The Other Pandemic: An AIDS Memoir (Hardcover)
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A searing photo-illustrated historical memoir from the LGBTQIA+ frontlines of the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s.
Before COVID-19 made "pandemic" a household word in 2020, there was the AIDS pandemic of the 1980s and 1990s. Author Lynn Curlee explores the parallels and the difference as he recounts living in New York and Los Angeles when the disease silently took hold of the gay community. As the disease became a full-blown public health crisis, Curlee watched in horror at the devastating progression of HIV/AIDS, the staggering losses endured, and divisive politics and discrimination that cost many people their lives.
With honesty and heart, Curlee tells the stories of the many friends and loved ones that he lost to the disease, including his own life partner. LGBTQ+ rights and access to health care continues to be threatened today. The Other Pandemic is a stark and strong reminder of how history speaks to the present, and this window to the past is a valuable tool for understanding our current cultural landscape.
“HEARTBREAKING! This memoir of the AIDS plague is a powerful reminder to those of us who miraculously lived through it — and a valuable eye-opener for younger generations who can never allow this to happen again. With the COVID pandemic on everyone’s radar, there couldn’t be a more teachable moment. Author Lynn Curlee grabs this pulpit by the throat and fearlessly makes the case that we must never forget.”
— Sam Irvin, filmmaker and author
"Reading The Other Pandemic was a very personal journey for me. I lost my stepfather to AIDS in 1993 when he was just 44 years old. The way Lynn shares his own life experiences a gay man living during this historic time of loss and perseverance is so insightful, and incredibly important to share with those who were not there firsthand to experience it."
— Carol Bennett, daughter of Tim Bennett, a major character in THE OTHER PANDEMIC
"Reading The Other Pandemic: An AIDS Memoir is akin to settling in with a dear, dear friend for a long-overdue catchup. Lynn Curlee’s effortless and evocative prose is much more than a poignant account of a not-distant-past epidemic that galvanized the LGBTQ+ community. It is a deeply personal and brave story of chosen families, political deafness, and hard-fought resolve. Curlee both broke my heart and mended it."
—Jeffrey Dale Lofton, author of Red Clay Suzie
"The Other Pandemic is a poignant and raw examination of the AIDS crisis that highlights how much the past shapes our present. Lynn Curlee has accomplished something beautiful here—I could not put it down. I am grateful he chose to share his loved ones with the world."
— Leo Rocha, Journalist and GLAAD "20 under 20" honoree
About the Author
Lynn Curlee has a master's degree in art history and has both written and illustrated more than a dozen books for children, including Trains, Skyscraper, Ballpark: The Story of America's Baseball Fields, Capital, and The Great Nijinksy, a YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults finalist. His work has been exhibited in Los Angeles, New York City, and Long Island.
♦ An author-illustrator of nonfiction books for young readers (The Great Nijinsky, 2019 ), Curleenow writes an affecting memoir for older readers about his life as a gay man in the context of theAIDS pandemic. He begins, however, with an examination of the similarities between AIDS andCOVID-19 before continuing into an account of his young life and evolution as a professionalartist. His story takes an ominous turn when, in the early ’80s, he sees an article in the New YorkTimes about a rare “cancer” affecting gay men. From this point on, he tells two stories: oneclinical and contextual about the disease and its evolution in the 1980s, and the second about itsimpact on his personal life, which is increasingly touched by the plague as many of his friendsbecome ill. It strikes closest to home, however, when his partner, John, tests HIV positive; thestory becomes a harrowing account of his illness and, at the time, inevitable death. Curlee haswritten an important book, for, as he acknowledges, “AIDS still simmers in the United States,”and so, more good books about it are necessary—particularly those such as this that put ahuman face on it. It belongs in every library.
—Booklist, starred review
A firsthand account of living through the AIDS pandemic as a young, gay man in the U.S.
Prolific author for young readers Curlee introduces teens to this topic by starting with Covid-19 as an empathic entryway to the past. He describes being a teenager in 1960s North Carolina, setting the scene in terms of technology and daily life and painting a picture of a time when sex was a secret kept by adults and homosexuality was only mentioned in joking or insulting ways. He goes on to chronicle how movements seeking equality across gender, sexuality, and race were interconnected and how the Stonewall uprising set the stage for a dazzling period of freedom and falling in love during the 1970s disco era in New York City. That fun-filled time came crashing down as many of Curlee’s vibrant friends began to die sudden, mysterious deaths. As the book progresses, educational, historical, and scientific content in text boxes increasingly supplements the narrative, although its placement and layout are sometimes distracting. It can also become difficult to track all the different individuals who are introduced. However, Curlee’s memoir, illustrated with personal photographs, is intimate and resonant as it presents the thrill of coming out and living openly and the fear and pain that followed when so many people he loved were taken from him too soon.
Compelling and important. (important people, the origins of AIDS, author’s note, musical references, source notes, select bibliography, image credits, index)
This heartbreaking memoir by Curlee (The Great Nijinsky) chronicles “how it was to grow up and live as a gay man in the United States” before and during the HIV/AIDS crisis. Taking an elegiac tone, Curlee describes his childhood in 1960s North Carolina. Quick-moving subsequent chapters recall Curlee’s experiences participating in the disco scene on Fire Island, his impulsive move to California in 1979, and his return to N.Y.C. in the early 1980s, where he and his friends struggled to understand why so many gay men were “dying horrible, gruesome deaths.” While perceived comparisons to Covid-19, as outlined in an introduction, are minimally explored, Curlee briefly covers their medical and social differences and similarities, as well as the pervasive impact they each had on society. Sidebars about HIV/AIDS succinctly detail the facts, and Curlee’s straightforward prose capably conveys the era’s worsening bias and fear. Most powerful of all, however, is the novel’s focus on Curlee’s inner circle and the people he lost to the crisis, including his partner, making for a thought-provoking history about what it was like to live during that time, and a good start for further exploration. Extensive back matter concludes.
♦ In his memoir, Curlee uses personal photographs, powerful quotes, and his own memories to build a gripping, unforgettable account of the early years of the AIDS crisis. Although COVID-19 is not central to this book, it is an entryway of sorts into discussion of a different pandemic about which most teens know very little. Curlee seamlessly melds statistics, historical timelines, and political contextualizing with autobiographical details: he recounts his elation at coming out, his glowing memories of falling in love, his horror as he watched his community of friends get sick and die, and his own heartbreaking experience of a helping a beloved partner sick with AIDS die with as much beauty and dignity as was possible. The vulnerable, poignant memories make this historical review an especially memorable and crucial reading: the bleak descriptions of watching a generation of vibrant, brilliant young men literally waste away as the world carried on add considerable emotional weight to the nonfiction elements. There are startling mirrors in how current trans and queer individuals face countless efforts to silence them and outlaw their existence, reflecting the repressive, hate-fueled tone of opposition from the early years of AIDS, when a profound misunderstanding of and aversion to gay culture made the stigma around and death count of AIDS so devastating. Extensive end matter provides curious readers with a number of potential research pathways including, for example, musical references, additional reading lists, and a brief exploration into the origins of the AIDS virus.
— The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, starred review