Radical queer activist Sarah Schulman’s latest book, The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Generation, examines the consequences of the AIDS crisis.
Schulman separates her writing into two categories of AIDS: “ongoing AIDS” and “AIDS of the past.” In her book she discusses the different qualities of each and their consequences.
“Here in the US, over 500,000 people have died of AIDS; 80,000 in New York City alone,” Schulman says. “It is preposterous to pretend that this mass death experience has not profoundly transformed our society and our hearts.”
Her book is culled from more than 30 years of experience and 15 years of writing. Its title comes from a lecture Schulman gave at the New School.
She considers writing a “lifelong calling with a biological foundation.”
Schulman’s role as an activist has taken many forms: she founded the Mix festival and the ACT UP Oral History Project and also created a feature length film, United in Anger: A History of ACT UP, directed by Jim Hubbard.
Activism is Schulman’s lifeline, and she says it fuels her writing and academic work. A professor of humanities at New York’s City University, she has also been an outspoken critic of the Israeli government’s ongoing human rights abuses (see video below).
However, she says her greatest struggle has been around queer politics.
“Authentic lesbian representation in mainstream arts and entertainment has proven harder to achieve than the creating of AIDS medications,” she says.
Shani Mootoo, the Toronto-based author of He Drown She in the Sea, believes Schulman is part of the new avant-garde. Mootoo will join Schulman in conversation at the Gladstone Hotel on March 11.
“If it involves Sarah Schulman, it is bound to be an evening of exploration,” Mootoo says. “An evening of radical yet very sane, smart ideas, and one just might come away, not only with a great book in one’s hand, but with the sense that activism, creativity and radicalism are not only as necessary as ever, but are, despite an abundance of Goliaths at every corner, still very possible.”
Mootoo says Schulman’s latest goes much beyond memoir.
“Besides giving a concrete, personal and moving picture of New York City during the AIDS years, she contrasts that once-diverse, vibrant, radical city where cultural production was known for its edginess, its questioning of rules and norms and its demanding of answers and change,” Mootoo says.
She describes Schulman’s writing as a lifeline to her own work.
“She is a present-day queer Alice Miller,” Mootoo says. “I admire her rigour in inquiry and that she demands and expects such a lot of herself, and of us all.”
Mootoo, who is working on her fourth novel, describes her creative process as an exploration through oppression, fiction and story.
“Always I am trying to understand why, and how, we come to love who we love,” she says. “I’ve come to see that I use my writing to try and envision new paths for ourselves, and new kinder behaviours towards ourselves and others.”
Sarah Schulman in conversation with Shani Mootoo
Sun, March 11 at 7:30pm
The Gladstone Hotel
1214 Queen St W