Time & Tide: A&U Celebrates Its 300th Issue

Time & Tide
by Chael Needle

Only time will tell. It’s an expression that has never sat well with me. It seems like such a passive approach to life. Did the passengers and crew of The Poseidon Adventure sit around and wait for help? Nope, not the ones who strove to survive. They scrambled up and down that flipped-over cruise ship like ants on a picnic basket. They wanted to see daylight again. They were going to die trying.

When I reflect on those individuals who are living with HIV/AIDS and find the strength to swim against the flood of stigma and discrimination and other healthcare barriers, and the advocates and activists who over the years have fought for a better chance for us to see daylight again, I am emboldened that we as a community believe in being proactive.

We had to be proactive from the start. The government turned its back. Many families disowned their very blood. Patients realized they were better researchers than their physicians. Lovers and friends often became better caregivers than those with RN degrees. Cultural workers claimed the space to express resistance to AIDS and its insidious metaphors.

That was David Waggoner’s idea when he started A&U (then called Art & Understanding) and published the first issue in 1991. Launching A&U as a literary arts journal, David, a writer and artist himself, sought to create an archive of cultural responses to the pandemic. Why an archive? Because many of the poets, essayists, painters, photographers, playwrights, and fiction writers who had something to say about AIDS had already had an audience with the Grim Reaper or had been sent an invitation for one. And many watched their beloveds die and assumed they were next.

As the cocktails became available, and the Lazarus effect took hold, the magazine morphed from an archive to a more general interest HIV magazine, with features on advocates, fundraisers, the treatment pipeline, and AIDS service organizations.

Mind you, the original cultural DNA still twines through every issue. For example, our cover story subject, writer and film producer Abdi Nazemian, has woven the early epidemic into his latest novel and he had much to say to contributing writer Allie Oakes about representation from the margins. He also encourages us to find strength in what has come before: “I think it’s important to look at this [past] era, almost as a model of how communities can come together, both to love and care for each other…” Also within this issue, we offer fiction by Joseph Jess Rey, poetry by Nathaniel Rosenthalis and nonfiction by Liam O’Brien.

And in a less immediately apparent sense, the cultural aspect extends to our “celebrity” covers. I put celebrity in quotation marks because first and foremost they are members of fields heavly impacted by HIV/AIDS—the performing, literary, design and visual arts. Celebrities were often the first people to draw substantial attention to AIDS. Dame Elizabeth Taylor, who graced our cover in February 2003, is the stunning exemplar. But AIDS advocacy is not a one-woman show! Over the years we have featured everyone from Patti Smith [November 1997] to Derek Jarman [April 1994] to Patti LaBelle [June 2005], from Jon Stewart [September/October 1995] to Annie Lennox [December 2007] and Rita Moreno [October 2013]. So many covers—300, in fact!

In this, Issue #300, we continue to celebrate the arts with a Gallery devoted to “Violet Holdings,” NYU Libraries’ commemoration of Stonewall 50, and an interview with actor and advocate Spencer Trinwith.Although members in the arts are still advocating, those living with HIV/AIDS more and more have saturated our consciousness. Now, there is a new (or renewed) tide of advocacy and activism. Many are finding the strength to fight for the needs of the community, local, national and sometimes global. Activists like Cleve Jones [January 2017], Peter Staley [June 2015], Timothy Ray Brown [October 2016], Aileen Getty {December 2015], Carlos Idibouo [November 2018], Matthew Hodson [August 2019], Greg Owen [December 2019], and Mark S. King [March 2019]. And now, more than ever, and louder than ever, we feature writers living with HIV speaking out. These pages offer important insights and calls to action from Jay Vithalani, Jesús Guillén, Alberto Pérez Bermúdez, and Terence Steward II. And as always we feature columnists such as Hank Trout, John Francis Leonard, Jeannie Wraight, Corey Saucier and Justin B. Terry-Smith, all of whom are out about their positive serostatus and unafraid to make waves to rock that boat and capsize the ferryman. Yes, the tide is high, but we’re holding on.

Chael Needle is Managing Editor of A&U. His short fiction has recently appeared in Callisto, Chelsea Station and T.R.O.U., and his poetry in The Adirondack Review, The Owen Wister Review, and bottle rockets, and the anthology, Lovejets: Queer Male Poets on 200 Years of Walt Whitman. He is currently working on a memoir. Follow him on Twitter @ChaelNeedle.