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UP Week 2022: Blog Tour

15th November 2022

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Each year, we join a tour of the blogs in our larger community, with a series that daily addresses different aspects of the UP Week theme. This year’s theme, Next UP, reflects university presses’ constant spirit of learning, adaptation, and evolution.

Wednesday: What author is #NextUP?

Celebrating First-time Authors

Q&A with Ron Goldberg, author of Boy with the Bullhorn: A Memoir and History of ACT UP New York

Image
Photo by Joey Stamp

Q: What inspired you to write Boy with the Bullhorn?

 A: I was aware, from almost the first day I joined ACT UP in 1987, that I was taking part in history. I think a lot of us were. And it was very clear to me that I had a responsibility to bear witness, to write this history down and pass it on. Of course, when I first started working on the book in 1994, it was mostly an attempt to make sense of the past seven years. It was such a dense and emotional experience and there was a lot to sort through.


Q: What about the title: Boy with the Bullhorn? What inspired that?

A: That title also came quickly. While I took on many roles during my time with ACT UP—facilitating meetings, planning actions, chairing committees, writing factsheets, and fundraising letters—I became most well-known for writing and leading chants at our demonstrations, earning me the title of ACT UP’s unofficial “chant queen,” or “chant-euse” if I’m feeling fancy. Hence, the boy with the bullhorn.
 
There’s a musical theater reference tucked in there as well. There’s a big 11 o’clock number in
the musical Mame called “If He Walked Into My Life,” which begins: “Where’s that boy with the
bugle?” So, the title gives a subtle wink to those who get it (or know me) that the book is going
to have a certain queer, camp sensibility. Much like ACT UP itself.
 
Q: What impact do you think ACT UP New York had during 1980s and ‘90s?

A: Well, ACT UP New York was the first, the largest, and the most well-known of over 150
different ACT UP chapters worldwide. Together, the AIDS activist movement had a tremendous
impact on the AIDS crisis. We successfully pressured the government to increase funding for
AIDS research and support services, forced the CDC to expand the AIDS definition to include the
infections that affect women and IV drug users, refocused drug research, streamlined the drug
approval process, helped reform insurance policies, and created AIDS housing, education, and
harm reduction programs, among other achievements.

We also provided a blueprint for other patient advocacy organizations and played an important
role in changing the public’s perception of LGBTQ+ people from just a “sexual preference” to a
powerful, caring, and politically savvy community.
 
Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?

A: To be honest, most of my research came from my own files. I saved everything: flyers, posters, fact sheets, study guides, newspaper and magazine clippings, everything that was stacked up on the back table at our weekly meetings or handed out at our demonstrations. I also had some contemporaneous writing—journal entries and unsent letters—which helped pull me back in time, as well as a collection of datebooks, which proved invaluable for creating a reliable chronology of events.

While doing research for David France and his book, How to Survive a Plague, I also had the opportunity to go through the files at the New York Public Library and the LGBT Center, including microform copies of our local gay tabloid, the New York Native, dating back to the earliest days of the epidemic, as well as the personal files of some of our members. But the most surprising information came from the ACT UP Oral History Project, which includes interviews with 188 ACT UP members, recorded between 2002 and 2017.  

Despite all the time we spent together—all the meetings, teach-ins, trainings, and demonstrations—we didn’t really know that much about each other. I had no idea what people did for a living, where they came from, who was sick, or why they were in that room. The oral histories helped me fill in missing pieces, faces, and stories and allowed me to rediscover and fall in love again with the extraordinary people who were my comrades in the streets.
 
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?

A: I think the main message is that a small group of people can make change happen. I saw it first-hand, so I know it’s true. And while there are certainly lessons and strategies for activism that I think are still useful to activists today, the truth is you need to know how to do all this ahead of time. You don’t need to know all the answers, or even what all the questions are, to start making a difference. What in retrospect may look like expertise, was often just making things up as we went along. I always tell people the most important thing they can do is show up. Take that first step. Attend the meeting. Go to the demonstration. Show up. The rest will follow.

But also, I hope readers see that while activism can be hard and frustrating, it’s also fun and
sexy and, of course, empowering. I even met my husband in ACT UP thirty-one years ago. Our
first date was a Labor Day weekend demonstration at President George H.W. Bush’s “ancestral
home” in Kennebunkport, Maine, on Sept. 1, 1991.

My time in ACT UP was the best, worst, most joyful, most devastating time of my life and,
without question, the most important thing I ever did.

Q: As a first-time author, why did you decide to publish with a university press? 

A: My goal with writing this book was always to get the history of AIDS and AIDS activism into the
hands of young people, into schools and colleges, and into the larger canon of American History.
Having my book published by Fordham University Press gave it immediate legitimacy. It said
that this work and this history should be taken seriously. That it’s a topic of importance and
that the book itself has been vetted and peer-reviewed and can be trusted as a resource for
students and scholars for decades to come.

And the fact that it is being published under Fordham’s Empire State Editions imprint, which
focuses on New York City stories, further established that this is not just queer history, but part
of the city’s history and, by extension, the nation’s history as well.

And look, it was very clear to me that whoever decided to publish my book would be taking it
on as a passion project. This was never going to be the next John Grisham novel. This book is an
act of witness and Fordham understood that responsibility and treated both me and my book
with great respect and let me tell the story in my own way and in my own voice.


Q: How do you feel about the finished product?

A: I’m very pleased. It’s the book I wanted to write, with the title and cover photo that I’d always
envisioned. The design is great, the cover pops, and through some unexplained alchemy, the
production team somehow managed to make this lengthy, chatty, relentlessly footnoted, and
copiously sourced book still look inviting and readable. I am in their debt.

Ron Goldberg is the author of the new book Boy with the Bullhorn: A Memoir and History of ACT UP New York. A writer and activist, his work has appeared in publications including OutWeek and POZ

Check out Ron Goldberg’s interview on YouTube below!

Thursday: What’s #NextUP in publishing?

Looking forward to new projects, partnerships, platforms, and programs.

Check out today’s UP Week Blog Tour HERE.

***

Wednesday: What author is #NextUP?

Celebrating first-time authors.

Leuven University Press
Writing an Academic Book: Experiences of First-time Authors

Temple University Press
Celebrating First-Time Author Luis Felipe Mantilla

University of Pittsburgh Press
Ramona Reeves is #NextUP

Cornell University Press
Experiences of Caring: Three Questions with Jason Danely

Medieval Institute Publications
What Author is #NextUP? Dr. Christine Schott

Johns Hopkins University Press
A Q&A with Andrew M. Wehrman

University of Toronto Press
What Author Is #NextUP at UTP? Noah Schwartz

University Press of Kentucky
Ones to Watch Out For: On University Presses Championing Black Writers by Yvette Lisa Ndlovu

University of West Indies Press
Video conversation between Dr. Lorna Downs and Dr. Therese Ferguson

University of Washington Press
#NextUP: Author Jordan Biro Walters

SUNY Press
#NextUP at SUNY Press: Author Mindy Clegg

Wilfrid Laurier University Press
Collaborating with Wilfrid Laurier University Press to Publish Music-Making in U.S. Prisons

Texas A&M University Press
Anthony Head on His Experiences as a First-Time (and Second-Time) Author

University of Illinois Press
Interview with James C. Benton

***

Tuesday: What’s #NextUP in journals?

Spotlighting new journals and innovative periodical projects.

University of Chicago Press
NextUP: Achieving Accessibility in Academic Journal Publishing

Medieval Institute Publications
Our newest journal, Medieval Ecocriticisms

Johns Hopkins University Press
Welcoming Our New Journal Cusp: Late 19th/Early 20th-Century Cultures

University of Toronto Press
What’s Next UP in Journals?

University of West Indies Press
Caribbean Conjunctures: The Caribbean Studies Association Journal 

University of Pennsylvania Press
#NextUP in Penn Press Journals: Journal of Disaster Studies

Catholic University of America Press
What’s #NextUP with Our Journals!

Check back here tomorrow and Thursday for more great blog posts, and don’t forget to share your love for university presses online with the hashtag #NextUp.

***

Monday: Who’s NextUP?

Highlighting early-career press staff members on the rise.

SUNY Press
Who is #NextUP at SUNY Press?

Johns Hopkins University Press
University Press Week Staff Spotlight: Adriahna Conway

MIT Press
What’s #NextUP for our acquisitions team?

Duke Press
Who’s #NextUP at DUP?

University Press of Colorado
Meet Allegra Martschenko and Robert Ramaswamy

University of Notre Dame Press
Behind the Scenes of Academic Publishing: Jacob Kildoo

Princeton University Press
Ideas and Inspiration from Princeton University Press Fellows

Penn State University Press
Introducing 3 newest employees: Emily Lovett, Josie DiNovo, and Mackenzie Brunnhuber

University of Toronto Press
Insights from Grusha Singh, digital marketing coordinator

University of West Indies Press
Who is #NextUP? Video from Mrs. Vanessa Parnell-Burton, accounts payable officer

University of British Columbia Press
Who’s #NextUP? An Interview with Publishing Clerk Shalini Nanayakkara

University of Georgia Press
#NextUP at UGA Press

Purdue University Press
Who is #NextUP at Purdue University Press: A Q&A with Andrea Gapsch

Medieval Institute Publications
Who’s #NextUP? Becky Straple-Sovers

University of Michigan Press
Celebrating University Press Week and What’s #NextUP

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