“Creative Empowerment”: Other Countries Collective and Black Gay AIDS Activism in New York City

Sunday, January 4, 2015: 12:30 PM
Midtown Suite (New York Hilton)
Darius Bost, San Francisco State University
Since the onset of the epidemic in the U.S., black gay men have been disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS.  Yet their contributions to AIDS activism remain under-examined within LGBT historiography.  Part of the reason for their absence in the historical record is methodological, since certain black gay AIDS activist groups often took non-traditional forms, and took place within insular communities.  This paper looks at one non-traditional example of black gay anti-AIDS activism, New York City- based writer’s group, Other Countries Collective. Founded in 1986, Other Countries believed that cultural and intellectual activity had become a devalued aspect of gay liberation and radical AIDS activism. In light of this devaluation, Other Countries dedicated themselves to “creative empowerment” of black gay communities through poetry workshops, public performances and journal publications.  Furthermore, their marginalization as racial and sexual minorities, coupled with the traumatic impact of the HIV/AIDS in black gay communities, fostered their mission of developing, disseminating, and preserving the diverse cultural expressions of black gay men. Drawing on oral histories, archival material, and literary close readings, this paper explores how black gay literary and cultural production contributed to AIDS activism at the height of the epidemic in the U.S. In so doing, this paper also considers how literary and cultural studies might intervene in the field of LGBT history, more broadly.
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