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Sarah Schulman in conversation with Marc Stein
May 24, 2021 @ 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm PDT
Sarah Schulman and Marc Stein discuss
Let The Record Show: A Political History of Act Up New York, 1987-1993
by Sarah Schulman
published by Farrar Straus Giroux
Twenty years in the making, Sarah Schulman’s Let the Record Show is the most comprehensive political history ever assembled of ACT UP and American AIDS activism.
This is a virtual event that will be hosted by City Lights on the Zoom platform. You will need access to a computer or other device that is capable of accessing the internet. If you have not used Zoom before, you may consider referencing Getting Started with Zoom.
Event is free, but registration is required
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One of O, the Oprah Magazine‘s 32 LGBTQ Books That Will Change the Literary Landscape in 2021, one of and Cosmopolitan‘s LGBTQ+ Books to Add to Your Reading List in 2021, one of The Observer‘s Spring Books You Don’t Want to Miss, and one of Bloomberg‘s 14 Books to Put on Your Reading List This Spring
“A masterpiece of historical research and intellectual analysis that creates many windows into both a vanished world and the one that emerged from it, the one we live in now.” –Alexander Chee
In just six years, ACT UP, New York, a broad and unlikely coalition of activists from all races, genders, sexualities, and backgrounds, changed the world. Armed with rancor, desperation, intelligence, and creativity, it took on the AIDS crisis with an indefatigable, ingenious, and multifaceted attack on the corporations, institutions, governments, and individuals who stood in the way of AIDS treatment for all. They stormed the FDA and NIH in Washington, DC, and started needle exchange programs in New York; they took over Grand Central Terminal and fought to change the legal definition of AIDS to include women; they transformed the American insurance industry, weaponized art and advertising to push their agenda, and battled—and beat—The New York Times, the Catholic Church, and the pharmaceutical industry. Their activism, in its complex and intersectional power, transformed the lives of people with AIDS and the bigoted society that had abandoned them.
Based on more than two hundred interviews with ACT UP members and rich with lessons for today’s activists, Let the Record Show is a revelatory exploration—and long-overdue reassessment—of the coalition’s inner workings, conflicts, achievements, and ultimate fracture. Schulman, one of the most revered queer writers and thinkers of her generation, explores the how and the why, examining, with her characteristic rigor and bite, how a group of desperate outcasts changed America forever, and in the process created a livable future for generations of people across the world.
Sarah Schulman is the author of more than twenty works of fiction (including The Cosmopolitans, Rat Bohemia, and Maggie Terry), nonfiction (including Stagestruck, Conflict is Not Abuse, and The Gentrification of the Mind), and theater (Carson McCullers, Manic Flight Reaction, and more), and the producer and screenwriter of several feature films (The Owls, Mommy Is Coming, and United in Anger, among others). Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Slate, and many other outlets. She is a Distinguished Professor of Humanities at College of Staten Island, a Fellow at the New York Institute of Humanities, the recipient of multiple fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, and the New York Foundation for the Arts, and was presented in 2018 with Publishing Triangle’s Bill Whitehead Award. She is also the cofounder of the MIX New York LGBT Experimental Film and Video Festival, and the co-director of the groundbreaking ACT UP Oral History Project. A lifelong New Yorker, she is a longtime activist for queer rights and female empowerment, and serves on the advisory board of Jewish Voice for Peace.
Marc Stein is a professor of history at San Francisco State University and the author of multiple books on queer topics, including most recently The Stonewall Riots: A Documentary History (NYU Press, 2019). His next book, Queer Public History: Essays on Scholarly Activism, will be published by the University of California Press, in 2022.
Praise for Let the Record Show:
“A masterful work twenty years in the making . . . Schulman holds a unique position to chronicle this critical history and connect it with our own chaotic moment.” —Lauren LeBlanc, Observer
“A significant boots-on-the-ground account . . . Readers are right there with activists, hearing their stories from them but also others who knew them . . . Vital, democratic truth-telling.” —Kirkus (starred review)
“[A] fine-grained history . . . [Schulman’s] firsthand perspective and copious details provide a valuable testament to the courage and dedication of many unheralded activists.” —Publishers Weekly
“People often speak of the authoritarian handbook, and I always wonder, what is the opposite? Maybe this book, in fact. In so many ways. Sarah Schulman has written more than an authoritative history of ACT UP NY here– it is a masterpiece of historical research and intellectual analysis that creates many windows into both a vanished world and the one that emerged from it, the one we live in now. I can’t think of a book like this–it is an almost entirely new model, uniquely possible as the result of Schulman’s life’s work. As one of our only genuinely intellectual iconoclasts, she returns to us with this story of a movement that changed the world at least once, now a part of the work to change that world again. Any reader will be changed, I think, by the stories here–radicalized and renewed, which to me is something better than just hope.” –Alexander Chee, author of How to Write an Autobiographical Novel
“Characteristically forthright, Sarah Schulman gives us the most comprehensive history of the ACT UP movement in New York to date through a wide range of interviews, a trenchant commentary, and a sustained testament to collaborative action and its history. From this extraordinary history told with the multiple voices of participants, Schulman makes clear that the history of HIV and AIDS in this country has been marred by popular narratives and bouts of grandstanding that largely failed to acknowledge the thousands of lives still lost annually from AIDS, the schisms that opened up serious issues of power within the movement, and the specific ways that people of color and poor people remained unserved by the scientific advances widely celebrated. This work also tells us why so many people become activists: to understand social and political forces that seem overwhelming, to work with others to give order to their world, and to find community in suffering, anger, analysis, and action. This book lets us know that neither our sorrow nor our rage is finished, and that the work of acknowledgement of all who struggled and suffered remains our task.” —Judith Butler
“In the style of the late great Howard Zinn, Sarah Schulmam has written an epic, moving and important People’s History of the Act up Movement, filled with powerful storytelling and invaluable lessons in the do’s and don’t of organizing. We owe a great deal to Schulman for the depth and years of her research, for her commitment to telling a story that lifts and honors a group rather than highlighting only a few individuals, and for her willingness to tell the whole truth with serious rigor and love.”–V (formerly Eve Ensler), author of The Vagina Monologues
“Sarah Schulman’s remarkable book Let the Record Show offers a thorough and corrective retelling of the history of ACT-UP, introducing a diverse cast of characters that has been largely erased from what passes as the official HIV/AIDS narrative. She brings extraordinary reporting, finely calibrated detail and her own lived experience to a book that is at once a love letter to the movement that refused to back down as it forced an epidemic to its knees and a road map for a new generation of activists grappling with social change.” —Linda Villarosa, contributing writer, The New York Times Magazine
“With heart, anger and rigor, Sarah Schulman shows us how AIDS has shaped our political world by letting the people of ACT UP tell us what they did in their own words. Let The Record Show is more than a single book; it’s an encyclopedia, an oral history, and a map. Indeed, as the most marginalized people are again at risk during yet another viral pandemic, Schulman (and the voices she foregrounds so lovingly) gives us an activist guide for communally creating a better world. It is a masterpiece—the book on AIDS history I wish had been available for me to read years ago.” –Steven Thrasher, Daniel H. Renberg Chair of Social Justice in Reporting, Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism and author of The Viral Underclass
“Sarah Schulman has achieved the near impossible in this riveting and powerful book. She writes with the knowledge and experience of a passionate insider as she lays out a detailed and deep history of ACT UP. Yet she has a sharp eye for the bigger picture, offering a broad analysis, bringing in diverse, fascinating, and illuminating perspectives. Not until this book has an author captured how ACT UP was grounded in both the feminist and civil rights movements, nor how the group spawned new movements and inspired a new generation of queer activism while dramatically influencing the course of the AIDS epidemic and making a mark on American culture. The writing is crisp and compassionate. The stories are vivid — heroic, painful, breathtaking and joyous. Sarah Schulman has produced a definitive and monumental work.” —Michelangelo Signorile, author of It’s Not Over: Getting Beyond Tolerance, Defeating Homophobia and Winning True Equality
Sponsored by the City Lights Foundation