Not Quite Magical Realism
by David Waggoner
As you probably know already (If you’ve ever read one of my introductions to the magazine) I had the privilege to workshop many of my short stories and two of my novellas with some of the leading novelists from the school of magical realism (Angela Carter and Toni Morrison). Angela’s works ranged from The Magic Toyshop to Nights at the Circus to Wise Children and my favorite short story collection of hers, Fireworks. Toni’s works are legendary, including The Bluest Eye (I am blessed to own a first edition of this debut novel), Tar Baby, Song of Solomon, Paradise (my favorite of her works) and Beloved, the novel that won Ms. Morrison the Pulitzer Prize In Fiction, and was cited for the reason she won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993.
But, as any reader knows, flights of fancy need to be grounded in truths about human experience—the magic brings us to reality, not away from it. Our own president often seems like a magical realist and, indeed, he is a fiction writer, but not the good sort. Donald J. Trump arguably brings us farther away from our best selves when he speaks his mind, magical assertions that the president speaks on a daily basis. We have so many cases because we test a lot. Children are “almost immune.” He has been recently quoted in an interview with ABC News as saying, “It is what is” about the COVID-19 pandemic. Quite harsh words when there are close to five million Americans infected with COVID-19 and over 150,000 who have died so far in the United States! If the president were a fictional character in another leading magical realist’s works (such as Love In the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez), then I wouldn’t worry. But he’s all too real. And brutal in his assessment of the current plague. He claims that his job description is all about protecting Americans, Democrat, Independent and Republican. Even those who are not registered to vote. And those too young to vote!
Pandemics need empowerment, not panaceas.
Thankfully, in the context of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, we have committed artists who are careful about how they craft their responses. Our cover story interview with filmmaker and performance artist Rachel Mason, conducted by Senior Editor Dann Dulin, proves it is possible. Her documentary, Circus of Books, about her parents, Barry and Karen, and their bookstore, Circus of Books, revealed the support that was needed for employees with HIV/AIDS——not stigma, not discrimination, just compassion and a paycheck. “In the film Barry states, ‘We lost so many of our employees and really nice people.’ Karen laments, ‘Talented….bright….young….It was a real, real tragedy.’” Carrying on a family tradition of supportiveness, Mason went on to become a recreational and art therapist at Rivington House, a facility for PWAs. Also in this issue, Senior Editor Hank Trout interviews LGBTQ activist and documentary photographer Steven F. Dansky, who is now responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. And for the eighth time we are presenting the winning entries of our literary contest. The Christopher Hewitt Award winners include Katherine Gleason (drama), Patrick Mulcahey (nonfiction), Ben Kline (poetry), and Cris Eli Blak (fiction). Selected by judges Bruce Ward, Jay Vithalani, Noah Stetzer, and Raymond Luczak, each one offers compelling insights about how we are making sense of HIV/AIDS.
Making sense. That is all we are asking for. A former occupant of the White House, Ronald Reagan, who couldn’t admit that that there was an AIDS crisis and who lived in total silence about HIV from within the Oval Office, effectively prompted death with silence. Trump is prompting death with speech. We need the in-between when it comes to COVID-19 and HIV/AIDS: Action = Life.
David Waggoner is Editor in Chief and Publisher of A&U, the first national HIV/AIDS magazine in the U.S.