Shocking and Revealing: Pulp Fiction and the Construction of Queerness


Curated by Joan Lubin

“As historically significant as they are campy and salacious, the pulps record the fears and fantasies of a postwar American culture.”

Our latest Archives exhibition explores the history of queer pulp fiction novels. Pulp fiction occupies a crucial role in the life stories of many queer folks coming up before Stonewall and after. Intended to intrigue, alarm, and arouse, pulps also provided representations of queer lives—however distorted and sensationalistic—when few others were available. Cheap enough to be disposable and for sale in train stations, newsstands, and drug stores, gay pulps came to serve as the connective tissue for a nascent LGBT community. Queer folks could find their loves and lives animated on the page, and, later on, in the back pages of the books could find advertisements for homophile organizations and place personal ads. Bridging the legal decisions of the early 1960s that redefined obscenity more narrowly and opened the floodgates to unapologetic representations of queer characters and perverse pleasures, the pulps from the John J. Wilcox, Jr. Archives on display in this exhibition register the shifting relationships between queer people and the law, medicine, science, and politics from the birth of the pulps after World War II to the shuttering of the major pulp presses in the late 1970s. As historically significant as they are campy and salacious, the pulps record the fears and fantasies of a postwar American culture anxiously obsessed with differentiating the normal from the deviant.