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Sarah Schulman

Let the Record Show: A Political History of ACT UP New York, 1987-1993

Let the Record Show: A Political History of ACT UP New York, 1987-1993

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Finalist for the PEN/John Kenneth Galbriath Award for Nonfiction, the Gotham Book Prize, the ALA Stonewall Israel Fishman Nonfiction Award, and the Lambda Literary LGBTQ Nonfiction Award. A 2021 New York Times Book Review Notable Book and a New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice. Longlisted for the 2021 Brooklyn Public Library Literary Prize.

One of NPR, New York, and The Guardian's Best Books of 2021, one of Buzzfeed's Best LGBTQ+ Books of 2021, one of Electric Literature's Favorite Nonfiction Books of 2021, one of NBC's 10 Most Notable LGBTQ Books of 2021, and one of Gay Times' Best LGBTQ Books of 2021.

"This is not reverent, definitive history. This is a tactician's bible." — Parul Sehgal, The New York Times

Twenty years in the making, Sarah Schulman's Let the Record Show is the most comprehensive political history ever assembled of ACT UP and American AIDS activism

In just six years, ACT UP, New York, a broad and unlikely coalition of activists from all races, genders, sexualities, and backgrounds, changed the world. Armed with rancor, desperation, intelligence, and creativity, it took on the AIDS crisis with an indefatigable, ingenious, and multifaceted attack on the corporations, institutions, governments, and individuals who stood in the way of AIDS treatment for all. They stormed the FDA and NIH in Washington, DC, and started needle exchange programs in New York; they took over Grand Central Terminal and fought to change the legal definition of AIDS to include women; they transformed the American insurance industry, weaponized art and advertising to push their agenda, and battled — and beat — The New York Times, the Catholic Church, and the pharmaceutical industry. Their activism, in its complex and intersectional power, transformed the lives of people with AIDS and the bigoted society that had abandoned them. 

Based on more than two hundred interviews with ACT UP members and rich with lessons for today's activists, Let the Record Show is a revelatory exploration — and long-overdue reassessment — of the coalition's inner workings, conflicts, achievements, and ultimate fracture. Schulman, one of the most revered queer writers and thinkers of her generation, explores the how and the why, examining, with her characteristic rigor and bite, how a group of desperate outcasts changed America forever, and in the process created a livable future for generations of people across the world.

About the Author

Sarah Schulman is the author of more than twenty works of fiction (including The Cosmopolitans, Rat Bohemia, and Maggie Terry), nonfiction (including StagestruckConflict is Not Abuse, and The Gentrification of the Mind), and theater (Carson McCullersManic Flight Reaction, and more), and the producer and screenwriter of several feature films (The OwlsMommy Is Coming, and United in Anger, among others). Her writing has appeared in The New YorkerThe New York TimesSlate, and many other outlets. She is a Distinguished Professor of Humanities at College of Staten Island, a Fellow at the New York Institute of Humanities, the recipient of multiple fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, and the New York Foundation for the Arts, and was presented in 2018 with Publishing Triangle's Bill Whitehead Award. She is also the cofounder of the MIX New York LGBT Experimental Film and Video Festival, and the co-director of the groundbreaking ACT UP Oral History Project. A lifelong New Yorker, she is a longtime activist for queer rights and female empowerment, and serves on the advisory board of Jewish Voice for Peace.


"I understand but can’t quite accept that this book is about 700 pages long — not when I tore through it in a day; still now, while fact-checking this review, I can scarcely skim it without being swallowed back into the testimonies . . . Let the Record Show doesn’t seek to memorialize history but to ransack it, to seize what we might need . . . This is not reverent, definitive history. This is a tactician’s bible."  — Parul Sehgal, The New York Times

"An outstanding chronicle . . . an expansive portrait of the people, principles, and campaigns that made ACT UP the most formidable political organization to emerge from the AIDS crisis . . . Schulman writes as a witness to and a survivor of a catastrophe, clear-eyed and committed to remembering the dead . . . Let the Record Show serves as both history and handbook of how a small coalition can achieve fundamental political change . . . an invigorating work."  — Dagmawi Woubshet, The Atlantic

"A masterpiece tome: part sociology, part oral history, part memoir, part call to arms . . . Medical inequity continues not only with Covid but also with H.I.V./AIDS still, and it will repeat until we manage to learn from the past — about survival, and about the fight. Here is a primer, a compendium of what one group learned and struggled with and accomplished. Here is a book to start a mighty shelf."  — Rebecca Makkai, The New York Times Book Revie


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