Fag Hags, Divas and Moms on Audio

Photo by Alina Oswald

The audio version of award-winning writer Victoria Noe’s Fag Hags, Divas and Moms: The Legacy of Straight Women in the AIDS Community, hit digital shelves on October 27. As the title suggests, the book limns diverse portraits of women engaged in HIV/AIDS, from actresses to volunteer members of the Junior League, from scientists to caregivers. “One interesting thing about the involvement of straight women in the epidemic is that we weren’t competing with each other,” said Noe in A&U’s July 2019 cover story interview by Arts Editor Alina Oswald. “I certainly never felt that there was the competition I’d seen, for example, in a more traditional workplace. There was so much critical work to be done, in big cities and rural communities, that we just did it….”

Says Noe about the response to her book so far: “The response I’ve received the past year and a half has been overwhelming. The women in the book brought me to tears with their gratitude for not just telling their stories, but all of the stories. The number-one response I’ve received from readers is ‘I learned so much.’ As far as I’m concerned, that’s the point, because even people within the AIDS community for decades didn’t know these stories. And I love making presentations about the women in the book because I often have audience members who know someone else who made a difference. This book could’ve been one-thousand pages long and I still wouldn’t have had room for all the fabulous women who have done so much incredible work. Two of the women in the book have written memoirs: All the Young Men by Ruth Coker Burks (coming out December 1) and Rae Lewis-Thornton’s Unprotected (release date not yet announced). I was proud to tell their stories, but even more proud that they are telling their own. I feel like my book is a way to encourage others like them to tell their stories, because each is powerful and unique.”

Audio cover by Jamie Leo. The photograph features Nanette Kazaoka, taken at her first arrest.

About the audio version, she tells A&U: “I always planned to release this as an audio book, but my plans came to a halt when the pandemic began. Like many of us, I regrouped, looked at my now-blank 2020 calendar, and went back to work. When I started reviewing audition tapes again, I realized that I’d only heard audio from white women. So I asked for tapes from women of color. That’s how I found Donna and I’m thrilled beyond words.

“Why did I ask for women of color? I’m not sure I would’ve been that deliberate before George Floyd’s murder and the ongoing discussion around #PublishingSoWhite. But it felt like it was one small thing I could do that might inspire other writers to consider people of color when looking for team members (editors, publicists, narrators, etc.). There was no earthly reason why my narrator had to be white, especially for a book about women around the world who have made a difference in the HIV/AIDS community.”

The book is is narrated by Donna Allen, an actress and voice artist. She is also a producer and storyteller at Story Salon, L.A.’s longest running storytelling ensemble.

Photo by Bella Seville

Allen shared some thoughts in an email to Noe about the collaboration: “Let me tell you what attracted me to your project. I, like so many others, lost someone to the pandemic in the early 1990s. While my parents introduced me to the performing arts at an early age, my cousin Ron introduced me to the performing arts when he gave me six weeks of ballet lessons for Christmas at age three. Maybe that’s when I realized I wanted to be a performer. To say I idolized Ronnie is an understatement. He danced professionally for years, working with stars like Sammy Davis, Jr. and Lola Folana. After an injury ended his career he became a lawyer. Geography prevented me from spending time with him then. I came home from California and spent some quality time with him. He was to come to our house for Christmas dinner. Instead he went to the hospital. The last time I saw him was a few days after Christmas in the hospital. He died in April….My mother, who visited him often, told me there were several women who helped him at the end of his life. I don’t know who they were but I have been forever grateful. Part of me has always felt guilty for being so far away at the end of his life. When I auditioned for your project, I thought of it as a way of giving back somehow; to honor Ronnie and the women who took care of him, and I’m sure many others.”

Notes Noe: “I have to admit it was strange listening to someone else read the words I wrote. Very strange! But I’m ridiculously happy with the outcome. Last year audio book sales eclipsed ebook sales, and with the pandemic, sales are still increasing. And frankly, people had been asking when the book would be available on audio. So this is another way for people to learn about the impact of straight women in the AIDS community.”

The audio version of the book is available across numerous streaming platforms, including on Audible, Libro.fm, iBooks, Google Play, and Kobo, among others.

For more information, log on to: victorianoe.com.
—Chael Needle