A fixture of queer NYC night life since the early 90s, avant-garde icon Justin Vivian Bond has been a trailblazer of trans inclusion and activism – endearing audiences with subversive performances that challenge conventional notions of gender and identity. Born in Maryland in 1963, they rose to fame as one half of the punk cabaret act Kiki and Herb, a chaotic, high-camp sendup of schmaltzy lounge singers.
Beloved for their vibrant performances both on and off-Broadway, Bond has received an Obie, a Bessie, and a Tony nomination for their stage work. In 2011, they released the memoir Tango: My Childhood Backwards and in High Heels, a candid and captivating coming-of-age tale that garnered widespread acclaim and won the Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Nonfiction.
Sharing ten of their all-time favorite reads with NY-based bookstore One Grand, Bond’s selections explore the spiritual, sexual and surreal. From Greil Marcus’ must-read on the punk movement to Jean Genet’s iconic work of autofiction, explore their recommendations below. Complement with the reading lists of Eileen Myles, Elliot Page, Laverne Cox, Patti Smith and Yoko Ono.
Justin Vivian Bond’s Reading List
Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century by Greil Marcus
“Lipstick Traces gives a profound and well documented introduction to counter-cultural history and is a wonderfully enlightening window into the intellectual underpinnings of rock and roll.” -JVB
The Man Who Fell In Love With The Moon by Tom Spanbauer
“A spiritual manifesto as well as a heartbreakingly beautiful read, this book explores themes of gender, the oppression of women and queers in the old west and is an intense portrayal of the power of the human spirit.” -JVB
“Turned me onto the poetry of nihilism at a very tender age. Spare and strong, ‘I know what “nothing” means, and keep on playing.'” -JVB
The Thief’s Journal by Jean Genet
“Anarchy. Sexuality. Sodomy. Obsession. Non-fiction. Werque!” -JVB
Edie: American Girl by Jean Stein
“In High School I was working at Waldenbooks when this book came in, it wasn’t until years later that I realized emulating Edie Sedgwick and dying face-down on my pillow, high on drugs, might not be the most glamorous way to go.” -JVB
Pentimento by Lillian Hellman
“Pentimento begins with the words, ‘Old Paint On Canvas.’ …I look in the mirror and what do I see? Hellu! The fact that the validity of her memoirs has been disputed does not make them any less inspiring.” -JVB
Manifestoes of Surrealism by Andre Breton
“Nothing in The Surrealist Manifesto makes sense but it’s endlessly readable nonetheless. When I’m writing and I get stuck I crack it open, point to a sentence and take it from there. Who needs to be linear? Not me. I don’t go anywhere without it.” -JVB
Concerning the Spiritual in Art by Wassily Kandinsky
“As a student I was so moved by his paintings of music that I needed to know more. I discovered this book and the imperative to insert a deeper meaning into my work became very clear, Kandinsky taught that it was possible to do so through technique which, in turn, inspired me to take what I do -even the funny things- much more seriously.” -JVB
“Cosmic and hilarious. I like books that make me laugh out loud. This one does.” -JVB
“In my opinion James Purdy is the most underrated writer in American literature, probably because he was gay. His books are heart wrenching, brutal and sometimes flat-out mean-spirited but they are also incredibly beautiful and endlessly poetic. I’m not all that fond of books that make me cry but in Purdy’s case, I don’t mind.” -JVB
(via One Grand Books; photo by Ruven Afanador)
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