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On December 3, 2011, the Mischief + Mayhem publishing collective, in conjunction with the New School’s Graduate Writing Program, will mount TRANSMISSIONS, a one-day symposium dedicated to the literature of the first thirty years of the AIDS epidemic. The event features two panels and a reading, as well as video and visual-art installations. Beginning in the early 1980s, as HIV claimed millions of lives and left an indelible mark on tens of millions more, writers of all stripes and sensibilities responded to the epidemic with anger, elegy, courage, and terror. The lasting impact—and ongoing challenges—of that groundbreaking body of work will be celebrated, discussed, and debated by novelists, playwrights, poets, journalists, and editors on Dec. 3, as part of the myriad of events commemorating the 30th anniversary of the epidemic.
Much of the first writing about AIDS was published in the gay press—the New York Native, Christopher Street, the Advocate—and other small newspapers and magazines, was gathered in anthologies or story or poetry collections, then began appearing in full-length works of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama. Larry Kramer’s “1,112 and Counting,” often cited as the first essay about AIDS, appeared in the Native in 1983; in 1987 Randy Shilts’s And the Band Played On… gave the epidemic its first history and became a bestseller as well, registering the fact that AIDS had entered the national consciousness. The following year a spate of books in multiple genres—among them Robert Ferro’s novel Second Son; Andrew Holleran’s essay collection Ground Zero; Paul Monette’s poetry collection Love Alone: 18 Elegies for Rog, Edmund White and Adam Mars-Jones’s joint story collection, The Darker Proof, and George Whitmore’s Someone Was Here: Profiles in the AIDS Epidemic—added an aesthetic component to the political and medical exigency engendered by the catastrophic spread of HIV.
This urgency produced thousands of poems, stories, plays, novels, and performance pieces through 1994 and 1995, which was when the first wave of the so-called “new drugs” radically extended the lives of those who had access to them, and, perhaps inevitably, diffused the intensity with which most people—writers as well as readers, politicians as well as voters—confronted the epidemic. Though many important books continued to be published, and to reflect the changing global and medical demography of the epidemic, the concentrated energy that had marked the first decade and a half of the literary response to AIDS was clearly over.
Much of that early work has gone out of print or gathers dust in libraries and private collections, in danger of being forgotten or overlooked, while more recent writing about AIDS is often marginalized by a widespread complacency about the disease, at least among citizens of prosperous countries who have valid insurance policies. TRANSMISSIONS hopes to bring that early, vital work to the attention of a new generation of readers, and to explore ways in which writers can and should continue to chronicle the epidemic and its impact on individual lives and the global community.
The symposium’s first panel will discuss writing from 1981 to 1995, and features David France, Michael Denneny, Larry Kramer, Sarah Schulman, John Weir, and Edmund White. The second panel explores work from 1996 to the present, and features Rabih Alameddine, Gary Indiana, Zia Jaffrey, Amy Scholder, and Max Steele. Both panels will be moderated by Mischief + Mayhem co-founder and School of Writing faculty member Dale Peck.
The day closes with a reception for participants and guests, after which a distinguished group of writers, editors and other artists will read their work or the work of artists who have died from AIDS. In addition to the panelists, the reading will also feature theater artist John Kelly and filmmaker Jennie Livingston.
Additionally, Dan Fishback’s “thirtynothing” and David Wojnarowicz’s “A Fire in My Belly” will be available for screening throughout the day, as well as excerpts from the ACT UP Oral History Project. Selections from Visual AIDS’ Broadside series and Archive Project will also be on display.
Saturday, December 3, 2011 from 11 AM to 9 PM.
• 11 AM TO 1 PM. THE LITERATURE OF AIDS FROM 1981 – 1995 with David France, Michael Denneny, Larry Kramer, Sarah Schulman, John Weir, and Edmund White. Moderated by Dale Peck
• 2 PM TO 4 PM. THE LITERATURE OF AIDS FROM 1996 – 2011 with Rabih Alameddine, Gary Indiana, Zia Jaffrey, Amy Scholder, and Max Steele. Moderated by Dale Peck
• 6 PM TO 7 PM. RECEPTION FOR PARTICIPANTS AND GUESTS
• 7 PM TO 9 PM. READING with Rabih Alameddine, Michael Denneny, Gary Indiana, Zia Jaffrey, John Kelly, Larry Kramer, Jennie Livingston, Amy Scholder, Max Steele, John Weir, and Edmund White