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Meticulously researched and evocatively told, "Hold Tight Gently" is the celebrated historian Martin Duberman's poignant memorial to those lost to AIDS and to two of the great unsung heroes of the early years of the epidemic.
Callen, a white gay Midwesterner who had moved to New York, became a leading figure in the movement to increase awareness of AIDS in the face of willful and homophobic denial under the Reagan administration; Hemphill, an African American gay man, contributed to the black gay and lesbian scene in Washington, D.C., with poetry of searing intensity and introspection.
A profound exploration of the intersection of race, sexuality, class, identity, and the politics of AIDS activism beyond ACT UP, "Hold Tight Gently" captures both a generation struggling to cope with the deadly disease and the extraordinary refusal of two men to give in to despair.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-01-06
- Reviewer: Staff
In this insightful history, gay rights activist and distinguished historian Duberman (Stonewall) attempts to revive AIDS awareness by detailing the early years of the epidemic, particularly the period of 1981–1995. He sets the details within a framework constructed around the experiences of two men: white singer/activist Michael Callen and black poet/cultural worker Essex Hemphill, both of whom lived with AIDS for years and died at age 38. Duberman pulls no punches in capturing the chaos, uncertainty, and ignorance of the era, looking at the sexual culture that allowed the disease to thrive; he also examines the fear and contradictions of the political environment. Through interviews, writings, personal experience, and Hemphill’s poetry, Duberman creates a vivid, complex snapshot of the fractured, conflicted gay community as it responded to the growing problem. It’s a sobering narrative, replete with the sexism, racism, homophobia, and false leads that marked the onset of the AIDS epidemic. Most importantly, it addresses the role of AIDS as a “gay disease” and exposes the differences between the white and black gay communities in their responses. Duberman’s accessible, open, and honest prose reminds us that AIDS is not over; only the sense of urgency has waned. Agent: Frances Goldin, Frances Goldin Literary Agency. (Mar.)