Saturday, July 31, 2021

Dan Royles's "To Make the Wounded Whole"

Dan Royles is assistant professor of history at Florida International University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his first book, To Make the Wounded Whole: The African American Struggle against HIV/AIDS, and reported the following:
Opening to page 99 of To Make the Wounded Whole, a reader would find themselves toward the end of the chapter on Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD), an advocacy organization for Black gay, bisexual, and same-sex desiring men based in New York City. Here I describe some of the ways that GMAD leaders drew on the work of artists and writers in the Black gay renaissance of the late 1980s and early 1990s to argue that self-esteem and community-building were essential to HIV prevention among their constituents, many of whom felt alienated by both Black homophobia white gay racism. Toward the bottom of the page, I also signal the financial struggles that plagued GMAD from the middle 1990s and onward, as the group struggled to stay afloat while the funding environment for HIV prevention changed dramatically.

This page would give the reader a good idea of what To Make the Wounded Whole is about, as it speaks to one of the book's central arguments: that African American AIDS activists renegotiated the boundaries of Blackness with respect to queer sexuality as they struggled against a deadly epidemic. The funding woes that GMAD experienced were also by no means unique; many of the other groups that I discuss at length similarly struggled to attract and retain funding. This was particularly true for the grassroots organizations that formed to fight AIDS in Black communities but lacked expertise in managing large grants. This thread, about how the political economy of HIV/AIDS funding has limited the work of Black AIDS service organizations, is another theme that runs throughout the book.

That the Page 99 Test works well for To Make the Wounded Whole is at least partly a function of its structure, which consists of seven discrete (but interlocking) stories of African American AIDS activism, from roughly 1985 to 2008. Each of these can be read on its own but together they sketch a network of activists confronting AIDS who attended workshops together, exchanged correspondence, and shared strategies for fighting AIDS in Black America and throughout the African diaspora. Their story has been too little told, and with To Make the Wounded Whole I aim to open up a conversation about what it means to write AIDS history with Blackness at its center.
Learn more about To Make the Wounded Whole at the University of North Carolina Press.

--Marshal Zeringue