We Are Family
by David Waggoner
Despite how the White House has decorated this year for the holidays (Christmas trees flocked in surreal and patriotic red, white and blue), we are grateful for the fact that it has plans to hang a giant Red Ribbon shortly after Thanksgiving on the north portico, commemorating World AIDS Day. Grateful, yet also puzzled. Symbols are important but right now millions of Americans living with HIV are food insecure, can’t afford to pay their rent, and are facing eviction, and so are many of the AIDS service organizations that they depend on for basic social and medical needs.
I am more grateful to those who struggle to survive living with HIV/AIDS and those essential workers who help them. Closer to home, I am grateful for our creative “family.” For as long as this magazine has existed (since 1991), we can count among our blessings the unwavering support of our board members, contributing writers, editors, photographers, as well as hundreds of artists, illustrators, and too many to mention in this essay who have donated their time and talent. Many have even donated their fees back to A&U. We are truly grateful for everything that goes into making this magazine a long-running success.
That success has many unsung heroes: Take for example Sarah Churchill-Downes (better known as Sally), whom we lost in 2017. I was in the hospital for two months with fifty T cells to my name. Sally visited me every night in the hospital to show me proofs of pages. And there was never a need for copyediting; they were perfect. Sally’s son Stephen Churchill-Downes, a frequent A&U contributor, has his mother’s compassionate genes. As a top-notch fashion editorial photographer, he could command a healthy rate for his services, yet he never charges us. He has shot multiple covers for us, including Bebe Neuwirth, Jackie Hoffman, Nick Adams, Michael Cunningham, Martin Duberman——the list goes on in.
It makes sense to reflect on those who have helped out in the early days. This month’s cover story subject, Eric Rhein, first appeared in our November 1996 Gallery, an issue which featured designer Todd Oldham on the cover. That cover was shot by Stephen as is this cover. Both shoots are stunning. For this month, Stephen shot Eric among his art work in his Jersey City studio and lovingly captured a man looking back on three decades of his works. In one moment of the interview with Managing Editor Chael Needle, Eric touches on that very first interview with us: “Being able to speak honestly, in that interview—from nearly a quarter-century ago—was a step toward the evolution of my embrace of HIV’s impact on my life, artwork, and cultivating an activist voice. And now, through my just-released memoir-monograph, Lifelines, I am able to offer a new conduit for sharing my commitment to beauty, intimacy, and honesty.”
This issue has other moments that harken back to the past. Special Projects Editor Lester Strong has gathered together an exhibit of artists, many of whom we have featured in previous issues, responding to HIV/AIDS and healing: Linda Stein, Luna Luis Ortiz, and Delmas Howe, to name a few. And Poetry Editor Philip F. Clark interviews Mark Bibbins about his new book-length poem about HIV, 13th Balloon. It is a pleasure to welcome Mark back to the pages of A&U; we published his poetry in our April 1995 and October 1996 issues.
Our family is strong, and we wouldn’t be able to produce such a high-quality publication without our month-to-month team. I mentioned a few already but I would be remiss not to include Office manager Richard Garcia, Art Director Timothy J. Haines, Senior Editors Dann Dulin and Hank Trout, Editor at Large Chip Alfred, Arts Editor Alina Oswald, Fiction Editor Raymond Luczak, Nonfiction Editor Jay Vithalani, Drama Editor Bruce Ward, and contributing writers John Francis Leonard, Corey Saucier, Alacias Enger and Jeannie Wraight as well as contributing photographers Annie Tritt and Tommy Wu. I want to give a special shout-out to my husband and right-hand man, Harold Burdick, Jr. My hope is that someday soon, once a COVID vaccine is found, we can all meet for a celebratory toast and hugs all around. I hope the same for your family, chosen and otherwise.
David Waggoner is Editor in Chief and Publisher of A&U, the first national HIV/AIDS magazine in the U.S.