Larry Kramer, trailblazing AIDS activist, leaves bold legacy of work
HIRAM: If so many of you are so upset about what’s happening, why do I only hear from this loudmouth?
NED: That’s a very good question.
In this scene from Act two, Scene 9 from The Normal Heart, Hiram Keebler, Assistant to the Mayor of New York City, is meeting in a dank basement meeting room in New York City Hall with two local constituents who’ve just been kept waiting two hours to see him. It is 1981, and the men, although friends, have been constantly at odds as founders of the fledgling Gay Men’s Health Crisis, a foundation trying to raise awareness and funding for a mysterious and still unnamed virus primarily affecting gay men. These characters, Ned Weeks and Bruce Wilder, are frustrated with how the media and city administration have sidelined and ignored what they characterized as a ‘gay disease.’ In fact, at that time, AIDS was called GRID, which stood for gay-related immune deficiency.
Thinly veiled and easy to tag to real life events, this scene is an apt representation of scenes from the life of Larry Kramer, the playwright and pioneering AIDS activist, who died last month at the age of 84. Fiery. Pugnacious. Combative, cantankerous, and complicated. These words are repeated over and over to describe both Kramer and Weeks, the character he is based on in this semi-autobiographical play, as I review his tributes and obituaries from worldwide publications.
You may recognize Kramer’s name from bestselling book lists, or from his reproachful New York Native essay “1112 and Counting”, or from his frequent appearances on award show like the Tonys and Emmys, or from his recently re-surfaced verbal wars with America’s present day COVID-19 rock, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, MD, NIAID director. Personally, I found him to be the most memorable real-life character in the book “And the Band Played On,” the seminal text on the AIDS crisis written by Randy Shilts in 1987. This vast tome traced the AIDS timeline from Patient Zero through the many governmental administrative failures which refused to recognize or fund the disease in a timely fashion. Larry Kramer was the book’s fearless and bodacious anti-hero: a rude, brash loudmouth with the sole dream to simply save the lives of his friends and lovers.
Pride Month presents a fitting time to remember this this LGBTQ icon though his legacy of material, gathered by Falvey’s English and Theatre librarian, Sarah Wingo.
Explore more about Larry Kramer:
- THE NIGHT LARRY KRAMER KISSED ME “When the seed of West Side Story’s “Somewhere” is planted into the soul of a gay child, the quest of the film begins. Nine inter-connected scenes interpret this landmark theatrical event, while charting a molten course through the depths and shallows of the urban gay male experience. From the late-night club crawl to the buff-bunny gyms, from the threat of anti-gay violence to the place where condemnation, compromises and closets are a thing of the past, the film exposes the sexual, spiritual, and political yearnings at the heart of gay America.”
- THE WORLD TURNED: ESSAYS ON GAY HISTORY, POLITICS, AND CULTURE. Distinguished historian and leading gay-rights activist John D’Emilio show how gay issues moved from the margins to the center of national consciousness during the critical decade of the 1990s.
- LEGACY PROJECT. LARRY KRAMER IN CONVERSATION WITH GEORGE C. WOLFE American theater’s most exciting and esteemed writers together in conversation—watch as current and established creators share their struggles, triumphs, and advice, and get an intimate glimpse into their creative process. This episode features George C. Wolfe (Jelly’s Last Jam) interviewing Larry Kramer (The Normal Heart) in his home.
- THE OUT LIST The OUT List features a diverse cross-section of accomplished leaders from entertainment, business, sports, and public service sharing intimate stories on childhood, understanding gender, and sexuality, building careers while out and reflecting on the challenges still facing the LGBT community.
- Kramer’s New York Times obituary
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