Together We Can Show We Care
The Seventh Annual Christopher Hewitt Awards
The opening track of Book of Love’s 1988 album Lullaby, a dance remake of Mike Oldfield’s chilling “Tubular Bells” from The Exorcist, ingeniously references the strange tension of the late eighties: We were living through a horror movie and channeling that other Regan (sung by band member Lauren Roselli, her demon-possessed screech—“Mother! Make it stop!”—intersperses the driving melody), and yet we needed to celebrate life by moving our bodies to the beat. Horror and joy became our twin friends. On the album, the track segues seamlessly with the next one, “Pretty Boys and Pretty Girls,” and they are meant to go hand in hand, for this song, too, takes living in the age of AIDS as its theme. “Strangers in the night / exchanging glances / But sex is dangerous / I don’t take my chances,” the lyrics go.
When I first listened to these tracks when they were being played in the clubs and on college radio, I focused on the fear. My friend’s boyfriend acquired HIV and in months he was gone. My classmate at SUNY-Albany acquired HIV and a semester later he was gone. My coworkers at Video Central would soon die. It was the beginning of “gone.”
Now when I listen to these tracks, I can appreciate what the band was creating in its lyrical arc—the possibility of positive transformation. “Tubular Bells” and the opening verses of “Pretty Boys and Pretty Girls” start in fear, but by the end of the second track, the “I” turns into “we.” Fear is displaced by collective action and a clarion call to pleasure and happiness: “In this day and age / In a city full of fear / with you by my side / together we can show we care / spreading joy….”
This is what literature does best—creates a space where we can give ideas a second listen and shows us how positive transformation is possible, how horror can be transmuted to joy. And the winners of the seventh annual Christopher Hewitt Award, presented here, all do exactly this.
While unfornately we did not honor fiction this year, we do have offerings in the poetry, nonfiction, and drama categories that demand a second listen: “Elegy for Ken Meeks,” by Travis Chi Wing Lau, shows the heartbreak amid suffering; “How Online Dating Empowers Women Living with HIV,” by Claire Gasamagera, spotlights empowerment amid racism and AIDSphobia; and “My Darling Love,” by Joe Gulla, offers a lesson in the pain of the early epidemic and the hope of the next generations. A&U would like to thank the judges—Raymond Luczak, Noah Stetzer, Joy Gaines-Friedler, and Bruce Ward—for their acuity and steadfast commitment to literature that responds to the pandemic. Together we can show we care.
“How Online Dating Empowers Women with HIV,” by Claire Gasamagera (winner)
“The Test,” by Paul A. Aguilar (runner-up)
Judge’s bio: Longtime reader and contributor to A&U Magazine, award-winning poet Joy Gaines-Friedler is the author of three books of poetry: Like Vapor, Dutiful Heart, and Capture Theory. A multiple Pushcart prize nominee, Joy teaches creative writing for a variety of non-profits in the Detroit area including literary arts programs, social justice programs, and the PCAP–Prison Creative Arts Project through the University of Michigan.
“My Darling Love,” by Joe Gulla (winner)
“Unfamiliar Faces,” by Glenn Alterman (runner-up)
Judge’s bio: Bruce Ward has been writing about the AIDS epidemic since its inception, and his recently completed memoir chronicles the early years. His play, Lazarus Syndrome, and solo play, Decade: Life in the ’80s, have been produced throughout the U.S. Bruce was the first Director of the CDC National AIDS Hotline from 1986–1988. He was honored by POZ magazine as one of 2015’s POZ 100.
“Elegy for Ken Meeks,” by Travis Chi Wing Lau (winner)
“1988, A Footnote,” by Brian Farrey-Latz (runner-up)
Judge’s bio: Noah Stetzer (A&U’s Poetry Editor) received an MFA from Warren Wilson College and was a 2014 Lambda Literary Retreat Fellow. His poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and his work won the 2015 Christopher Hewitt Award for Poetry. You can find Noah’s poems in such journals as the New England Review, The Good Men Project, Chelsea Station, and as part of the HIV: Here & Now Project (Indolent Books). He is the author of Because I Can See Needing a Knife (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2016). Born and raised in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, Noah now lives in the Washington, D.C. area. Visit his website at noahstetzer.com.
No winning entries
Judge’s bio: Raymond Luczak (A&U’s Fiction Editor) is the author and editor of over 20 books. His latest titles are The Kinda Fella I Am (Reclamation Press), A Babble of Objects (Fomite Press), and The Last Deaf Club in America (Handtype Press). New books in 2019 include Flannelwood (Red Hen Press) and Lovejets: Queer Male Poets on 200 Years of Walt Whitman (Squares & Rebels). He was previously the editor of the queer fiction journals Jonathan and Callisto. A ten-time Pushcart Prize nominee, he lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Visit his website at: raymondluczak.com.
Chael Needle (A&U’s Managing Editor) has been with A&U for nineteen years. He coedited, along with Diane Goettel, the anthology Art & Understanding: Literature from the First Twenty Years of A&U. Alongside his editorial and feature work for A&U, he has published his fiction and poetry in Chelsea Station, Callisto, T.R.O.U., Owen Wister Review, Adirondack Review, Blue Fifth Review, Lilliput Review, and bottle rockets, among others. Follow him on Twitter @ChaelNeedle.