This summer our month of colourful LGBTQ+-centred activity kicks off Sunday 30th June and runs through to Sunday 21st July. Throughout the month we’re celebrating what makes us unique and proud to be ourselves with special events and story times for all the family to share together. As part of these celebrations our Collection Team have been exploring LGBTQ+ writing from our Collection.

Seven Stories’ is committed to increasing its holdings of British LGBTQ+ writing as part of its wider policy of better representing the diversity of modern British society in its archive, exhibitions and events. This is particularly important for LGBTQ+ children and young people, who are more likely to feel anxious and isolated and experience bullying. As such, Seven Stories supports children and young people’s access to books that explore themes such as homophobia and coming out, and that present LGBTQ+ and non-traditional families compassionately.

Chambers’ Dance on my Grave (1982) is one such book. One of the first British young adult books to openly present a homosexual relationship, Dance on my Grave radically challenged the political climate of Britain in the 1980s, a decade that witnessed the emergence of HIV and the AIDS epidemic, and a rise in homophobic sentiment resulting in the notorious Section 28 amendment of the Local Government Act in 1988. This banned the intentional promotion or publication of material intended to promote homosexuality, and the teaching of the acceptability of homosexuality as a family relationship in schools.

While never using the words gay or homosexual, Dance on my Grave tells the story of the tempestuous relationship between two older teenage boys: Henry ‘Hal’ Robinson and Barry Gorman. Told using Chambers’ signature multiple viewpoints and shifting backwards and forwards in time, the novel charts what is essentially a summer romance between Hal and Barry. With frank but not graphic references to their physical relationship, the novel normalises their homosexuality in the context of many teenage romances. Neither Hal nor Barry experience anxiety about their desires, they are simply two teenage boys who meet, fall into bed if not in love, and then fall out. 

Part of the important Aidan and Nancy Chambers Collection, the archive contains substantial material on the development of the novel including the original story in The Guardian that inspired the novel, research material, correspondence, letters from readers and press clippings. Added to this is a wealth of correspondence across the Collection that demonstrates the challenges and obstacles that authors faced publishing stories with LGBTQ+ themes. Understanding and mapping these difficulties is part of the ongoing work of the Seven Stories’ Collection Team.