Curated by: Neil Richards
Location: UASC Reading Room, Third Floor, Murray Library
The University of Saskatchewan Library’s Richards Collection of Sexual and Gender Diversity includes a remarkable collection of over 500 titles of lesbian and gay pulp literature. The term pulp derives from the low quality wood pulp paper used in printing. These inexpensive titles were sold in groceries, drug stores, dime stores, and train and and bus terminals across North America from the late 1940s to the mid 1960s. They were also available by mail order. Paperback novels of a more pornographic nature were considerably more costly and seem to have been sold “under the counter” at other outlets.
Lesbian pulps in particular were marketed to a large and diverse reading audience of lesbians, heterosexual women and perhaps most importantly heterosexual men who used them as erotic fantasy. In some cases pulp novels were simply soft-core erotica that could be disguised as something socially redeemable, usually through introductions by ‘medical experts’ and the expectation that the deviant characters would meet unhappy ends in the final chapter. Certain publishers were well known for gay and lesbian pulp including Guild Press (male), Greenleaf Classics (male), and Fawcett Gold Medal, Midwood, Beacon (lesbian).
Lesbian and gay pulp typically features vivid, titillating covers designed to catch the eye. The fronts and backs generally include provocative lines of text meant to draw attention to the nature of what might be expected between the covers. Publishers commonly sprinkled code words such as "twilight", "odd", "twisted”, "shadows" and especially “strange" on the covers to indicate that the book was what would today be described as queer. To avoid controversy the words lesbian, homosexual and gay (at that time a term unfamiliar to most heterosexuals) were seldom used in the descriptive blurbs.
The characters and situations in this selection are all billed as “strange”. The texts and images when seen together suggest the powerful and entrenched nature of heterosexism as a primary organizing principle of society in the 1950s and 1960s. There is hardly a member of any social minority who has not had to deal with problems of imposed inferiority and self-hatred, rooted in the dominant society’s insistence that it alone represents the desirable norm.
To explore the world of “strange” pulps further, visit Special Collections’ digital exhibition of lesbian and gay pulp covers called Passions Uncovered: Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Pulp at http://library2.usask.ca/srsd/pulps/