Charis welcomes Steven Reigns in conversation with Carter Sickels for a celebration of A Quilt for David. The hidden history of a vulnerable gay man whose life and death were turned into tabloid fodder.
In the early 1990s, eight people living in a small conservative Florida town alleged that Dr. David Acer, their dentist, infected them with HIV. David's gayness, along with his sickly appearance from his own AIDS-related illness, made him the perfect scapegoat and victim of mob mentality. In these early years of the AIDS epidemic, when transmission was little understood, and homophobia rampant, people like David were villainized. Accuser Kimberly Bergalis landed a People magazine cover story, while others went on talk shows and made front page news.
With a poet's eulogistic and psychological intensity, Steven Reigns recovers the life and death of this man who also stands in for so many lives destroyed not only by HIV, but a diseased society that used stigma against the most vulnerable. It's impossible not to make connections between this story and how the twenty-first century pandemic has also been defined by medical misinformation and cultural bias.
Inspired by years of investigative research into the lives of David and those who denounced him, Reigns has stitched together a hauntingly poetic narrative that retraces an American history, questioning the fervor of his accusers, and recuperating a gay life previously shrouded in secrecy and shame.
Steven Reigns is the author of Inheritance and Your Dead Body is My Welcome Mat. He's lectured and taught writing workshops around the country to LGBTQ+ youth, seniors, and people living with HIV. Reigns worked for a decade as an HIV test counselor in Florida and Los Angeles. Currently he is touring The Gay Rub, an exhibition of rubbings from LGBTQ+ landmarks around the world, and has a private practice as a psychotherapist. He lives in West Hollywood, CA.
Carter Sickels is the author of the novel The Prettiest Star, published by Hub City Press, and winner of the 2021 Southern Book Prize and the Weatherford Award. The Prettiest Star was also selected as a Kirkus Best Book of 2020 and a Best LGBT Book of 2020 by O Magazine. His debut novel The Evening Hour (Bloomsbury 2012), an Oregon Book Award finalist and a Lambda Literary Award finalist, was adapted into a feature film that premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. His essays and fiction have appeared in a variety of publications, including The Atlantic, Oxford American, Poets & Writers, BuzzFeed, Joyland, Guernica, Catapult, and Electric Literature. Carter is the recipient of the 2013 Lambda Literary Emerging Writer Award, and earned fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and MacDowell. He is an assistant professor of English at Eastern Kentucky University.
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The hidden history of a vulnerable gay man whose life and death were turned into tabloid fodder.