Sunday, December 1 is World AIDS Day. This year’s theme is “Ending the Global HIV/AIDS Epidemic: Community to Community”. I don’t remember a theme to the first observance in 1988. But this year I thought I’d recommend a few books from a community that isn’t always included in discussions about the epidemic: women.
All of these women have written about the epidemic, fiction and nonfiction. Luckily, more women are writing, like Rae Lewis-Thornton, whose memoir, Unprotected, is coming in 2020. In an odd bit of serendipity or karma or fate or timing, five of the seven women mentioned on this page wrote their books from the Chicago area. You’ll be hearing more about that coincidence soon.
For too long, the literature of the epidemic has focused on gay men. But we were/are there, too. And our experiences are very different. I’ve shared the author’s websites rather than any particular sales link. Buy them from your favorite indie bookstore or online. Check them out from your local library and if need be, ask them to order any or all for you.
You’ll be glad you did.
Taking Turns: Stories from HIV Care Unit 371 by MK Czierwiec. A graphic novel about AIDS? Yes, one that incorporates oral histories with MK’s experiences in the AIDS ward at Chicago’s Illinois Masonic Hospital at the height of the epidemic. A unique and important book.
The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai has won or been a finalist for every major literary award in the past year for good reason. Her epic novel moves seamlessly from the north side of Chicago in 1985 to Paris in 2015, painting a beautiful and painful portrait of the epidemic that is all too familiar to many of us.
Nowhere Else I Want to Be by Carol D. Marsh is a memoir that focuses on her work founding and running a housing program for women with HIV in Washington, DC. It shines a light on important issues of race and class that are often ignored.
Nurses on the Inside: Stories of the HIV/AIDS Epidemic in NYC by Ellen Matzer and Valery Hughes is another first-person account of nurses on the front lines in a city ravaged by HIV/AIDS. Their stories are emotional and riveting.
Remaking A Life: How Women with HIV/AIDS Confront Inequality by Celeste Watkins-Hayes shares the stories of women of color thriving with HIV. Yes, thriving. But the journey each took to that point is one few of us can imagine. Exhaustively researched, it’s a critically important book on the issues confronting women of color.
And don’t forget about mine – Fag Hags, Divas and Moms: The Legacy of Straight Women in the AIDS Community – which honors the women who changed the course of the epidemic and still make a difference every day.
So spend some money on Black Friday – or better yet, Small Business Saturday – and learn something new about an epidemic that has raged for almost forty years.
(Full disclosure: Rae and Carol are both in my book, as well as a character from Rebecca’s.)