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Panel: Queer Writing on Growing up with the AIDS Crisis

A partnership with The Booksmith
Wednesday, 10/20/2021
7:00 - 8:00

Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore discusses her new anthology, Between Certain Death and a Possible Future: Queer Writing on Growing up with the AIDS Crisis, alongside contributors Robert Birch, Keiko Lane, Aaron Nielsen and Andrew R. Spieldenner. 


Between Certain Death and a Possible Future: Queer Writing on Growing up with the AIDS Crisis offers crucial stories from the generation that came of age in the midst of the epidemic with the belief that desire intrinsically led to death, and internalized this trauma as part of becoming queer. This wide-ranging collection includes 36 personal essays on the ongoing and persistent impact of the HIV/AIDS crisis in queer lives. Here you will find an expansive range of perspectives on a specific generational story—essays that explore and explode conventional wisdom, while also providing a necessary bridge between experiences. These essays respond, with eloquence and incisiveness, to the question: How do we reckon with the trauma that continues to this day, and imagine a way out? 


Peter Staley, author of Never Silent: ACT UP and My Life in Activism, writes, “I remember my life and sexual coming out before the AIDS crisis, but what if AIDS is all you've ever known? How did that define your queerness? Sycamore breaks open a dam of suppressed stories centered on stigma, from wildly diverse voices, pouring forth with startling honesty and resilience.” 


Between Certain Death and a Possible Future can be purchased from our event partner, The Booksmith

Watch on YouTube 



Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore is the author, most recently, of The Freezer Door, a New York Times Editors’ Choice, one of Oprah Magazine’s Best LGBTQ Books of 2020 and a finalist for the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award. Her previous nonfiction title, The End of San Francisco, won a Lambda Literary Award, and her novel Sketchtasy was one of NPR’s Best Books of 2018. Sycamore is the author of two nonfiction titles and three novels, as well as the editor of five previous non-fiction anthologies, including Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots?: Flaming Challenges to Masculinity, Objectification and the Desire to Conform, an American Library Association Stonewall Honor Book. She lives in Seattle, and her next book, Touching the Art, will be published by Soft Skull in 2023. Between Certain Death and a Possible Future is her sixth anthology. 


Robert Birch, born as a white, cisgender faggot on the unceded territory of the Anishinaabe people, was raised by the shores of the Otonabee River, which in Ojibwa means “river that beats like a heart.” In the past four decades, he has participated in more than 10,000 hours of educational, community and ceremonial circles; co-directed one of Canada’s most culturally diverse theater companies; and continues to explore the intersections of personal narrative, spontaneous ritual and social activism. He co-facilitates week-long workshops on sex and intimacy ( and co-leads a community food security farming initiative on Coast Salish lands (Salt Spring Island, BC) alongside neighbors and his playmate-husband, Mark.  


Keiko Lane is an Okinawan American poet, essayist, memoirist and psychotherapist writing about the intersections of queer culture, oppression resistance, liberation psychology, racial and gender justice, HIV criminalization and reproductive justice. Her writing has appeared most recently in Queering Sexual Violence, The Feminist Porn Book, The Remedy: Queer and Trans Voices on Health and Health Care, the Rumpus, the Feminist Wire and The Body: The HIV/AIDS Resource. “What Survival Means” is an excerpt from her memoir Blood/Loss: Toward a Queer Poetics of Embodied Memory (a love story). She is a long-term survivor of ACT UP and Queer Nation. 


Aaron Nielsen’s fiction has appeared in SCAB, Mythym, Userlands: New Fiction Writers from the Blogging Underground (edited by Dennis Cooper), Instant City, Fresh Men 2: New Voices in Gay Fiction, and Mirage #4 Period(ical) (edited by Dodie Bellamy and the late Kevin Killian). Aaron has been featured on KQED’s podcast The Writers’ Block, and he was the editor of the short-lived but critically acclaimed zine Jouissance. Additionally, Aaron has reviewed books for Fanzine and Maximumrocknroll. He holds a bachelor’s in English literature and a master’s of fine arts in creative writing, both awarded by San Francisco State University. He lives in San Francisco. 


Andrew R. Spieldenner, PhD, is an associate professor in the Departments of Communication and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at California State University San Marcos. Dr Spieldenner’s writing is at the intersection of health and culture, particularly looking at HIV and the LGBTQ community. A longtime HIV activist, Dr Spieldenner serves as vice-chair of the US People Living with HIV Caucus and North American delegate to UNAIDS. 



Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore – Twitter 

Robert Birch – Website 

Keiko Lane – Website

Andrew R. Spieldenner – Twitter 

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