Body Counts: A Memoir of Politics, Sex, AIDS, and Survival

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Overview

Sean Strub, founder of the groundbreaking POZ magazine, producer of the hit play The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me, and the first openly HIV-positive candidate for U.S. Con?gress, charts his remarkable life?a story of politics and AIDS and a powerful testament to loss, hope, and survival.

As a politics-obsessed Georgetown freshman, Sean Strub arrived in Washington, D.C., from Iowa in 1976, with a plum part-time job running a Senate elevator in the U.S. Capitol. He also harbored a...

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Body Counts: A Memoir of Politics, Sex, AIDS, and Survival

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Overview

Sean Strub, founder of the groundbreaking POZ magazine, producer of the hit play The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me, and the first openly HIV-positive candidate for U.S. Con­gress, charts his remarkable life—a story of politics and AIDS and a powerful testament to loss, hope, and survival.

As a politics-obsessed Georgetown freshman, Sean Strub arrived in Washington, D.C., from Iowa in 1976, with a plum part-time job running a Senate elevator in the U.S. Capitol. He also harbored a terrifying secret: his attraction to men. As Strub explored the capital’s political and social circles, he discovered a parallel world where powerful men lived double lives shrouded in shame.

When the AIDS epidemic hit in the early 1980s, Strub was living in New York and soon found himself attending “more funerals than birthday parties.” Scared and angry, he turned to radical activism to combat discrimination and demand research. Strub takes readers through his own diagnosis and inside ACT UP, the activist organization that transformed a stigmatized cause into one of the defining political movements of our time.

From the New York of Studio 54 and Andy Warhol’s Factory to the intersection of politics and burgeoning LGBT and AIDS movements, Strub’s story crackles with history. He recounts his role in shocking AIDS demonstrations at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the home of U.S. Sen­ator Jesse Helms. Body Counts is a vivid portrait of a tumultuous era, with an astonishing cast of characters, including Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, Keith Haring, Bill Clinton, and Yoko Ono.

By the time a new class of drugs transformed the epidemic in 1996, Strub was emaciated and covered with Kaposi’s sarcoma lesions, the scarlet letter of AIDS. He was among the fortunate who returned, Lazaruslike, from the brink of death.

Strub has written a vital, inspiring memoir, unprecedented in scope, about this deeply important period of American history.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Damaris Colhoun
…[Strub']s milquetoast demeanor…a quality mirrored by the earnest style of his prose…is…disarmingly honest, and complicates his self-portrait. Strub rarely postures or flexes his muscles. His is the story of a humble, practical soldier, an unlikely political agitator who came of age amid a community under siege.
Publishers Weekly
11/04/2013
Radicalized by the AIDS crisis and plunged into political activism for the LGBT community, Iowa-born Catholic-raised Strub chronicles the crucial years of AIDS awareness since the early 1980s, which parallels his own coming-of-age. As a protégé of Iowa senator Dick Clarke, Strub, then a teenager, worked as an elevator operator at the U.S. Capitol between 1976 and 1978; naïf, a virgin, attending Georgetown University, he gradually frequented “the Block” for gay cruising in Georgetown, resigned to closeted, secretive meetings with other men, yet reveling in the attention and friendship. A move to New York City introduced him to bathhouses, like the New St. Marks, and a growing political awareness, such as in gay marches and parades; dropping out of Columbia, Strub took his first political job in the Kentucky Democratic committee, and by June 1981, recognized he shared some of the same symptoms as the men mysteriously dying of a “gay cancer” first noticed by Dr. Joseph Sonnabend, writing frequently in the New York Native. Strub frankly and openly speaks about these painful and inspiring early years of the gay and lesbian movement, how the AIDS epidemic devastated the newly emergent community and ushered in a terrible backlash against gays. (Jan.)
Chicago Tribune - Elizabeth Taylor
"A story of resilience and righteous indignation, touched with wit."
New York Times Book Review
“Disarmingly honest…. The story of a humble, practical soldier, an unlikely political agitator who came of age amid a community under siege.”
Martin Duberman
"Body Counts is an absorbing read. It not only vividly recounts the personal odyssey of one man's struggle with AIDS, but places it—with remarkable objectivity—within the larger story of those years. Strub is a dispassionate, reliable guide whose directness and honesty create considerable impact. Anyone would profit from reading this book."
John D'Emilio
“Searingly honest about himself and others, Strub shows how the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s brought out the best and the worst in people. His heroes are the ordinary men and women who fought to save lives. His villains – and deservedly so – are the cowardly public officials, from Reagan through Clinton, whose opportunism proved deadly to others. This take-no-prisoners memoir has the quality of a suspenseful page-turner, and will keep you reading until the final sentence.”
Jonathan Ned Katz
“From early struggles against AIDS to later collective acting up, Sean Strub's lively, gossipy memoir is also deeply moving history.”
Ari Shapiro
“Sean Strub has written more than just a memoir. Body Counts pulls back the curtain on a hidden half-century of American history, from closeted Washington politicos of the 1970s and 1980s to his interactions with a parade of American icons; Tennessee Williams, Yoko Ono, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and Gore Vidal all make cameos. AIDS looms large, but the story never feels like a tragedy. It is the tale of a life lived in high-resolution, high-intensity, saturated technicolor.”
John Berendt
“Sean Strub has been a columnist, editor, publisher, theatrical producer, congressional candidate, conservationist, hotelier, and for most of that time an outspoken advocate in the fight against AIDS as well. His Body Counts is a stunning memoir—candid (at times startlingly so), courageous and humane. Much like the author himself.”
Lily Tomlin
“On June 5, 1981, the day the AIDS epidemic was first recognized by the Centers for Disease Control, Sean Strub was with my close friend, gay activist Vito Russo, in Denver, Colorado. Body Counts is a powerful account of the epidemic's early years and the subsequent three decades. It encompasses the tragedy of lives lost young, as we lost Vito, as well as the triumph of empowerment, activism and survival. Body Counts is a page-turner with moving insight and fresh analysis told in a compelling and highly personal style.”
Gloria Steinem
"Read Body Counts by Sean Strub and share one American's story of growing up with an instinct for justice, then finding oneself in an epidemic whose tragedy is multiplied by bias. As a man who survived sexual abuse, rape and an HIV diagnosis, Strub embodies the shared interest of women and men who fight for human rights, and against any government or person intruding on our bodies. By taking us with him on his journey from a conservative family in Iowa to the heart of a global movement for human rights, Sean Strub gives us ideas, strength and heart in our own journey."
Andrew Tobias
“What a life! From the Senate elevator to Studio 54 to Andy Warhol and Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal and John Lennon to the famous demonstration inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral—who is this guy, Forest Gump? This is the compelling life and near-death story of Sean Strub, of thousands lost to HIV-AIDS, and thousands more living with it whom his activism helped save. Wow.”
Martin Duberman
"Body Counts is an absorbing read. It not only vividly recounts the personal odyssey of one man's struggle with AIDS, but places it—with remarkable objectivity—within the larger story of those years. Strub is a dispassionate, reliable guide whose directness and honesty create considerable impact. Anyone would profit from reading this book."
Judith Light
“Inspiring... A vital history of ordinary people rising up and demonstrating the potential inherent in this extraordinary country... Although at times it is agonizing to remember and relive our past, Sean’s articulate, and humane memoir transforms this pain into a hope for a better future. This is the most personally powerful and authentic portrayal of our collective history that I have read since Paul Monette's On Borrowed Time."
Mary Frances Berry
“Elegantly written, movingand powerful, this book from one of the most important advocates for peoplewith HIV/AIDS is eye-opening. In these times when the continuing need forservices for populations that suffer the most seems almost lost frompublic sight this is an important reminder.”
Bill T. Jones
"Sean Strub’s Body Counts is an important document for several reasons. His direct and honest prose relates a familiar story of growing self-awareness, coming of age and coming out in afresh and compelling manner. The big surprise comes when one recognizes how dramatic the machinations of drug trials, power politics and the building of a grass roots movement can be.
Kathy Boudin
"A brilliantly told story of a life at the center of the historical period defined by the AIDS epidemic. Moments of struggle are illuminated by a tale of despair and death, gay self-transformation, love, hope, and modest bravery. More than a survivor'stale, a gripping story of a movement that changed the soul of our world."
Richard McCann
Body Counts—so smart and affecting,idealistic and clear-eyed—chronicles Strub's own personal experience with HIV,and, at the same time, explores how culture shapes us and how we can shape itin turn. Strub's memoir, like Strub himself, is an inspiration.”
Rory Kennedy
A compelling page-turner... [Sean] provides fresh insights into the foundations of today's LGBT movement, an inside personal history of the AIDS epidemic and an eye-opening and horrifying depiction of the growing trend of HIV criminalization. To understand today's HIV epidemic, read Body Counts.
Will Schwalbe
"This is a very particular and personal history, but it’s also our history… A wonderful storyteller, Strub does such a great job of showing how life also went on amidst so much death. I very much admire his writing – how clean and powerful it is."
Doug Ireland
“Sean Strub—one of the real heroes of the long fight against AIDS—gives us a shatteringly honest and moving account…. [He] challenges conventional wisdoms and speaks truth to power.”
The Cleveland Plain Dealer - Earl Pike
"Sean Strub .... [is] one of the AIDS movement’s most respected leaders... A critical historical voice.... Absorbing... Accessible not only to those intimate with the devastation wrought by HIV/AIDS but to those who viewed it from a distance or in retrospect."
Gay City News
Body Counts is a well-written and welcome addition to the histories of the queer and AIDS movements. It also details the considerable contributions Strub has made to those movements over the past 30 years.”
Next Magazine
"Strub offers an eyewitness account from the inside of the epidemic.... This book is a valuable addition to the American AIDS archive."
Out
“In his new book, Body Counts, Strub proves to be a rare breed of narrator, one who weaves a rich tale that both predates the early crisis—he arrived in Washington, D.C., in 1976, still swooning over Carter’s liberal optimism even as gay politicos clutched tightly at their closeted power—and managed to survive its darkest days.”
Boston Globe
“[A] deeply moving, stunningly honest memoir, Strub recounts a story both distinctly his own and shared by many men in his generation.”
Windy City Times
“[Body Counts] depicts incredible acts of courage by Strub and his constellation of collaborators. Against thick walls of institutional homophobia and shrieking AIDS hysteria, they forged battles that shaped seminal moments in AIDS history… Strub's close up portrayals of events and people are an insider's telescope…. Gripping…. Strub remains on the cutting edge of activism.”
Instinct Magazine
“This captivating new book from the POZ magazine founder grabs your attention with stories of Strub’s college years in D.C., of standing on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic and all the sex, heartache and growth along the way. And it’s a powerful read … beautifully told.… A vivid look at how far our community has come and the work that is still to be done.”
The San Francisco Chronicle
"Body Counts, Sean Strub's moving, multi-decade memoir of one gay man's life, is not only a time capsule of the LGBT movement but also an examination of how far the United States has come in a very brief time to a new understanding of difference and acceptance…it forcefully reminds us of the impact an individual can make in changing the world around him.”
The Daily Beast - Tim Teeman
"Body Counts relates not just the dramatic life story of one of America’s leading AIDS activists and founder of the magazine Poz, but also, for a younger generation who may not know, how he and others fought to increase public awareness and counter bigotry in the much darker 1980s and 90s.”
WNBC-TV’s Weekend Today in New York - Bill Goldstein
"A beautiful book…brings back the 80s and 90s and the danger of AIDS, the uncertainties of AIDS."
Lambda Literary Review
"Fascinating… an insider’s view on the struggles of gay men during the early years of the AIDS epidemic."
Bay Area Reporter
“A fascinating new memoir.”
MetroWeekly
"An important new memoir."
Washington Post - Andrew Holleran
“A page-turner…. Body Counts has the suspense and horror of Paul Monette’s memoir Borrowed Time and the drama of Larry Kramer’s play The Normal Heart…. Strub’s experience touches every issue of the plague years…. What a lot of action — and life — there is in this gripping book.”
Slate.com on NY1 News - June Thomas
"[Body Counts] chronicles a rage-inducing chapter in recent political history."
Judith Light
“Inspiring... A vital history of ordinary people rising up and demonstrating the potential inherent in this extraordinary country... Although at times it is agonizing to remember and relive our past, Sean’s articulate, and humane memoir transforms this pain into a hope for a better future. This is the most personally powerful and authentic portrayal of our collective history that I have read since Paul Monette's On Borrowed Time."
Andrew Tobias
“What a life! From the Senate elevator to Studio 54 to Andy Warhol and Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal and John Lennon to the famous demonstration inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral—who is this guy, Forest Gump? This is the compelling life and near-death story of Sean Strub, of thousands lost to HIV-AIDS, and thousands more living with it whom his activism helped save. Wow.”
Kirkus Reviews
2013-11-04
A prominent activist and publisher ties his personal journey into the epochal events that have shaped the last 35 years of LGBT rights and AIDS education. Even growing up as a closeted Catholic Midwesterner, Strub knew that his gift for initiating progressive political change would someday bring him to Washington, D.C. Although he spent the late 1970s meeting congressional movers and shakers via his job as a Senate elevator operator, he soon realized that New York City provided a more congenial atmosphere for a young gay man beginning to explore and advocate on behalf of his sexuality. Strub paints a striking picture of the grittiness and exuberance of the Big Apple at this time, when the city was reveling in the last hurrahs of freedom that encompassed discos, singles bars and bathhouses. Amid all the revelry, however, disquieting references to a "gay cancer" began appearing, and sexually active gay men began to find suspicious lesions on their bodies. At first, Strub writes, many in the gay community chose to ignore or dismiss these signs; however, in 1982, an article written by two men who had contracted what came to be known as AIDS sparked controversy by linking the disease to the unfettered sexual activity that had characterized the post-Stonewall years. Well aware of the devastating effects of AIDS on so many Americans, the Reagan and Clinton administrations nevertheless neglected to provide the support or fund the research that might have slowed the epidemic. Thus began an intense effort on the parts of Strub and other activists to promote safer sex, demand access to treatment and give hope to those diagnosed with HIV. The author achieved the latter by founding POZ magazine in 1994 and later, after protease inhibitors halted the progression of his own disease, by creating the Sero Project to empower those who have been criminalized for having HIV. A valuable document that gives an insider's view into AIDS activism and declares that compassion can mean just as much as cure.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781451661958
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 1/14/2014
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 130,794
  • Product dimensions: 11.20 (w) x 7.80 (h) x 1.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Sean Strub is an activist, writer, and executive director of the Sero Project, which combats the criminalization of people with HIV. He founded POZ magazine, the leading publication providing information about HIV, and is a frequent speaker about HIV/AIDS, self-empowerment, and the intersections of sex, public health, and the law. A native of Iowa City, Strub attended Georgetown and Columbia universities. He and his partner, Xavier Morales, live in New York and Milford, Pennsylvania.

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