Needle, Chael and Goettel, Diane (editors). “Art and Understanding: Literature from the First Twenty Years of A&U”, Black Lawrence Press, 2015.
Artistic Responses to AIDS
This anthology of poetry comes from contributions to A&U Magazine. A&U deals with thoughtful and artistic responses to AIDS and this book was put together to celebrate the 20th anniversary of publication. The proceeds from the sale of the collection are to be a fundraising tool by A&U at AIDS conferences and events. It is a pity, however, that this is being published by a press that is unsympathetic to the gay lifestyle and whose editorial offices are much to busy, I suppose, to bother with answering emails. The only reason I am reviewing this is the nature of the literature. I find the staff at Black Lawrence to be unprofessional and totally rude and I recommend spending your money elsewhere. The press obviously has no need for gay cash or for reviews from gay reviewers.
Included in this anthology is work “from emerging, celebrated, and forgotten writers who have contributed work to A & U Magazine in its first two decades of publication”. Most of us are aware that the power of literature as a counter-narrative is immense especially in relation to HIV/AIDS. When AIDS began in this country, the first reaction was silence but this was quickly followed by outcry against a country that was doing nothing to help it sick and dying citizens. President Ronald Reagan did nothing and this is one of the things that will define his administration forever. From that silence came “fear-mongering, blaming, shaming and minimalizing” and the country seemed to have a lack of concern about the disease. Gay men were dismissed by the government and by the medical establishment and healthcare facilities. The media and the public were silent on the epidemic. So were the government, the medical establishment and healthcare facilities and the gay community was
marginalized by considering it as the Other. Soon there were anti-AIDS organizations and demonstrations and there was an outbreak of other social forces, namely homophobia, racism, misogyny, and classism. There was a national attempt to dismiss the reality of the disease and no one in power even wanted to give it a name.
Those realities spoke to the injustices and indignities of Reagan’s America and to the blind spots of our friends’ and families’ compassion. However, the silencing failed as the gay community limped into its own. Our unity came from our diversity and alliances were formed; activism and self-determination became almost a way of life. We began to claim our own literature and as early as 1991, there was A&U Magazine. It came into being as a way for us to show our responses to our holocaust and featured poetry, drama, fiction, and creative non-fiction that explored “the emotional complexity, the strategies of survival, and the pressing questions of the pandemic”. Soon individuals living with HIV/AIDS, and those who loved them, expressed ideas to show that we were not going to be eradicated and then we would fight back and fight AIDS.
This anthology is a collection of some of the best work from those whose creativity was collected in the magazine and it is a wonderful collection. However, what makes this book less than perfect is the fact that it is published by Black Lawrence Publishing, which obviously does not and has not ever sincerely given a damn about our community. In fact, the editor of the press does not even bother to answer her mail and has not done so for over two years.