Stitching a Revolution: The Making of an Activist

Stitching a Revolution: The Making of an Activist

by Cleve Jones, Jeff Dawson

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From the frontlines of one of the greatest human struggles of our time comes this powerful and moving tale. Both an important cultural history of the AIDS crisis and an intimate personal memoir, Stitching a Revolution is the story of a man who, besieged by discrimination, death, and despair, found the courage and strength of spirit to conceive and

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From the frontlines of one of the greatest human struggles of our time comes this powerful and moving tale. Both an important cultural history of the AIDS crisis and an intimate personal memoir, Stitching a Revolution is the story of a man who, besieged by discrimination, death, and despair, found the courage and strength of spirit to conceive and create a unique healing vision-the AIDS Memorial Quilt.

Against the turbulent backdrop of politics and sexual liberation in San Francisco during the seventies, Jones recounts his coming-of-age alongside friend and mentor Harvey Milk -- and, later, Milk's assassination and the ensuing riots that threatened to tear down all they had accomplished. But Jones's political aspirations were put on hold after the emergence of an insidious, unexplainable "gay cancer" that would soon become known throughout the world as AIDS. Demoralized by the tide of death and despair sweeping his community, brutally assaulted by gay-bashing thugs, and faced with the specter of his own positive diagnosis, Jones sought a way to restore hope to a world falling apart beneath his feet.

What started out as a simple panel of fabric stitched for his best friend now covers a space larger than twenty-five football fields and contains over eighty thousand names. The Quilt has affected the lives of many people, bridging racial, sexual, and religious barriers to unite millions in the fight against AIDS.

Stitching a Revolution is a compelling, dramatic tale with a cast of memorable characters from all walks of life. At times uplifting, at times heartwrenching, this inspiring story reveals what it means to be human and how the power of love conquers all -- even death.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The AIDS Memorial Quilt--42,016 interlocking panels, each celebrating the life of an individual who has died of AIDS-related causes--is one of the marvels of contemporary political organizing and art. Jones, who conceived of the quilt and formed the Names Project, which curates it, has written a memoir of his life as a gay rights and AIDS activist that attempts to place the meaning of the quilt within both a personal and a social history. Born in 1954 to a pair of liberal Indiana college professors, Jones left home and his less-than-accepting parents at 18, after he came out. Cutting his political teeth working for openly gay Supervisor Harvey Milk in San Francisco, Jones became a noted community leader after Milk's assassination in 1978. When AIDS hit three years later, Jones, who was working as a legislative aide on health concerns, became involved with local AIDS projects and in 1984 was inspired to begin developing the quilt. Although it is filled with dates and names, Jones's memoir is oddly vague about political or personal specifics. He claims, for example, that Harvey Milk's politics were not based in "any kind of political or economic philosophy" but were just "about individuals"; he also describes his Latino lover's depression about having AIDS as "Aztec fatalism." So although Jones touches on many of the key moments of recent gay and lesbian history, and while his vision for the quilt has been vital in personalizing the AIDS epidemic for many nongay U.S. citizens, his memoir lacks the narrative drive and insight to make it an important social or personal document. Agent, Jed Mattes. Author tour. (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Jones offers his personal perspective on events surrounding the creation of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which has helped facilitate grieving and promoted AIDS activism internationally. He candidly recounts his early upbringing in Indiana; his move to San Francisco in 1972, where he was mentored by Harvey Milk; the controversial "White Night" riots; his discovery that he was HIV-positive; and his aborted run for a California Assembly seat. Here he highlights his inspiration on the November night in 1985 when he and friend Joseph Durant had the initial idea for the quilt and the creation of its first panels in early 1987. Through his work, he encountered Rosa Parks, Jane Fonda, Elizabeth Taylor, Gus Van Sant, and Presidents Bush and Clinton. And he withstood pressures from inside and outside the ever-growing NAMES Project organization in his efforts to promote the quilt, which now has more than 42,000 panels, has been viewed by more than 12 million people, and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. Recommended as a unique, behind-the-scenes look at an important phenomenon.--James E. Van Buskirk, San Francisco P.L. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
1 ED
Product dimensions:
6.13(w) x 9.21(h) x 0.86(d)

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Chapter One

Early Years

Not unusually, I had a happy childhood, full of encouraging relatives and the sort of peace and stability that are said to be necessary for rearing well-adjusted children. I have no memories of my parents ever fighting, not once. They loved my sister, Elizabeth, and me, and we knew we were loved. Perhaps equally important, my parents planted within us a strong sense of family, the idea that we were part of a chain running back through generations of Joneses and Kirks and all their accomplishments, both small and large.

But contrary to logic, which would have said, "You will be loved for yourself whether you are as smart as your father the college professor or as strong and successful as your grandfather," I knew from an early age that I must hide my true self. I lived, as did most every gay boy or lesbian girl, a paradox. Outwardly normal, we were, we felt, inwardly flawed. Irrevocably so. It took me many years to resolve that conflict and in the resolution find the seeds of activism.

I was born right in the middle of the century in the middle of the country — in 1954 in Indiana — to a farming family that had, like so much of the country, left the farm during the Great Depression and found itself working in the city and living in suburbia.

My parents were teachers, and we had an itinerant life, moving from college to college, from Rochester, New York, to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and finally to Phoenix, Arizona. But in all our traveling there was the anchor of family: Thanksgiving and Christmas along with all those long endless summers of childhood that always began with our thriceyearly migration by car to my grandfather's house on Southfield Road in Birmingham, Michigan.

I have wonderful memories of his high old place, bounded by a victory garden in the back and rows of iris and lilies on one side and green lawn rolling to the street in front. The house itself was three stories and made of stone painted white. I remember it as a kind of palace with echoing halls and high ceilings and lots of rooms — some secret, like my grandfather's library with its smell of pipe smoke and leather and pictures on the walls of Papa, as I called him, and his friends standing stiffly side by side in the formal style of those days. Later I discovered that many of the men in the photographs were politicians he had known — mayors, state officials — and that the one with the big belly crossed by a watch fob was a senator. What they were celebrating I never knew exactly, but even as a child I understood that we Joneses had a connection to government and politics. It seemed a natural thing to be involved, an honorable pursuit, worth a frame on the wall.

Along with his vast-seeming house there were other grand aspects of Grandfather, testaments to his power. Where I was just Cleve, or Cleve Edward Jones when I'd done wrong, he had many names. I called him Papa, but when Grandma or his old friends addressed him it was as Casey, as in Casey Jones, the mythic train engineer. Also, I'd seen that the name on his strongbox and on his driver's license was Blythe Randolph Jones. Unlike everyone else, he needed many different names, further proof of his power and mystery.

He was a big man with huge hands and a square-jawed, handsome face, and was always formally dressed. He traveled a lot in his work, and whenever he went to Hong Kong he came back with a new silk suit handmade, he said, by Mr. Chu, a wonderful little man. He'd put his hand just a few inches over my head...Almost your size, Cleve.

His word was law. When I was very young, my great-aunt Katherine brought her fiancé to dinner and fled in tears when Papa slammed his fist on the table and told the man, from Virginia, to "leave my house this instant." Katherine's fiancé had used the word nigger, a cardinal sin that not even the mantle of family would excuse.

Sometimes his harshness was, at least in retrospect, troubling. One day my grandmother lost her keys and asked me, conspiratorially, to find them. If you do, she whispered, I'll give you twenty dollars — a fortune in those days. I promptly found them, and as I reached out for the promised twenty, eyes aglow, she said, holding tight to the reward, "Swear you'll never tell Papa I lost the keys." I swore. We had secrets, she and I.

If there was one defining activity for Papa, it was when he sat in state at the head of his long table overseeing twenty relatives, more if extra settings were squeezed into the corners. He loved to eat; it wasn't unusual for him to eat two steaks at one sitting. But I think he took an equal enjoyment from watching his clan dig into the heavily laden platters and hearing the talk, always loud and boisterous, as we feasted. Feast is the right word. When one dish was empty, magically there was Grandma in an apron, carrying in another platter heaped with yet more of her famous barbecued chicken or the honeyed applesauce she made out of fruit from the trees in back. Very often there were surprises: sweets from the Far East, rich liquors from Mexico. One Thanksgiving Papa had lobsters flown in all the way from Maine. I remember walking into the kitchen and watching horrified as Grandma tossed them live into boiling water, and later refusing stubbornly to Join in as the rest of the family cracked their stiff red carcasses with pliers.

And those enormous meals always seemed to end with generational stories — old people reminding each other of conversations told by old people when they were young...

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What People are saying about this

Bill Strubbe
Seamed with the glories, despair, sadness, and befitting humor, this compelling book�is penned with a refreshing lack of pomposity.

Meet the Author

Cleve Jones, founder of the NAMES Project Foundation, has been at the forefront of the AIDS movement since 1981. He lives in Palm Springs, California.

Jeff Dawson is a professional writer and journalist, as well as the author of Gay & Lesbian Online. He lives in Guerneville, California.

Jeff Dawson is a professional writer and journalist, as well as the author of Gay & Lesbian Online. He lives in Guerneville, California.

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