Illness as Genre by Rebecca

Disease itself doesn’t necessary qualify as a genre, but the impact that HIV/AIDS had upon the gay community in the 1980s and 1990s created a body of literature about the epidemic. Author Michael Cunningham described his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Hours, as a book about the AIDS crisis:

“I’m a gay man who has lived through the epidemic for 15 years—and who will or won’t live through what’s still to come. And every book I write is, in some form, a gay book about the epidemic. It’s part of my consciousness. I’m infiltrated by it. I don’t think I could write anything else.”

To someone intimately affected by HIV/AIDS, the illness can become as close as one’s breath—marking and, at times, marring a person’s coming-of-age, coming out, connecting, surviving, and aging. Whether one survived this time or is too young to remember the endless funerals, Act Up demonstrations, and the NAMES Quilt covering Washington’s National Mall, this body of literature connects us to a time in our all- too-recent past that forever changed the world.

Essential Reading :

And the band played on: Politics, people and the AIDS epidemic by Randy Shilts—Non-fiction that reads more like a novel, And the band played on details the beginning of the AIDS epidemic and the cast of characters who helped and hindered the public health response. Shilts was a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and the author of two other bestselling books, The Mayor of Castro Street: The life and times of Harvey Milk and Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and lesbians in the U.S. military from Vietnam to the Persian Gulf . And the band played on won the Stonewall Book Award and later was made into a film by HBO.

Last Watch of the Night: Essays too personal and otherwise by Paul Monette—Monette perfected the art of AIDS memoir. Last watch of the night is the last of his autobiographical writing. An accomplished poet also, he wrote a collection of elegiac poems for his partner, Roger Horowitz titled Love Alone: 18 elegies for Rog

Angels in America: A gay fantasia on national themes by Tony Kushner—Kushner’s sweeping drama about the AIDS crisis transports the reader to the strange, horrific, and wonderful era of the 1980s. Angels was also made into a film for HBO.

A Home at the End of the World and The Hours by Michael Cunningham—Though not the focus of these novels, HIV/AIDS is an ever-present character in them. Cunningham is adept at exploring how illness can infiltrate our lives and permanently change our perceptions and identities.


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