by David Waggoner
August carries a lot of mixed emotions for me. For one thing, it’s the month I was first diagnosed with AIDS. For another, it reminds me of when I was first preparing to launch A&U, which debuted in the Fall of 1991, and all it took to get there. I remember the late eighties when my best friend, Mark, who was only a few years away from dying from complications of the disease, was paying my rent so I could pursue a literary form of AIDS activism; I remember, too, when I first laid out the plans for this magazine with a good friend of mine, Rich, who helped me to see what the vision of an AIDS magazine could become: attractive in design and strong in emotion. Thanks to Mark and Rich I pushed myself to take what was simply a wisp of an idea and move it forward into being a full-fledged national HIV/AIDS magazine.
August is also the month for many of us when we’re at the peak of good weather, when the chance still remains for an idyllic week off at the beach, or at the lake if you’re in the Midwest, or hiking the mountains if you’re in Colorado. It’s a time when a lot of us who love to read get to take some time off from office work and devour the five-hundred page tome that we ordered from Amazon or that collectible book of AIDS poetry (perhaps Michael Klein’s 1992 Poets for Life: Seventy-Six Poets Respond to AIDS) that we found in the stacks of the Strand bookstore in Manhattan. For me paradise is a beach bag full of such books, both the ones written for entertainment and the ones written for remembrance. It’s almost a duty, but not a chore mind you, to immerse myself in a month of a million words—sentences that send me away from the day-to-day and into exotic locales and emotions that are distinctive and deeply penetrating—all the while the waves are crashing at my feet and I’ve almost forgotten that I’m living with a virus that may be undetectable but still present.
It’s also a time when I can catch up on those AIDS books—sadly fewer and fewer are produced each year—that publishers send to me for review. A couple of them look promising this year: Jessica Verdi’s My Life After Now, Alysia Abbott’s Fairyland (reviewed in this issue), and David Levithan’s Two Boys Kissing. But as each year produces a leaner crop of AIDS literature, perhaps reflecting the nation’s apathy toward the disease, it’s so important that A&U continues to celebrate writers, emerging and established, who are still dedicating their poetic powers to discerning what are the central metaphors and the daily experiences of those living with HIV. Trying to dismantle the real world of AIDS stigma, there are the imaginations of thousands of writers who, through sheer literary perseverance, can enlighten through both powerful imagery and poetic action. Turning words into deeds is what makes good AIDS writing so magical. And so real. Taking me back to my early days as an AIDS literary activist, this year’s 12th Annual Summer Reading Issue continues the magazine’s tradition of spotlighting vibrant voices dedicated to the literary fight against AIDS. Featured writers Dorothy Alexander, Lisa Sandlin, Terry M. Dugan, and Evan Guilford-Blake all carry on a tradition that our first literary editor, the late Christopher Hewitt, helped to nurture, and whose name now graces the award that all of these writers have won.
But now it’s time to do more than read. It is time (after our well-earned weeks at the beach) to look forward to September and throughout the Fall for the more than twenty AIDS walks that A&U proudly sponsors. (In the September issue we will print a full listing of these AIDS walks so you can mark your calendars.) So join us and lace up your walking shoes. By signing up your sponsors you are supporting badly needed services for People Living With HIV/AIDS. For lack of funding is, and has always been, the reason so many of us walk for the cure. From the AIDS walks to the pageant walks of the Miss Universe contest (our cover story this month is the 2012 Miss Universe contest winner and AIDS educator Olivia Culpo) it is high time that we exercise our show of strength for everyone who is walking to stop AIDS.