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IST 605: The AIDs Epidemic in America

Resources associated with the AIDs Epidemic in the United States which began in 1981.



The National Aids Memorial
This website is dedicated to showcasing the story and struggle behind being diagnosed with HIV/AIDs by telling stories of those who died and giving resources to survivors. It also contains information on specific actions taken to memorialize those who have passed from AIDs such as The Grove memorial site in San Francisco as a place for remembrance. It discusses the history of the AIDs quilt, considered the largest community arts project in history, with 50,000 panels dedicated to remembering 110,000 lives of people with AIDs. The quilt is still being added to and continues to raise awareness about AIDs in the 21st century. It also shares information about programs to get involved in and places to donate. The website gives a comprehensive view of the activism and remembrance actions taken for victims and survivors living with AIDs to give a current idea of how people are working to dedicate time and space to this virus and remembering the people behind it instead of just the diagnosis.

AIDS in Literature
This webpage is a topic under the Gale Literature Resource Center and provides an overview of the literature created as a result of the AIDs epidemic and how this event shaped the writing of people at the time beginning in the 1980s. The literary topic ranges in a multitude of perspectives but mostly those of gay men concerning the effects of the disease on both the healthy and infected alike and its play in the gay community and society in general. Themes associated with this topic are alienation, homophobia, remembrance, affirmation, isolation and fear, all intense human emotion resulting from this virus. This topic examines how a disease can bleed into the arts of the time as expressed through the people who faced it and gives a background on how people felt and are still feeling about the emergence of this virus. Provided in the webpage is a list of representative works of 40 authors and other AIDs literature resources researchers can consume, all varying in perspective which is important to view.


The Way We Live Now by Susan Sontag

ISBN: 0374523053

This is a signature short story on AIDs and has received great acclaim since its original publication in 1986 in The New Yorker and paperback adaption in 1991 during the epidemic when AIDs was still a new disease to many. The story is told through snippets of whispered conversation about an unnamed man who was sick in the hospital with AIDs, though the disease is never mentioned explicitly. This man is the first in his social circle to be diagnosed and as the story progresses, we go from hearing about the protagonist to hearing from him as more information comes to light and more people are diagnosed. This story is vital to include in this guide as the arguably seminal work of fiction with AIDs as the focal point, but also the commentary its structure gives on the nature of the spread of information and notably a subject that scares people. The structure of this story illuminates the realities of how information was disseminated at the time as a scary unknown to the people of the United States and while trying to make sense of the emerging epidemic which grew to encompass many lives.

Taking Turns: Stories from HIV/AIDS Care Unit 371 by M.K. Czerwiec.

ISBN: 1637790074

This book is a true retelling of M.K. Czerwiec's time as a nurse in a HIV/AIDs care unit at a height of the AIDs epidemic in the Midwest in 1994. It is told in graphic novel format, and it explores what life was like in these wards for care staff and patients through the author's own memories, the oral histories of patients and their family members as well as other staff are included. It is a candid exploration of life and death at the peak of AIDs mortality in the Midwest United States and a personal journey through all of the emotions this disease inspired in and around those affected. This source is unique as it is a strong visual for this content without being too graphic, and also gives an inside look into how health staff experienced the epidemic. This graphic novel is a palatable and moving resource that showcases multiple points of view regarding AIDs at one of its most lethal times in history. Its added strength is that it is illustrated by the author to give a glimpse into what life was like for Czerwiec at the time firsthand. 

Borrowed Time: An AIDs Memoir by Paul Monette.

ISBN: 0156005816

This memoir follows the life of Paul Monette and his lover and friend Roger Horwitz's diagnosis with AIDs until Roger's eventual passing of the disease 19 months later. This book dissects the reality that AIDs take on the loved ones in people's everyday lives of those diagnosed and suffering, the vulnerability of this memoir conveys the deep emotional toll and isolation this disease can take. The author himself also ended up dying as a result of the AIDs virus in 1995. This is a vital contribution to this research guide as it gives a firsthand account into what suffering from AIDs looked like back in the 1980s before advanced medical interventions and moreover public understanding were reached, and how it took a significant toll on the gay population of America and robbed many young men of their lives and hope. It is a palpable conveyance of the true cost of this disease as well as the minutiae of what life with AIDs looked like, it has won numerous awards because of this vulnerability. 


AIDs Spreads Pain and Fear Among Ill and Healthy Alike by Dudley Clendinen

This article by the New York Times written in 1983, a digitized version from The Times’s print archive, details how at the emergence of public awareness of the virus everyone feared for themselves and for others nationwide in every walk of life. It describes the symptoms of the disease and how it affects its victims and doctors who were stumped as to what was happening. It explores the mounting mortality rates of the gay community and the emotional distress of victims and their loved ones through specific personal examples of doctors, those infected, and those witnessing it. This article was also included in this guide as an informative example of just one of many news articles that exist that were written at the time of the epidemic that can be accessed through the New York Times as a historical database, but also one that captures the human feeling of the time. Articles featuring AIDs are still available here in digital format and also a scanned copy of the printed version. This article therefore serves as an insight to how AIDs was being reported on at the end of the 80s and also as a reminder that researchers have the opportunity to access news on AIDs as it unfolded and understand the reactions of the public in their real time as opposed to solely retrospectively, through the New York Times subscription.


Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes by Tony Kushner

This play, since turned into a miniseries on HBO, is divided into two parts and takes on a metaphorical and symbolic approach to describing and understanding AIDs with multiple storylines. Some characters exist as angels and ghosts through a backdrop of New York City in the mid 1980's, the onset and fever pitch of the epidemic. This play is useful as its scope details may aspects of intersection with AIDs at this time such as politics, religion, McCarthyism and more within the interactions of the characters and gives a wide scope of how AIDs interacted with other parts of daily life beyond physical, while giving it an imaginative lens in which to view AIDs as more than a virus. Dramatization of real-life events gives the ability to see it in a different way and understand its complexity through characters whose faults and strengths are relatable to the audience, therefore extending a sense of understanding between us and people then as represented through these characters, and those still affected by AIDs in the U.S. today.

Silverlake Life: The View from Here directed by Peter Friedman and Tom Joslin.

This 1993 documentary captures the lives and deaths of partners Tom Joslin and Mark Massi, both diagnosed with AIDs, and shows how their lives have changed because of this disease. This is the resource that is the most poignant example of the impact AIDs had on human beings and their day to day lives and is the most emotional to consume. As a trigger warning, it also shows Tom after his passing which really evokes deep sadness and loss when watching and should not be watched as casually as the other sources. It is a raw account of the ways lives were changed and destroyed by the disease and also how it finds its interaction with love and legacy. It serves to show how "normal" life is upended so mundane tasks become feats of endurance and gives the uninfected person a glimpse into how people with AIDs existed and may still exist to an extent, notably in the last few months of life. It is further made personal by being shot with a handheld camera. This resource is the capstone for this guide as it is able to culminate medical realties, features of the past, and intense human suffering and emotion to fully convey the reality of the AIDs virus.