Praise for All The Young Men
Finalist for the Lambda Literary Award
One of Library Journal’s Best Biographies and Memoirs of 2020
“Throughout the memoir, it’s hard not to fall in love with Burks for her big-heartedness and enduring sense of humor in the face of suffering… Burks forges a path alongside these vulnerable men, her embrace of education and rejection of bigotry light the way forward for us all.” BookPage, starred review
"A powerful memoir... Burks’s spirited, straightforward prose balances the heartbreak of her story with just enough humor and toughness. A must-read for anyone interested in narratives of front-line responses to the early AIDS crisis as well as personal accounts of kindness and determination." Library Journal, starred review
“Burks’ vivid memories of ‘my guys’ and the trials she endured fighting against prejudice offer a portrait of courageous compassion that is both rare and inspiring . . . [A] deeply moving, meaningful book.”Kirkus Reviews
“Anecdotes of small-town gay bars and drag queen rivalries add levity to tales of hardship and sacrificecrosses set ablaze on her lawn, her young daughter ostracized at school . . . This worthy account offers as much bitter as sweet.” Publishers Weekly
"All The Young Men is an urgent story that needs to be told about the early years of AIDS in the American South. From her first moving encounter with an abandoned young man hours before he died, Ruth Coker Burks cares for ill gay men and fights homophobia with compassion, wit, courage and righteous anger. It's inspiring and compelling to read of her battles against indignities and intimidation, bigoted families and churches, and demeaning health care. The reader cheers her on when Coker Burks finds both opponents and allies in her work. She writes of Jimmy, Howard, Douglas, Danny, Neil, Tim and Jim, Marc, Bob and Phil, Chip, Luke, Angel, Jerry, Misty, Billy and all her ‘guys’: ‘I wanted them to be counted, to have their lives matter.’ All The Young Men achieves that beautifully, memorably, in their honour."ROBERT HAMBERGER, author of A Length of Road
"This astonishing modern-day Good Samaritan story will move you to tears of sadness and outrage, but also buoy you. For Coker Burks is a do-gooder with sass. And hers is a story of ordinary but heroic human empathy that we could all do with reading right now." CAROLINE SANDERSON, The Bookseller
“If you are hungry for a humane approach to an epidemic, read this astonishing book.” Richie Jackson, author of Gay Like Me
“Ruth’s gumption to do what’s right and the way it constantly guides her is a gift to the rest of us. She is full of compassion and a firm, deep-seated belief that all people are worthy human beings. She saw an injustice and acted . . . This book is perfect for the time we are in right now . . . Vastly transcends what readers will first hear about it.” Sheryl Cotleur, Head Buyer, Copperfield’s Books, Sebastopol, CA
While visiting a hospitalized friend, single mom Burks became curious about a room that none of the nurses wanted to approach. When told it belonged to a young man with AIDS, Burks entered the room and held the man's hand until he died, then arranged for his cremation and placed his remains in her family's cemetery when his own family refused to claim him. That act began a years-long mission of compassion as word of mouth led to Burks becoming the go-to support for AIDS patients in and around Hot Springs, AR. From 1984 until the mid-1990s, Burks used her own resources to care for hundreds of people during their illness, providing assistance, advocacy, and friendship and working with the area's gay community to prevent the spread of the disease, committed to her mission in spite of ostracism and harassment. This is a powerful memoir, cowritten with author O'Leary, about personal responsibility and the too easily forgotten beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Burks's spirited, straightforward prose balances the heartbreak of her story with just enough humor and toughness. VERDICT A must-read for anyone interested in narratives of front-line responses to the early AIDS crisis as well as personal accounts of kindness and determination.—Kathleen McCallister, William & Mary Libs., Williamsburg, VA
A celebrated activist tells the story of how she became involved in easing the passing of gay men dying of AIDS.
Arkansas native Burks’ first encounter with a terminally ill AIDS patient took place in 1986 when she was visiting a friend in the hospital. She noticed a door covered in a “blood-red tarp” and nurses drawing straws to see who would go inside. Burks ventured into the room and found herself drawn into the tragic last hours of a young AIDS patient named Jimmy, who had been abandoned by everyone, including his mother, who told the author on the phone that Jimmy had “died when he went gay.” Soon, other nearby hospitals began calling Burks to help them deal with similar young men who had come in "alone, emaciated, or left at the ER.” She quickly learned how even funeral homes balked at handling these patients' remains, and she privately buried the ashes of the men she cared for in a family plot. “By 1988,” she writes, “I was looking after more people than I could say grace over.” Burks cemented her alliance with the gay community by becoming a regular at a gay bar called Our House. Meanwhile, her town and church treated her like a "pariah,” and the Ku Klux Klan harassed her with hate calls and cross burnings. The author’s courageous activism brought her to the attention of then-governor Bill Clinton, who made her his "ear to the ground on AIDS.” Yet by 1995, the advent of effective treatment rendered her caregiving activities "functionally obsolete.” Though too much backstory and detail sometimes slow the narrative pace, Burks’ vivid memories of “my guys” and the trials she endured fighting against prejudice offer a portrait of courageous compassion that is both rare and inspiring.
An overlong but deeply moving, meaningful book.