

Fran Ross, Oreo (2000, reprint)

This “pioneering, dazzling satire about a biracial black girl from Philadelphia searching for her Jewish father in New York City” by lesbian writer Fran Ross is considered an important work of satirical fiction.

CA Conrad, The Book of Frank (2010)

Conrad left homophobic nearby Boyertown for queer community and refuge in Philly, a journey memorialized in this incandescent and formally inventive collection of poems.

Madeline Miller, The Song of Achilles (2011)

A retelling of the legend of Achilles and the Trojan War from the point of view of Patroclus, this novel is a gay love story by one of the Philly area’s finest writers.

Carmen Maria Machado, Her Body and Other Parties (2017)

This story collection by former UPenn Writer in Residence Machado is a strange and haunted take on being a woman in America that has entered the contemporary queer canon.

Raquel Salas Rivera, Lo Terciario / The Tertiary (2019)

This collection of poetry from 2018-’19 Poet Laureate of Philadelphia was long-listed for the 2018 National Book Award and won the Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Poetry.

R. Eric Thomas, Here for It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America (2020)

This humorous memoir-in-essays about navigating Blackness and queerness in America written by longtime Philly resident and playwright Thomas made a big splash in 2020.

Xio Axelrod, The Girl With Stars in Her Eyes (2021)

Axelrod, who grew up in the music industry and makes her home in Philadelphia, is the bestselling author of of this romantic novel.

Asali Solomon, The Days of Afrekete (2021)

Inspired by Mrs. Dalloway, Sula, and Audre Lorde’s Zami, the second novel from iconic West Philly author Solomon has a queer main character.

James Ijames, Fat Ham (2023)

This queer retelling of Hamlet from Villanova professor Ijames won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and was then released as a book.

And a list of books recently published and forthcoming:

Courtney Preiss, Welcome Home, Caroline Kline

This April debut novel is about a young woman who returns to her Jersey Shore hometown and reconnects with her first queer crush.

Emma Copley Eisenberg, Housemates

My novel about two housemates in a West Philly group house — one a photographer and one a writer — who embark on a road trip through Pennsylvania, was published in May.

Ted Rees, Hand Me the Limits

Poet Rees returned in May with a new collection about his struggle with cancer using “punk, New Narrative, slutty lyric” and epistolary forms.

Noam Keim, This Land is Holy

Keim’s May debut essay collection explores their coming of age as a queer Arab Jew in Palestine and making a chosen family in Philadelphia.

Kayleb Rae Candrilli, Winter of Worship 

Raised in “the cornfields of Pennsylvania” and an elegy for the climate, Whiting Award-winning poet Candrilli’s fourth collection of poems will be published in January 2025.

Julia Drake, Lovesick Falls

Drake follows up her debut YA novel The Last True Poets of the Sea with this new queer book for young readers out in June 2025.

Eshani Surya, Ravishing

Surya’s debut novel, out in summer 2025, follows a man who works for a beauty company where all is not what it seems, and his sister who uses the product without understanding the consequences.

Sara Novic, Mother Tongue

Author of the One Book, One Philadelphia pick True Biz will have a memoir out next summer about deafness, queerness, adoption and other ways we are different from our parents.