From Precious to Richard Brown

When the HIV pandemic began to garner national attention in the early 1980s, it was met with general hysteria. Tenants believed to have AIDS were evicted from their homes and the Social Security Administration interviewed patients by phone, fearing the virus would be passed to employees through face to face meetings. A decade later, the Center for Disease Control finally ended its silence on the issue by launching a series of advertisements for preemptory measures against HIV and AIDS.

Today, though HIV and AIDS have yet to be eradicated, the fear and misinformation have lessened as a global campaign to end stigma surrounding the virus has grown in strength. And books dealing with issues surrounding it have played a significant role in educating society about the daily struggles faced by people with HIV or AIDS.

Here is a list of HIV-positive fictional characters in contemporary literature:

Claireece Precious Jones

Push by Sapphire (Vintage)

1997

Obese and illiterate, 16-year-old Precious has experienced a lifetime of horrific sexual and physical abuse at the hands of her parents. When Precious’ mother reveals that her father, who raped and impregnated her twice, died from AIDS, Precious gets tested for the virus and must come to terms with her own HIV positive status.

At once a tale of terrible abuse and the transformative power of hope and friendship, Precious joins an incest support group and an HIV-positive group, where she learns that she is not alone in her struggles.

Vintage

Richard Brown

The Hours by Michael Cunningham (FSG)

2000

The theme of the hour is Virginia Woolf and how her novel, Mrs. Dalloway, changes the lives of three generations of women. The third woman, Clarissa, is good friends with a brilliant poet named Richard, a gay man who is dying of AIDS. Parts of the novel explore Richard’s life and argumentative yet vibrant personality before AIDS took a toll on his health.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Roy Cohn

Angels in America by Tony Kushner (TCG)

1993

In history, Roy Cohn was an American attorney who played a prominent role investigating Communist activities in the McCarthy era, eventually serving as part of the prosecuting team during the trial of the Rosenbergs. In Kushner’s novel, Cohn is depicted as a power hungry schemer ridden with AIDS, all the while haunted by the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg.

Theatre Communications Group

Ava Johnson

What Looks Like Crazy On An Ordinary Day by Pearl Cleage (Morrow)

2009

Ava was enjoying a successful career and a promising future until her dreams fell to pieces around her when she tested positive for HIV. She returns to her hometown in Michigan, believing that her life is over. But when she begins working with the town’s troubled black youth, she realizes that it is only the beginning.

William Morrow Paperbacks

Amanda Farrell

At Risk by Alice Hoffman (Berkley)

1998

When 11-year-old Amanda tests positive for AIDS, contracted from a contaminated blood transfusion five years before, the Farrells’ middle-class world is shaken.  Her grieving parents distance themselves from each other, her brother is shunned by friends and classmates, and she is left to come to terms with her imminent death. This heartbreaking tale shows the courage of one family in the face of the ravaging effects of AIDS and the fear of their ignorant community.

Berkley Trade

Tom Ahaheen

Halfway Home by Paul Monette (Kensington)

1991

When AIDS-stricken artist Tom Ahaheen retreats to a secluded beach home in California, he expects to grapple with his illness in peace. But a visit from his estranged brother, Brian, quickly changes all that. Brian, the athletic family favorite, was his brother’s childhood tormentor. Tom eventually learns to forgive and reclaim his life in this tale of reconciliation and hope.

Kensington

Jim Wilson

The Hulk (Marvel Comics)

1991

Wilson, a supporting character in the Hulk comic book series, was a troubled and defiant youth who befriended the Hulk, eventually becoming one of the few people the Hulk trusted. In a December 1991 issue, Wilson’s HIV positive status was revealed. In an August 1994 issue, the virus claimed his life.

Marvel Comics

Mia

The Green Arrow (DC)

2004

The Green Arrow comic books will forever be remembered by fans as an epic adventure series ridden with bloodthirsty extraterrestrials and determined criminals. But it also explored issues that affect the everyday lives of millions, one of them being HIV.

Mia, the teenaged sidekick of Green Arrow, was HIV positive, a result of her time working as a prostitute on the streets. On Mia’s HIV positive status, creator Judd Winick explains:

“Comics have a long history of telling lessons. They tell stories through metaphor, but sometimes I feel we don’t need the metaphor. Why should it be that Mia contracts some alien virus?”

DC Comics

Emerson Price

Positively by Courtney Sheinmel (S&S)
Young Adult

2010

Emmy, an HIV-positive 13-year-old, struggles to accept that she is infected with the virus that killed her mother. She loathes taking handfuls of pills every day and wonders how she can explain her HIV positive status to partners when she starts dating.

When Emmy’s father and stepmother send her to a sleep away camp for girls with HIV and AIDS, she returns with a more positive outlook on life, having realized she is not alone.

Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing

Rob

When Heroes Die by Penny R. Durant (Atheneum)
Young Adult

1994

When Gary’s father leaves, his Uncle Rob steps in and treats him as his own son. Rob coaches him at basketball, gives him tips about girls, and listens to the secrets Gary doesn’t feel comfortable telling his mother about. When Gary notices that Rob looks pale and sick one day, he is told that his uncle is suffering from AIDS. When Rob is taken to the hospital and eventually dies from the virus, Gary is supported by his friends and realizes his own maturity.

Atheneum

“The Tale of Plagues and Carnivals”

Flight from Nevèrÿon by Samuel R. Delany (Wesleyan University Press)

1994

When an AIDS-like disease ravages the gay population of Nevèrÿon, parallels between Delany’s fantasy world and New York City at the dawn of the AIDS epidemic arise. Possibly the first work of fiction to tackle aspects of the AIDS crisis, this story is part of the third book in the four-volume Return to Nevèrÿon series.

Leo Charles

The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst (Bloomsbury)

2004

When young Oxford graduate Nick moves into the Fedden family’s household in the 1980s, he must come to terms with his sexuality against the backdrop of homophobia and the emerging AIDS crisis. His first intimate encounter involves a black council worker named Leo, who must struggle against his mother’s religious-based homophobia and eventually dies from AIDS.

David

Rat Bohemia by Sarah Schulman (Arsenal Pulp Press)

1995

Set in New York City, Schulman’s tale of the struggles faced by gays and lesbians in the face of a crumbling city, the absence of parental support, and societal homophobia. The story follows Rita, a rat exterminator, Killer, a lesbian bohemian, and David, a gay writer, as they face the obstacles of living and loving as sexual minorities in an intolerant society. David, an angry and lonely man who suffers from AIDS, must eventually come to terms with his imminent death at the hands of the virus.

Ned Weeks

The Normal Heart by Larry Kramer (Grove Press)

2000

Kramer’s play centers on the HIV and AIDS crisis in the early 1980s by following the struggles of Ned, the gay Jewish founder of an HIV advocacy group. While he is unafraid of thrusting himself into the public spotlight, the people in his life are unprepared for media attention, especially his closeted lover.

For a comprehensive list of literature dealing with HIV and AIDS, please visit here.



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  • Ron Fritsch

11 Responses to “14 HIV-Positive Characters in Literature”

  1. DANIEL CURZON 13 May 2011 at 1:15 PM #

    Add to the list Benjamin Vance in my 1984 novel THE WORLD CAN BREAK YOUR HEART (Knights Press).
    daniel curzon


  2. Alex 13 May 2011 at 9:49 PM #

    This is a great list. Would be useful to add the year that each work was released.


    • Antonio Gonzalez Cerna 22 May 2011 at 10:27 PM #

      Hi Alex, I’ll work on this asap. We’re also working on a more “contemporary” piece of books published in the past 5 years.


  3. Antonio Gonzalez Cerna 22 May 2011 at 10:20 PM #

    Since we posted this list, we’ve had a ton of feedback. Thank you to everyone who wrote in.

    We will do an updated list, but since this was our first HIV/AIDS list we felt we needed to include some of the biggest names in history of HIV/AIDS literature.

    That said, there are many new characters in “contemporary” fiction.


  4. Antonio Gonzalez Cerna 22 May 2011 at 10:23 PM #

    One of the books that comes to mind is Matthew Gallaway’s novel, The Metropolis Case, published in January by Crown.

    Here’s an excerpt from our Q&A in January:

    9. One of your characters in the novel, Martin, is HIV positive, but he’s not dying tragically like, say, Michael Cunningham’s Richard Brown in The Hours or Tony Kushner’s fictionalized Roy Cohn. What made you decide to make your character Martin HIV positive in this chronic, contemporary way?

    I think our country on the whole is in a state of manic denial over what happened—essentially the death of a generation of gay men, most of whom would still be alive but for the disease—and we have yet to come to terms with this tragedy, even though we’re not dying in the same numbers (thankfully).

    For this reason, I wanted to acknowledge HIV/AIDS as more of a presence—a lurking condition—than an active killer, something that even helps Martin to confront his memories and form a philosophy about the value and potential of his life, rather than condemn him to an early death. (I also wanted to draw parallels between AIDS and 9/11, which I don’t believe has been done, as obvious as it seems.)


  5. Antonio Gonzalez Cerna 22 May 2011 at 10:25 PM #

    Obviously, we can’t read everything. Though we do try to at least know about as many books as possible.

    If you’ve read a particularly important book published in the last 5 years that includes an HIV/AIDS positive character, please email us and let us know why this book (and character) is important to you.

    Thanks!


  6. […] 14 HIV-Positive Characters in Literature | Link […]


  7. Philip 31 May 2012 at 7:55 PM #

    No Michael Tolliver? (Tales of the City)


  8. […] Fourteen HIV Positive Characters in Literature […]


  9. James 30 June 2014 at 12:50 PM #

    Just between us by JH trumble , a moving book about two teenagers who fall in love both boy next door types but one with a harsh reality to deal with. I couldn’t put it down and it’s left an impact on me.



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