by David Waggoner
Summer days have begun to fade (always signalled by an early frost in the Adirondack mountains of upstate New York) and I get a little nostalgic for the days of old, when I was first contacting writers (including the poets, John Ashbery, Mark Doty, Gwendolyn Brooks; the prose writers Lesléa Newman and David B. Feinberg; and the playwrights Eve Ensler and William M. Hoffman) for submissions to what was to become the first nationally distributed HIV/AIDS magazine. They all shared my wish: Hopefully people will dip deep into their well of compassion for those impacted by HIV/AIDS. Hopefully those impacted could live with dignity. Hopefully we all could pass this test of humanity.
With a particular bent on the arts and literature—Art & Understanding magazine morphed into A&U, a four color glossy with a readership in all fifty states. Over the years, we’ve added profiles on advocates and community-based organizations, treatment and wellness articles, and columns penned by humorists and activists alike. But we’ve always kept culture at our core. So it is with great pride and humility that I’d like to announce the publication of Art & Understanding: Literature from the First Twenty Years of A&U (Black Lawrence Press), an anthology that represents some of the literary hightlights of the magazine. Although we’ve been publishing close to twenty-five years, there are so many gems of expression—poems, short stories, plays, essays—that were excluded due to lack of space. It’s hard to cram close to 240 issues of literary expression into one book, so we settled on the first 200 issues of the literary archive that is A&U.
But I feel we have done a good job of representing the diversity of both the A&U writer as well as the A&U readership. Although many of these great writers have passed on, their work continues to be read. That was one of the foremost goals of Art & Understanding, Inc., the 501(c)(3) that publishes the magazine: to preserve and protect the early literary responses to the epidemic as well as continue to develop new voices—many of whom, because of the advent of protease inhibitors, are still alive and writing today. When A&U (formerly Art & Understanding) was first launched, nobody knew about Kindles and Nooks. Even underground ’zines were produced on paper; not for everyone to visit online. In a sense the revolution in media has made the world a more literate as well as affordable library of the spirit.
With this issue, as with every issue, we are dedicated to multiplying the voices of advocacy so we can get to zero. First up, we spotlight Glee actor Alex Newell in our coverstory interview. In his short time since winning his TV role thanks to a reality competition show, Alex has appeared at AIDS event after AIDS event. A&U’s Dann Dulin learned why Alex has dedicated himself to the cause: “Many people don’t have a voice—they’re either unable or too frightened to speak out. The least I can do—the absolute least I can do—is give back and do it for all those other people who can’t, won’t, or just don’t.”
On other fronts, the September issue features a Gallery that spotlights artists who came of age in the New York City of the 1980s; Project Runway alum Jack Mackenroth on why he’s putting pedal to the mettle for Braking AIDS, a Boston–New York bike ride; adult film star and director Michael Lucas on his considered decision to advocate for PrEP, a prevention tool that is rattling the toolbox; and Amazin LeThi, an actress and AIDS advocate who is determined to raise awareness among Asian communities around the globe.
Hopefully the next bound installment of the best of A&U will represent the literary works talking about AIDS in the past tense. How wonderful the cure is. How a vaccine was discovered that put an end to the misery of millions around the world. How the AIDS pandemic helped us solve other diseases, like poverty and oppression. But’s it’s up to us to write the next chapter.
David Waggoner is the Editor in Chief and Publish of A&U, the first national magazine devoted to HIV/AIDS in the U.S.