All the Young Men: How One Woman Risked It All To Care For The Dying (Paperback)Ruth Coker Burks (author)
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By turns shocking, inspiring and deeply moving, Coker Burks account of caring for men with HIV and AIDS in conservative 1980s America affirms the ignorance and prejudice with which the condition was treated and the courage and determination displayed by those willing to defy the strictures of authority.
'If I have one message with this book it's that we all have to care for one another. Today, not just in 1986. Life is about caring for each other, and I learned more about life from the dying than I ever learned from the living. It's in an elephant ride, it's in those wildflowers dancing on their way to the shared grave of two men in love, and it's in caring for that young man who just needed information without judgement.'
In 1986, 26-year-old Ruth Coker Burks visits a friend in hospital when she notices that the door to one of the patient's rooms is painted red. The nurses are reluctant to enter, drawing straws to decide who will tend to the sick person inside. Out of impulse, Ruth herself enters the quarantined space and begins to care for the young man who cries for his mother in the last moments of his life.
And in doing so, Ruth's own life changes forever.
As word spreads in the community that she is the only person willing to help the young men afflicted by the growing AIDS crisis, Ruth goes from being an ordinary young mother to an accidental activist. Forging deep friendships with the men she helps, Ruth works to find them housing and jobs, and then funeral homes willing to take their bodies - often in the middle of the night. She prepares and delivers meals to 'her guys,' supplementing her own income with discarded food found in the dumpsters behind supermarkets.
She defies local pastors and the medical community to store rare medications for her most urgent patients, and teaches sex education to drag queens after hours at secret bars. Emboldened by the weight of their collective pain, she fervently advocates for their safety and visibility, ultimately advising Governor Bill Clinton on the national HIV-AIDS crisis, and in doing so becomes a beacon of hope to an otherwise spurned group of ailing gay men on the fringes of society.
Ruth kept her story a secret for years, fearful of repercussions within her deeply conservative community. But at a time when it's more important than ever to stand up for those who can't, Ruth has found the courage to have her voice - and the voices of those who were stigmatised, rejected and abandoned - heard.
Publisher: Orion Publishing Co
Number of pages: 368
Weight: 340 g
Dimensions: 196 x 128 x 30 mm
'My friend Ruth Coker Burks is one of the most amazing people I know. The care she gave HIV-positive gay men in and around our hometown of Hot Springs, Arkansas during the desperate early days of the AIDS crisis helped them live and die with dignity in the face of stigma and discrimination. In All the Young Men, Ruth tells their stories and hers with the same warmth, wit, grace, and gumption that I have admired for decades. This book will make you love her as much as I do.' - Former President Bill Clinton
'Deeply moving memoir [that] honours the extraordinary life of Ruth Coker Burks and the beloved men who fought valiantly for their lives during a most hostile and misinformed time... a must read' - Ru Paul
'It's a tale of high drama and mesmerising detail, but also of breath-taking courage and compassion [...]a beautiful book, catching [Ruth's] Southern sass and charm.' - The Sunday Times
'It's a brighter story of human nature [...] this is a paean to making friendships across boundaries, to being kind even when the cost is nearly unbearable.' - The Guardian
'... shocking but ultimately uplifting... an extraordinary tale, and its publication now in the midst of a very different pandemic - one in which compassion appears to be universal - resonates in a way that makes it all the more powerful.' - Evening Standard
'... a remarkable tale of suffering, kindness and courage... vivid portrait of this community, which never lost hope and which looked after its own, got dressed up and found joy amid the tragedy.' - i newspaper
'... it's [...] a reminder of the goodness in people and that we have come through worse things before. At its heart, it's a story of overcoming fear. And, right now, that might be just what we need.' - Irish Sunday Independent
'A brilliantly evocative memoir about the 1980s pandemic some people would still sooner forget - and about a woman who could have easily turned the other cheek. More Dolly Parton than Mother Teresa, Ruth Coker Burks doesn't try to paint herself as a heroine: just someone who couldn't help but do the right thing for hundreds of men dying alone of AIDS. Ru Paul was right: it's a must-read.' - Viv Groskop
'A moving, inspiring testament to one woman's courage, love and kindness in the midst of a deadly hate-filled pandemic.' - Peter Tatchell
'A truly incredible story told with the most fullest heart warming honesty. Ruth is an inspiration.' - Cariad Lloyd
'Know this will be an incredible, important read...' - Simon Savidge, Savidge Reads
'All The Young Men was extraordinary - she's extraordinary. Love in action.' - Sarah Winman
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