NEW YORK—A sprawling crowd of LGBT writers, advocates, and allies joined PEN America at the new NYC AIDS Memorial on Thursday night to mark the first NYC Pride Week with a public space dedicated to AIDS advocacy.

The Reading for AIDS Remembrance—presented by PEN America in partnership with the NYC AIDS Memorial, ACT UP, the Fales Library, Housing Works, Treatment Action Group, and Visual AIDS—paid tribute to iconic literary figures whose writing galvanized AIDS and HIV activists to demand a change in public discourse and policy on the epidemic.

“The AIDS epidemic devastated a generation, but also gave rise to resilient and defiant writing which continues to inspire advocates,” said Kyle Dacuyan, Senior Manager of Literary Outreach and Activism at PEN America. “There is no single story of AIDS, and there is not a finished story of AIDS, but there are stories of pain, grief, terror, rage, sex, and even joy, that touch all kinds of communities.”

Under the white canopy of the Memorial in the bustling West Village of New York, Kate Bornstein, Timothy DuWhite, Jean-Claude van Itallie, Jaime Manrique, Ethelbert Miller, sam sax, Sarah Schulman, and Jean Valentine shared their own writing, as well as works by writers lost to AIDS, including Reinaldo Arenas, Tory Dent, Tim Dlugos, Essex Hemphill, and David Wojnarowicz. Poet Rickey Laurentiis even asked audiences to close their eyes on the teeming city street while he read the jarring stanzas of the late Melvin Dixon’s poem “Heartbeat,” detailing the daily struggles of life with AIDS.

“As a journalist and novelist who’s covered the entirety of the AIDS crisis, I have to say honestly that the thing we are losing is an accurate history of AIDS,” said writer-activist Sarah Schulman, cataloging thirty years of inaccurate and incomplete narratives of the AIDS epidemic in media and entertainment. “Consequently, we are losing an accurate assessment of where we are today.”

More than 100,000 people from New York City alone lost their lives to AIDS, among them countless authors and artists whose work brought the AIDS crisis to the fore of public consciousness and inspired generations to confront the disease in the face of public fear and government indifference.

Hi-resolution photos of the event are available at https://www.flickr.com/photos/penamericancenter/albums/72157685276600036

Video of the event is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_jtvLt8TSI

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world.  Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. To learn more, visit pen.org

CONTACT Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Coordinator: agasparian@pen.org, +1 646.779.0685