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All the Young Men
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All the Young Men
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All The Young Men, a gripping and triumphant tale of human compassion, is the true story of Ruth Coker Burks, a young single mother in Hot Springs, Arkansas, who finds herself driven to the forefront...
All The Young Men, a gripping and triumphant tale of human compassion, is the true story of Ruth Coker Burks, a young single mother in Hot Springs, Arkansas, who finds herself driven to the forefront...
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  • All The Young Men, a gripping and triumphant tale of human compassion, is the true story of Ruth Coker Burks, a young single mother in Hot Springs, Arkansas, who finds herself driven to the forefront of the AIDS crisis, and becoming a pivotal activist in America's fight against AIDS.

    In 1986, 26-year old Ruth visits a friend at the hospital when she notices that the door to one of the hospital rooms is painted red. She witnesses nurses drawing straws to see who would tend to the patient inside, all of them reluctant to enter the room. Out of impulse, Ruth herself enters the quarantined space and immediately begins to care for the young man who cries for his mother in the last moments of his life. Before she can even process what she's done, word spreads in the community that Ruth is the only person willing to help these young men afflicted by AIDS, and is called upon to nurse them. As she forges deep friendships with the men she helps, she works tirelessly to find them housing and jobs, even searching for funeral homes willing to take their bodies – often in the middle of the night. She cooks meals for tens of people out of discarded food found in the dumpsters behind supermarkets, stores rare medications for her most urgent patients, teaches sex-ed to drag queens after hours at secret bars, and becomes a beacon of hope to an otherwise spurned group of ailing gay men on the fringes of a deeply conservative state.

    Throughout the years, Ruth defies local pastors and nurses to help the men she cares for: Paul and Billy, Angel, Chip, Todd and Luke. 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.

    This deeply moving and elegiac memoir honors the extraordinary life of Ruth Coker Burks and the beloved men who fought valiantly for their lives with AIDS during a most hostile and misinformed time in America.

About the Author-

  • Ruth Coker Burks was a young single mom in Hot Springs, Arkansas who cared for people with AIDS when no one else would in the 1980s and 1990s. With no medical background, Ruth single-handedly created a network of care, and saw to the final resting places of roughly a thousand men abandoned by families and neglected by medical professionals. For 30 years, Ruth has been an advocate for the LGBTQ community. She currently resides in Northwest Arkansas.

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    September 14, 2020
    In this plainspoken memoir, Burks recalls the grim early years of the AIDS epidemic, when she was dogged by discrimination and harassment in her hometown of Hot Springs, Ark., for providing end-of-life care to gay men carrying HIV. In 1986, the 26-year-old single mother visited a hospitalized friend and felt compelled to become an activist. Witnessing nurses neglecting a young man crying “mama” in a room marked “Biohazard,” she sat with what would become her first dying patient.” Word spread of “this insane woman” and though she was not a nurse, local hospitals began to call her in to offer comfort to the dying; Burks even surreptitiously buried men’s ashes in her family-owned cemetery. She became a fixture in the gay community, where she helped men obtain testing, find housing, and apply for Medicaid. With neither training nor funding, Burks dumpster-dived for food for patients, cajoled prominent citizens and civic groups for support, and lobbied a childhood friend: governor “Billy” Clinton. Anecdotes of small-town gay bars and drag queen rivalries add levity to tales of hardship and sacrifice—crosses set ablaze on her lawn, her young daughter ostracized at school. When AIDS advocacy turned into a big-money business, she writes, she was left out, and advances in medicine rendered her role “obsolete.” This worthy account offers as much bitter as sweet. Agent: Albert Lee, UTA.

  • Kirkus

    October 1, 2020
    A celebrated activist tells the story of how she became involved in easing the passing of gay men dying of AIDS. Arkansas native Burks' first encounter with a terminally ill AIDS patient took place in 1986 when she was visiting a friend in the hospital. She noticed a door covered in a "blood-red tarp" and nurses drawing straws to see who would go inside. Burks ventured into the room and found herself drawn into the tragic last hours of a young AIDS patient named Jimmy, who had been abandoned by everyone, including his mother, who told the author on the phone that Jimmy had "died when he went gay." Soon, other nearby hospitals began calling Burks to help them deal with similar young men who had come in "alone, emaciated, or left at the ER." She quickly learned how even funeral homes balked at handling these patients' remains, and she privately buried the ashes of the men she cared for in a family plot. "By 1988," she writes, "I was looking after more people than I could say grace over." Burks cemented her alliance with the gay community by becoming a regular at a gay bar called Our House. Meanwhile, her town and church treated her like a "pariah," and the Ku Klux Klan harassed her with hate calls and cross burnings. The author's courageous activism brought her to the attention of then-governor Bill Clinton, who made her his "ear to the ground on AIDS." Yet by 1995, the advent of effective treatment rendered her caregiving activities "functionally obsolete." Though too much backstory and detail sometimes slow the narrative pace, Burks' vivid memories of "my guys" and the trials she endured fighting against prejudice offer a portrait of courageous compassion that is both rare and inspiring. An overlong but deeply moving, meaningful book.

    COPYRIGHT(2020) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    Starred review from November 1, 2020

    While visiting a hospitalized friend, single mom Burks became curious about a room that none of the nurses wanted to approach. When told it belonged to a young man with AIDS, Burks entered the room and held the man's hand until he died, then arranged for his cremation and placed his remains in her family's cemetery when his own family refused to claim him. That act began a years-long mission of compassion as word of mouth led to Burks becoming the go-to support for AIDS patients in and around Hot Springs, AR. From 1984 until the mid-1990s, Burks used her own resources to care for hundreds of people during their illness, providing assistance, advocacy, and friendship and working with the area's gay community to prevent the spread of the disease, committed to her mission in spite of ostracism and harassment. This is a powerful memoir, cowritten with author O'Leary, about personal responsibility and the too easily forgotten beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Burks's spirited, straightforward prose balances the heartbreak of her story with just enough humor and toughness. VERDICT A must-read for anyone interested in narratives of front-line responses to the early AIDS crisis as well as personal accounts of kindness and determination.--Kathleen McCallister, William & Mary Libs., Williamsburg, VA

    Copyright 2020 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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