Three Decades of AIDS: A Select Book List
The three decades of the AIDS/HIV epidemic has seen a vast amount of literature. These include self-help manuals, personal accounts, histories, memorials, novels, poetry and plays and they range from the sublime to the ridiculous. Most of the good books about AIDS were published in the 1980s and 1990s, which means that many of them are out of print. Many of them though may be found in any good public library or at the Stonewall National Museum and Archives. The following books are part of a vast and still growing library. Authors marked with an asterisk (*) have themselves since died from AIDS complications. Sadly, there were too many of them.
Facing It: A Novel of AIDS by Paul Reed*, Gay Sunshine Press, 1984. Facing it was one of the first novels to deal with the epidemic. It follows one gay man’s AIDS-related illness and death, set in the background of medical politics.
Sex and Germs: The Politics of AIDS by Cindy Patton, South End Press, 1985. From the beginning, AIDS has been a political epidemic. In Sex and Germs, Patton showed how fear of sex, homosexuality, disease and death shaped the public’s reaction.
And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic by Randy Shilts*, St. Martin’s Press, 1987. This is the essential history of the first five years (1980-85) of the epidemic. Though marred by the author’s bias (Patient Zero), “Band” excels as both literature and journalism. It was the basis for a movie of the same name.
Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir by Paul Monette*, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988. This memoir details the AIDS-related death of Monette’s partner, Roger Horwitz. Monette also memorialized Horwitz in Love Alone: Eighteen Elegies for Rog (1988).
Ground Zero by Andrew Holleran, William Morrow, 1988. Holleran covered the early years of AIDS in a series of essays, which appeared in Christopher Street magazine. Ground Zero was revised and reissued in 2008 as Chronicle of a Plague, Revisited: AIDS and Its Aftermath (Da Capo Press).
Reports from the Holocaust: The Story of an AIDS Activist by Larry Kramer, St. Martin’s Press, 1989. Kramer is arguably the greatest — and most controversial — AIDS activist. In his angry essays, and play, The Normal Heart, this modern-day Jeremiah attacked the powers that be — and the LGBT community — for not doing enough to fight the epidemic. Kramer’s collection of AIDS essays was updated and expanded in 1994.
Eighty-Sixed: A Novel by David B. Feinberg*, Viking, 1989. Feinberg’s first novel follows the life and times of B. J. Rosenthal (Feinberg) through the turbulent years 1980 and 1986. Feinberg brought Rosenthal back in Spontaneous Combustion (1991).
Gentle Warriors* by Geoff Mains, Knights Press, 1989. In this revenge fantasy, a group of PWA terrorists try to assassinate the president for his failure to do something about AIDS. Not too far-fetched at a time when gay men died and most people didn’t care.
Personal Dispatches: Writers Confront AIDS, edited by John Preston*, St. Martin’s Press, 1989. This is one of the first and best anthologies of writings about AIDS. Among its contributors are Stephen W. Chapot*, Arnie Kantrowitz and Edmund White.
People In Trouble by Sarah Schulman, Dutton, 1990. If this novel of homelessness and AIDS reminds you of Jonathan Larson’s musical Rent (1996), it might be because Larson borrowed too much from the earlier work. Schulman certainly thought so.
Ceremonies: Prose and Poetry by Essex Hemphill*, Plume, 1992. AIDS decimated a generation of Black gay authors. Hemphill chronicled the impact of HIV on the African-American community — among other topics — in this great collection of prose and poetry.
Writing AIDS: Gay Literature, Language, and Analysis, edited by Timothy F. Murphy and Suzanne Poirier, Columbia University Press, 1993. This collection of essays also includes a Bibliography, by Murphy and Franklin Brooks, of AIDS Literature 1982-1991.
Victory Deferred: How AIDS Changed Gay Life in America by John-Manuel Andriote, University of Chicago Press, 1999. Victory Deferred chronicles how the epidemic changed gay life in America: culturally, medically, politically, and socially.
The Fabulous Sylvester: The Legend, the Music, the Seventies in San Francisco by Joshua Gamson, Henry Holt & Company, 2005. There have been many biographies about talented individuals who died too soon from AIDS-related causes. One of the best is this biography of Sylvester James* (1947-88), the gender-bending disco star (“Mighty Real”) who paved the way for RuPaul, Kevin Aviance and many other artists.