5 AIDS-Related Must-Read Biographies

By |2021-12-01T08:09:53-05:00December 1st, 2021|News, World AIDS Day|

Peter Staley’s “Never Silent” isn’t the only outstanding memoir or biography by those who endured the worst years of the AIDS crisis (Sarah Schulman’s mammoth 736-page “Let The Record Show,” also released this year, is built around 200 interviews with ACT UP New York members including Staley). Here are five to add to your shelf or audiobook queue.

Borrowed Time (1988)
Paul Monette

Award-winning author Monette, whose work included poetry, essays and movie novelizations, penned this wrenching, moving chronicle of how AIDS cruelly stole away his life partner, Roger Horwitz, between 1985-86 despite privileged access to early treatments. “An eloquent testimonial to the power of love and the devastation of loss,” wrote Publisher’s Weekly. Sadly, Monette himself also succumbed to AIDS in 1995, just short of the protease inhibitor cocktails that brought so many back from the brink.

At Your Own Risk: A Saint’s Testament (1992)
Derek Jarman

Late queer British filmmaker Jarman was a provocative trailblazer (and launched the career of his muse, Tilda Swinton), and his last film, “Blue,” was made when he went blind due to AIDS complications. Re-released in 2010 and easily found via Amazon and other retailers, his 1992 book serves as an impassioned biography and, at times, a pissed-off call to arms.

Body Counts (2014)
Sean Strub

Strub, the founder of POZ Magazine, recounts everything from his youth as a “politics-obsessed,” closeted young man working at the U.S. Capitol in D.C. to, when diagnosed with HIV, diving into activism with ACT UP and encounters with the likes of Gore Vidal, Keith Haring and Bill Clinton. He also tells of many heroes and villains in the AIDS pandemic. Staley credits Strub’s memoir, which he also appears in, as an inspiration for writing his own.

Plague Years: A Doctor’s Journey Through the AIDS Crisis (2020)
Ross A. Slotten, M.D.

A young family physician in Chicago, Slotten’s first year of practice in 1984 saw his career and personal life take an unexpected turn. Patients with HIV/AIDS became a focus for Slotten — while he worried about his own chance of contracting HIV as a gay man — including an ex-lover he feared may be positive. A compelling insider’s view from the medical frontline.

When We Rise (2017)
Cleve Jones

A Harvey Milk protege who carried on the trailblazing gay politician’s iconic bullhorn — literally! — and founder of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, tireless activist Jones put his colorful life, including a generous dollop of sex and celebrity namedrops, to the page in this breezy yet decades-spanning autobiography. Fun fact: it was mostly written during late night sessions at “Milk” screenwriter Dustin Lance Black’s dining room table!

About the Author:

Lawrence Ferber
NY-raised entertainment and travel journalist Lawrence Ferber has contributed to publications including Entertainment Weekly, New York Magazine, National Geographic Traveler, The Advocate, NewNowNext, The NY Post and TripSavvy. He also co-wrote/co-created the 2010 gay romcom "BearCity" and authored its 2013 novelization.