This post is one of several reflective articles exploring artistic practice, the contemporary Social Justice Movement, and my early start with its related elder cousin, activism. Please consider following, commenting and re-blogging items my blog series, Reflections on Artistic Practice and Social Justice.
Activism, according to my favorite dictionary Merriam-Webster, is defined as “doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue.” The relationship between activism, social justice, civics and artistic practice is intriguing to me. As I am a performance artist, educator and student, somatic practitioner and writer, this topic is key not only in artistic and professional processes, but also informs my life processes and lived experience.
The topic of this reflection is an introductory contextualization, and celebration of the work of Sarah Schulman. (This post will lead into my next blog “Early Years.” ) Motivated by my intense personal response to the September 26, 2019 screening of United in Anger, a film by Jim Hubbard, presented by Sarah Schulman and Jim Hubbard. On September 4th, I began a new job: Full-time Graduate Student at EMU.
My excitement is doubled because Creative Writing and Campus Life at Eastern Michigan University of Ypsilanti recently had the pleasure of hosting AIDS historian, screenwriter and award-winning author Sarah Schulman for a three-day visit. The action-packed visit began with a non-fiction reading of Conflict is Not Abuse and closed with a screening of United in Anger. More information about the film can be found here. According to the website, “The film is United in Anger: A History of ACT UP is an inspiring documentary about the birth and life of the AIDS activist movement from the perspective of the people in the trenches fighting the epidemic.”
I was a high school junior in UpState New York at the early stages of the AIDS epidemic, and later became a student activist at University of Michigan. Schulman’s entire visit this fall made a huge impact on me, as a writer, scholar, activist and human being. This visit led me to remember what my life was like during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and therefore I wrote this article, which interestingly highlights not Sarah Schulman, but Larry Kramer, an author whom we studied at U of M, and a key figure in ACT-UP, and my friend Tom Gargana, who was a Hair and Make-Up stylist for Center Stage‘s professional-caliber musical theatre program. Housed in a vibrant Jewish Community Center in Rochester, NY, the company is still thriving. Through my personal journey, I began to identify AIDS and the way in which we dealt with it as a country, and the federal and local government’s neglect of care, as a Human Rights Crisis. I got involved in ACT-UP actions, participating in die-in’s, local actions and marches on Washington DC. United in Anger should be valued content in any US History course.
Having a chance to be personally involved in Sarah Schulman’s visit, is a game-changer and brought my past to me in many meaningful waves. I had no idea what to expect from this award-winning author of over 20 books. A native New Yorker and astoundingly gifted fiction writer, Distinguished Professor of Humanities at City University of New York, Staten Island Campus, Schulman possess so much critical brilliance, multi-dimensionality, warmth, grace and personal power. As a Graduate Student in Creative Writing, and the GA Coordinator of the BathHouse Event Series, I was fortunate to be able to assist in details of Schulman’s visit, oversee sound checks, transportation arrangements and the like. I was floored by the film, and by Schulman herself. Without further ado, I am pleased to celebrate both Schulman’s Work and visit, and welcome you, dear reader, to Part Two of my reflection, motivated by two questions: Will I ever be able to meet the talented and tenacious Larry Kramer? and What happened to my friend Tom Gargana?