Queer Writing on Growing Up with the AIDS Crisis


San Francisco Public Library presents a panel discussion featuring acclaimed author Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

San Francisco – On October 20, San Francisco Public Library hosts award-winning writer Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore in a panel discussing 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 presents 36 personal essays 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. The anthology includes 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?

On editing Between Certain Death, Sycamore reflects, "One thing that happened as I was reading the submissions [for this anthology] is that I was flooded by my own memories, so many stories that I’d almost forgotten, hovering at the edge of my awareness… If there’s one thing I want this anthology to do, it’s to open up the possibilities for feeling, for feeling everything. Grief is not something you can steal. You can silence it, yes, and I think that’s what our culture has done...Let’s talk about everything, so that we can feel everything. Let’s feel it all, so our future remains possible."

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 checked out at the Library for free or purchased from our event partner, The Booksmith (1727 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94117), www.booksmith.com.

Last chance to see, the compelling photography exhibit When the Conference Heard from the Street, on view through October 10, 2021 at the Main Library, Skylight Gallery, 6th floor. In June 1990, in conjunction with the Sixth International Conference on AIDS, the streets of San Francisco erupted with thousands of activists demanding that governments, health care providers, and drug companies do more to help people living with HIV and slow the burgeoning AIDS epidemic. Photographer Rick Gerharter was in the streets and inside the conference hall with ACT UP and other activists, documenting their demonstrations.


Panel: Queer Writing on Growing up with the AIDS Crisis
Date/Time: October 20, 7 p.m.
Cost: Free

Zoom registration link

Watch on YouTube

About the Panelists
Note – bios provided were provided by the authors.

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 (faeriesexmagick.org) 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 Nielsens 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 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.

About San Francisco Public Library:

San Francisco Public Library is dedicated to free and equal access to information, knowledge, independent learning and the joys of reading for our diverse community. The library system is made up of 27 neighborhood branches, the San Francisco Main Library at Civic Center and four bookmobiles.

To learn more, please visit sfpl.org and follow on Twitter @SFPublicLibrary and on Instagram @sfpubliclibrary.

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Kate Patterson, San Francisco Public Library
(415) 557-4252 / kate.patterson@sfpl.org


September 22, 2021