Last night at the Southbank Centre in London there were a series of readings for the Polari Literary Salon which primarily featured musical ladies and sensitive men. Alex Klineberg read hilarious passages from his short book “Dear Sebastian” about his friendship with the notorious ‘Kind of Soho’ Sebastian Horsley, a truly flamboyant and uncompromising artist/raconteur. Next Andrew McMillan gave an arresting reading from his debut poetry book “Physical.” He’s a particularly effective reader with the hushed intensity of his voice. So his opening poem ‘Choke’ instantly seized the audience’s attention with the emotional power of the words and his confidential tone. Performer Celine Hispiche closed the first half of the evening with a rousing series of impersonations/tributes/songs to lost personalities and performers of London. Her instant embodiment of each past soul was far more convincing than anything Derek Acorah could pull off. Another impersonation/performance was given by female duo ‘All the Nice Girls’ who invoked the theatrical and musical escapades of Gwen Farrar and Norah Blaney in 1920s London. James Dawson finished the evening reading from his new young adult novel “All of the Above.” He spoke meaningfully about the complexity of teenage desire and confusion of sexuality. He also vigorously defended the need for sexual education in schools and scorned the snobbery surrounding novels about teenage experiences.

Writer and editor Alex Hopkins read the books shortlisted for the Polari First Book Prize. I was thrilled to hear Kirsty Logan’s fantastic book of short stories “The Rental Heart” made the list. I read it at the end of last year when it was shortlisted for the Green Carnation Prize. What I appreciate so much about the Polari First Book Prize are the LGBT books it introduces me to which I wouldn’t have heard of otherwise. Bindel’s hilariously titled and rousing polemic about changes in the lesbian and gay movement sounds really powerful. I’m eager to read Al Brookes’ topical novel about assisted suicide after reading this article about it in the Guardian. I’m intrigued by the sound of La JohnJoseph’s experimental fiction. David Tait’s poems mix autobiography and love story. Below is the complete shortlist. I’ll be excited to hear who is announced as the winner next month.

Straight Expectations – Julie Bindel

The Rental Heart – Kirsty Logan

Self-portrait with The Happiness – David Tait

Everything Must Go – LaJohn Joseph

The Gift of Looking Closely – Al Brookes

The Informant – Susan Wilkins