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Body Counts: A Memoir of Politics, Sex, AIDS, and Survival (Hardcover)
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Sean Strub, founder of the groundbreaking POZ magazine, producer of the hit play “The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me,” and the first openly HIV-positive candidate for US Congress, charts his remarkable life—a story of politics and AIDS and a powerful testament to loss, hope, and survival.
Sean Strub, founder of the groundbreaking POZ magazine, producer of the hit play The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me, and the first openly HIV-positive candidate for U.S. Congress, charts his remarkable life—a story of politics and AIDS and a powerful testament to loss, hope, and survival.
As a politics-obsessed Georgetown freshman, Sean Strub arrived in Washington, D.C., from Iowa in 1976, with a plum part-time job running a Senate elevator in the U.S. Capitol. He also harbored a terrifying secret: his attraction to men. As Strub explored the capital’s political and social circles, he discovered a parallel world where powerful men lived double lives shrouded in shame.
When the AIDS epidemic hit in the early 1980s, Strub was living in New York and soon found himself attending “more funerals than birthday parties.” Scared and angry, he turned to radical activism to combat discrimination and demand research. Strub takes readers through his own diagnosis and inside ACT UP, the activist organization that transformed a stigmatized cause into one of the defining political movements of our time.
From the New York of Studio 54 and Andy Warhol’s Factory to the intersection of politics and burgeoning LGBT and AIDS movements, Strub’s story crackles with history. He recounts his role in shocking AIDS demonstrations at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the home of U.S. Senator Jesse Helms. Body Counts is a vivid portrait of a tumultuous era, with an astonishing cast of characters, including Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, Keith Haring, Bill Clinton, and Yoko Ono.
By the time a new class of drugs transformed the epidemic in 1996, Strub was emaciated and covered with Kaposi’s sarcoma lesions, the scarlet letter of AIDS. He was among the fortunate who returned, Lazaruslike, from the brink of death.
Strub has written a vital, inspiring memoir, unprecedented in scope, about this deeply important period of American history.
About the Author
Sean Strub is an activist, writer, and executive director of the Sero Project, which combats the criminalization of people with HIV. He founded POZ magazine, the leading publication providing information about HIV, and is a frequent speaker about HIV/AIDS, self-empowerment, and the intersections of sex, public health, and the law. A native of Iowa City, Strub attended Georgetown and Columbia universities. He and his partner, Xavier Morales, live in New York and Milford, Pennsylvania.
A Lambda Literary Award Finalist
“Inspiring... A vital history of ordinary people rising up and demonstrating the potential inherent in this extraordinary country... Although at times it is agonizing to remember and relive our past, Sean’s articulate, and humane memoir transforms this pain into a hope for a better future. This is the most personally powerful and authentic portrayal of our collective history that I have read since Paul Monette's On Borrowed Time."
— Judith Light
“What a life! From the Senate elevator to Studio 54 to Andy Warhol and Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal and John Lennon to the famous demonstration inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral--who is this guy, Forest Gump? This is the compelling life and near-death story of Sean Strub, of thousands lost to HIV-AIDS, and thousands more living with it whom his activism helped save. Wow.”
— Andrew Tobias, author of The Best Little Boy in the World
"Read Body Counts by Sean Strub and share one American's story of growing up with an instinct for justice, then finding oneself in an epidemic whose tragedy is multiplied by bias. As a man who survived sexual abuse, rape and an HIV diagnosis, Strub embodies the shared interest of women and men who fight for human rights, and against any government or person intruding on our bodies. By taking us with him on his journey from a conservative family in Iowa to the heart of a global movement for human rights, Sean Strub gives us ideas, strength and heart in our own journey."
— Gloria Steinem
"Body Counts is an absorbing read. It not only vividly recounts the personal odyssey of one man's struggle with AIDS, but places it--with remarkable objectivity--within the larger story of those years. Strub is a dispassionate, reliable guide whose directness and honesty create considerable impact. Anyone would profit from reading this book."
— Martin Duberman, author of Stonewall and Professor of History Emeritus at the Graduate School of the City University of New York
“Searingly honest about himself and others, Strub shows how the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s brought out the best and the worst in people. His heroes are the ordinary men and women who fought to save lives. His villains – and deservedly so – are the cowardly public officials, from Reagan through Clinton, whose opportunism proved deadly to others. This take-no-prisoners memoir has the quality of a suspenseful page-turner, and will keep you reading until the final sentence.”
— John D'Emilio, author of Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America
“From early struggles against AIDS to later collective acting up, Sean Strub's lively, gossipy memoir is also deeply moving history.”
— Jonathan Ned Katz, author Gay American History
“Sean Strub has written more than just a memoir. Body Counts pulls back the curtain on a hidden half-century of American history, from closeted Washington politicos of the 1970s and 1980s to his interactions with a parade of American icons; Tennessee Williams, Yoko Ono, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and Gore Vidal all make cameos. AIDS looms large, but the story never feels like a tragedy. It is the tale of a life lived in high-resolution, high-intensity, saturated technicolor.”
— Ari Shapiro, NPR White House Correspondent
“Sean Strub has been a columnist, editor, publisher, theatrical producer, congressional candidate, conservationist, hotelier, and for most of that time an outspoken advocate in the fight against AIDS as well. His Body Counts is a stunning memoir--candid (at times startlingly so), courageous and humane. Much like the author himself.”
— John Berendt, New York Times-bestselling author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and The City of Falling Angels
“On June 5, 1981, the day the AIDS epidemic was first recognized by the Centers for Disease Control, Sean Strub was with my close friend, gay activist Vito Russo, in Denver, Colorado. Body Counts is a powerful account of the epidemic's early years and the subsequent three decades. It encompasses the tragedy of lives lost young, as we lost Vito, as well as the triumph of empowerment, activism and survival. Body Counts is a page-turner with moving insight and fresh analysis told in a compelling and highly personal style.”
— Lily Tomlin
“Strub paints a striking picture…. A valuable document that gives an insider’s view into AIDS activism and declares that compassion can mean just as much as cure.”
“Elegantly written, movingand powerful, this book from one of the most important advocates for peoplewith HIV/AIDS is eye-opening. In these times when the continuing need forservices for populations that suffer the most seems almost lost frompublic sight this is an important reminder.”
— Mary Frances Berry, Geraldine Segal professor of American Social Thought, University of Pennsylvania and Past Chair United States Commission on Civil Rights.
"Sean Strub’s Body Counts is an important document for several reasons. His direct and honest prose relates a familiar story of growing self-awareness, coming of age and coming out in afresh and compelling manner. The big surprise comes when one recognizes how dramatic the machinations of drug trials, power politics and the building of a grass roots movement can be.”
— Bill T. Jones
"A brilliantly told story of a life at the center of the historical period defined by the AIDS epidemic. Moments of struggle are illuminated by a tale of despair and death, gay self-transformation, love, hope, and modest bravery. More than a survivor'stale, a gripping story of a movement that changed the soul of our world."
— Kathy Boudin, Assistant Professor, Columbia University School of Social Work
“Body Counts--so smart and affecting,idealistic and clear-eyed--chronicles Strub's own personal experience with HIV,and, at the same time, explores how culture shapes us and how we can shape itin turn. Strub's memoir, like Strub himself, is an inspiration.”
— Richard McCann, author of Mother of Sorrows
A compelling page-turner... [Sean] provides fresh insights into the foundations of today's LGBT movement, an inside personal history of the AIDS epidemic and an eye-opening and horrifying depiction of the growing trend of HIV criminalization. To understand today's HIV epidemic, read Body Counts.
— Rory Kennedy, filmmaker
"This is a very particular and personal history, but it’s also our history… A wonderful storyteller, Strub does such a great job of showing how life also went on amidst so much death. I very much admire his writing – how clean and powerful it is."
— Will Schwalbe, author of The End of Your Life Book Club
“Sean Strub—one of the real heroes of the long fight against AIDS—gives us a shatteringly honest and moving account…. [He] challenges conventional wisdoms and speaks truth to power.”
— Doug Ireland, veteran political journalist
"Sean Strub .... [is] one of the AIDS movement’s most respected leaders... A critical historical voice.... Absorbing... Accessible not only to those intimate with the devastation wrought by HIV/AIDS but to those who viewed it from a distance or in retrospect."
— Earl Pike
“Body Counts is a well-written and welcome addition to the histories of the queer and AIDS movements. It also details the considerable contributions Strub has made to those movements over the past 30 years."
"Strub offers an eyewitness account from the inside of the epidemic.... This book is a valuable addition to the American AIDS archive."
“In his new book, Body Counts, Strub proves to be a rare breed of narrator, one who weaves a rich tale that both predates the early crisis—he arrived in Washington, D.C., in 1976, still swooning over Carter’s liberal optimism even as gay politicos clutched tightly at their closeted power—and managed to survive its darkest days.”
“Body Counts is a well-written and welcome addition to the histories of the queer and AIDS movements. It also details the considerable contributions Strub has made to those movements over the past 30 years.”
“[A] deeply moving, stunningly honest memoir, Strub recounts a story both distinctly his own and shared by many men in his generation.”
“[Body Counts] depicts incredible acts of courage by Strub and his constellation of collaborators. Against thick walls of institutional homophobia and shrieking AIDS hysteria, they forged battles that shaped seminal moments in AIDS history… Strub's close up portrayals of events and people are an insider's telescope…. Gripping…. Strub remains on the cutting edge of activism.”
“This captivating new book from the POZ magazine founder grabs your attention with stories of Strub’s college years in D.C., of standing on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic and all the sex, heartache and growth along the way. And it’s a powerful read … beautifully told.… A vivid look at how far our community has come and the work that is still to be done.”
"Body Counts, Sean Strub's moving, multi-decade memoir of one gay man's life, is not only a time capsule of the LGBT movement but also an examination of how far the United States has come in a very brief time to a new understanding of difference and acceptance…it forcefully reminds us of the impact an individual can make in changing the world around him.”
"Body Counts relates not just the dramatic life story of one of America’s leading AIDS activists and founder of the magazine Poz, but also, for a younger generation who may not know, how he and others fought to increase public awareness and counter bigotry in the much darker 1980s and 90s.”
— Tim Teeman
"[Body Counts] chronicles a rage-inducing chapter in recent political history."
— June Thomas
"A beautiful book…brings back the 80s and 90s and the danger of AIDS, the uncertainties of AIDS."
— Bill Goldstein
"Fascinating… an insider’s view on the struggles of gay men during the early years of the AIDS epidemic."
“A fascinating new memoir.”
"An important new memoir."
“A page-turner…. Body Counts has the suspense and horror of Paul Monette’s memoir Borrowed Time and the drama of Larry Kramer’s play The Normal Heart…. Strub’s experience touches every issue of the plague years…. What a lot of action — and life — there is in this gripping book.”
— Andrew Holleran
"A story of resilience and righteous indignation, touched with wit."
— Elizabeth Taylor
“Disarmingly honest…. The story of a humble, practical soldier, an unlikely political agitator who came of age amid a community under siege.”