Victoria Noe

Award-winning Author, Speaker, Activist

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Warning: Grief Anniversary Ahead

Warning: Grief Anniversary Ahead
Mar 09, 2021 by Victoria Noe

This time it wasn’t Facebook Memories that reminded me. It was my friend, Ken. 

A year ago, the world was experiencing a devastating and profound change. Our way of life was about to be altered in ways no one could have predicted. A year ago today, I arrived in New York City for the beginning of a four-week East Coast trip. I had book signings scheduled in several cities. I had an advocacy conference to attend in Washington. I had lunch and dinner dates set with friends, along with book-related meetings to discuss future events. 

When I left Chicago, I told my husband I wasn’t sure when I would be back. It depended on how serious all of this turned out to be. My trip lasted only six days. And though I ate indoors in NYC several times, when I got back I refused to eat inside a restaurant. In fact, I’ve only done that once in the past year. The anxiety I felt in that almost deserted restaurant wasn’t worth it.

When It Comes to Writing, Everything Old is New Again

When It Comes to Writing, Everything Old is New Again
Feb 24, 2021 by Victoria Noe

I mentioned in a previous blog post that I was returning to the Friend Grief series. That doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned my Fag Hags book. I have new, exciting plans related to that, so now would be a good time to sign up for my newsletter. In the meantime, I can tell you why and how I’m going back to the stories of people grieving their friends.

I finished the Friend Grief books in 2016, almost a year after I had started working on my next book. In doing so, I kept the promise I made to my friend Delle Chatman in 2006, to write a book about people grieving their friends. Despite the fact that I’d never written a book before, she was enthusiastic and supportive. Six months later she was dead.

Book Review: All The Young Men

Book Review: All The Young Men
Feb 09, 2021 by Victoria Noe
In the LGBT and AIDS communities, she is simply known as ‘The Cemetery Angel’. Many people don’t even know her name, only that in the early days of the epidemic she buried young men who died from AIDS. Men left alone and without hope, by families that shunned them. Her story seemed frozen in time. The real story - the whole story - is infinitely richer and more impressive than that. And it’s finally being told, in an extraordinary memoir, All The Young Men.

What began as a simple question to a dying stranger - “What do you need, honey?” - changed the life of Ruth Coker Burks and the hundreds of people in Arkansas she helped during the darkest days of the AIDS epidemic. Little did she imagine that in a short amount of time, she would not only be caring for the dying, but burying their ashes in chipped cookie jars in her family plots in Files Cemetery. And more. Much more.

I Just Had to Let It Go

I Just Had to Let It Go
Jan 20, 2021 by Victoria Noe
I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round
I really love to watch them roll
No longer riding on the merry-go-round
I just had to let it go


“Watching the Wheels” - John Lennon and Yoko Ono


For some reason, this lyric popped into my head. Actually, the reason is not a mystery.

On Dec. 6, I suffered a mild concussion, my second. I have the benefit of prior experience, and this time I have terrific doctors who took my injury seriously. Some of the after-effects have been minimal. A couple have been...not minimal.

All the great plans I was working on for this year came to a necessary halt. 
 

Making Plans for 2021: A Leap of Faith

Making Plans for 2021: A Leap of Faith
Jan 05, 2021 by Victoria Noe
If I learned anything in 2020, it was to be flexible. None of my plans for the year happened the way I thought they would. In fact, most of those plans evaporated in a series of heartbreaking emails on March 11. So, like many of you, I had to reimagine my writing business. The truth is that I hadn't set long-term goals; 6-12 months was as long-term as it got. That's on me. I had to ask myself some tough questions about my future, questions that took a few months to answer.

The bottom line was that I wanted to diversify my writing and writing business. I didn't want to be overly dependent on any one activity, whether it was public events or book sales. And that meant I had to learn new skills and upgrade the ones I already had.

The Pandemic Had a Soundtrack

The Pandemic Had a Soundtrack
Nov 19, 2020 by Victoria Noe
No, not this pandemic. The last one.

The audio version of my book - Fag Hags, Divas and Moms: The Legacy of Straight Women in the AIDS Community - came out in October. I've heard nothing but praise for the narrator, Donna Allen, which makes me very happy. While I was working on the marketing plan, music kept popping into my head. That's not unusual. A lot of people listen to music while they work. These were more like earworms: songs that played endlessly in my head whether I liked it or not.

The music sparked an idea, which apparently former President Barack Obama has stolen for his own book (I'm kidding, really I am). I decided to create a playlist of songs that evoke the first 15 years of the AIDS epidemic, from 1981-1996, the years without effective treatment or hope. Unfortunately, most of the songs I remembered were just, well, depressing. Creating that kind of list no longer seemed like a good idea.

So I turned to the women who inspire me, women whose stories I shared in my book. What songs instantly remind them of that time: of people, places or events? It didn't take long for a response.

 

How I Found the Perfect Audiobook Narrator

How I Found the Perfect Audiobook Narrator
Oct 22, 2020 by Victoria Noe

The story of Fag Hags, Divas and Moms: The Legacy of Straight Women in the AIDS Community has been the story of unexpected and meaningful connections. So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when my narrator became one of those. When I signed on with Findaway Voices to produce my audiobook, I had to submit a list of requirements for the narrator. That required me to think about tone, inflections, and mood.

Chadwick Boseman Was Right...And So Was My Friend Delle

Chadwick Boseman Was Right...And So Was My Friend Delle
Oct 08, 2020 by Victoria Noe
"Would you tell me if you were sick?"

It took awhile for me to realize that the question I asked my friends was based on my experiences in the early days of the AIDS epidemic. Back then, with no effective treatments, a diagnosis was an almost certain death sentence. One day you'd realize you hadn't seen someone for a while, and the next day you'd read their obituary in the weekly LGBT paper. Unless you were in constant contact you might not have a chance to help them or say goodbye. Even then, some people shut off contact with their friends, keeping their final illness a secret.

I thought of the answers I got from my friends - some said yes, some said no - when the shocking news of actor Chadwick Boseman's death was announced. Few people knew he'd been diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer four years earlier, and those who did know kept it a secret. During that time, he made some of his finest films, including Black Panther. I watched it a couple days later, and was struck by the fresh poignancy of some of the scenes.

A popular post on Facebook since then has been a photo of Boseman with the headline, "If 'No Excuses' Was a Person".

Really?

White Writers: Sharing Memes is Not Enough

White Writers: Sharing Memes is Not Enough
Jun 19, 2020 by Victoria Noe
Wire and Honey

There have been countless discussions - in person, online, on TV - about how white people can be effective allies for people of color. These are not always easy conversations.

Last fall, I attended a one-day conference on race in the HIV community. At least 85% of the attendees and speakers were black; I was conspicuously in the minority. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the discussions made me a little uncomfortable at times, even a bit defensive once or twice. That’s okay. I don’t believe these should be comfortable conversations.

Aside from the #PublishingPaidMe thread on Twitter (which has been eye-opening but not surprising), what other ways can white writers be effective allies...

#PublishingPaidMe

#PublishingPaidMe
Jun 12, 2020 by Victoria Noe
Photo: mobius/Fotolia.com

I’ve been watching Twitter lately, in particular a hashtag: #PublishingPaidMe. It was begun by two black YA authors, Tochi Onyebuchi and L.L. McKinney, calling out the glaring disparities between how much black and non-black authors are paid in advances.

For those who are unfamiliar with advances, publishers pay an author a certain amount of money, which conveys their belief in the future success of that book. It is usually based not only on the book’s excellence, but the platform of the author - the assurance that they are well-known and have a built-in audience. It’s like a down-payment, not paid in full until the publication date. The author earns nothing more until the book’s sales earn...

Reflection on COVID-19 - More from Trudy James

Reflection on COVID-19 - More from Trudy James
Jun 05, 2020 by Victoria Noe
Trudy James

As I said last week, Trudy James is one of the most remarkable women in my book, Fag Hags, Divas and Moms: The Legacy of Straight Women in the AIDS Community. Her advocacy and activism - in HIV/AIDS and the death and dying communities - was recently honored by AARP Washington. She had so much to say about facing a deadly pandemic, that I decided to share more of her thoughts. I hope you find them comforting, too.

  In addition to the “Speaking of Dying” film and workshops, I often give presentations, workshops, and consultations on the subjects of grief and loss. For many people this is new information. In these “Excited States of America” we have never...

Reflection on COVID-19 - Guest Post by Trudy James

Reflection on COVID-19 - Guest Post by Trudy James
May 29, 2020 by Victoria Noe
Trudy James

If you've read my book Fag Hags, Divas and Moms: The Legacy of Straight Women in the AIDS Community, you were probably surprised by the story of Trudy James, a hospital chaplain in Arkansas in the late 1980s. I know her story surprised me, too! She is now a leader in the field of death and dying, as well as grief and loss awareness. In the first of two guest blogs, Trudy shares an email she sent out on March 30, not long after the lock downs began:

I was enjoying a long-anticipated vacation in Italy with my friend, Jane. We were visiting my son and daughter-in-law who were planning to live in Umbria (mid-Italy, not...

A Reflection on COVID-19 - Guest Post by Krishna Stone

A Reflection on COVID-19 - Guest Post by Krishna Stone
May 16, 2020 by Victoria Noe
As you can tell by her photo, Krishna Stone possesses a joie de vivre that inspires everyone lucky enough to be around her. It was my pleasure to include her in Fag Hags, Divas and Moms: The Legacy of Straight Women in the AIDS Community. Though the personal losses have been many, she has found a way to honor her friends and keep fighting...while dancing. "It is time to dance. Who will I dance for tonight who has died of AIDS?" During the 1980s and 90s, when I was volunteering and then becoming an employee at Gay Men Health Crisis, visiting with friends who were living with AIDS and then attending memorial services for those who had died of AIDS, dancing was...

Reflections on COVID-19 - Guest Post by Rosa E. Martinez-Colon

Reflections on COVID-19 - Guest Post by Rosa E. Martinez-Colon
May 08, 2020 by Victoria Noe
Though we both live and work in Chicago, Rosa E. Martinez-Colón and I met at the US Conference on AIDS in Washington, DC in 2015. I knew right away that her AIDS work with the Latinx community in the Humboldt Park neighborhood had to be featured in my book Fag Hags, Divas and Moms: The Legacy of Straight Women in the AIDS Community. Her experience right now, though, is both familiar and very different. On March 15 the Governor of Puerto Rico decreed a new law, effective immediately, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. At that time, I was wrapping up the project in Puerto Rico, where I had worked for the past year, and was getting ready to go back...

Reflections on COVID-19 - Guest Post by Nancy Duncan

Reflections on COVID-19 - Guest Post by Nancy Duncan
May 01, 2020 by Victoria Noe
Another woman in my book, Fag Hags, Divas and Moms: The Legacy of Straight Women in the AIDS Community, Nancy Duncan, has been living with HIV for going on 35 years, working and volunteering in the HIV field for 22 years.  She’s a New York State Certified peer worker and has been doing HIV test counseling for 13 years with Planned Parenthood of Greater New York.  Nancy also works at the Center for AIDS Research and Treatment at Northwell, where she produces a monthly newsletter and facilitates a medication adherence group.  In addition, she volunteers on the Nassau/Suffolk HIV Health Services and is involved in many other endeavors in her community to stop HIV and end the epidemic.

As a woman...

Reflections on COVID-19 - Guest Post by Kathleen Pooler

Reflections on COVID-19 - Guest Post by Kathleen Pooler
Apr 24, 2020 by Victoria Noe
This week I turned my blog over to one of the women in my book (Fag Hags, Divas and Moms: The Legacy of Straight Women in the AIDS Community). Kathleen Pooler worked as a emergency room nurse in upstate New York at the height of the AIDS epidemic. Like many of us, that experience influences her response to the current pandemic.  

As I write this post, I am sitting in a wheelchair in the rehab facility where I have been for two months to heal from a femur fracture sustained after a fall. I have plenty of idle time to immerse myself in the constant coverage of our current pandemic and reflect on what it all means. I’m a retired nurse...

Passing on the Lessons of the AIDS Epidemic

Passing on the Lessons of the AIDS Epidemic
Apr 17, 2020 by Victoria Noe
Elizabeth Taylor, testifying before Congress

When I was writing Fag Hags, Divas and Moms: The Legacy of Straight Women in the AIDS Community, I sometimes heard the voices of the women whose stories I was sharing. It was more of a feeling that they were in the room, reading over my shoulder. I’d had something very specific in mind when I began, but that idea changed, in large part because these women guided me. They made it a much better book.

Many of the women are no longer alive, so they don’t have to face another worldwide pandemic. But I realized that they and the ones still with us have a lot to say. 

Dr. Molly Cooke, on facing...

My Second Pandemic - Part 2

My Second Pandemic - Part 2
Apr 10, 2020 by Victoria Noe
When I wrote my latest blog post I hoped it would be the only time I wrote about COVID-19. I certainly did not want to write anymore about how this virus triggered painful memories of the early days of the AIDS epidemic. 

I was grateful that the response to that post was immediate and positive. I heard from other members of the HIV/AIDS community who were in a similar place. Our conversations, mostly on Facebook, were emotional and oddly uplifting: we’d discovered a new connection. I figured I said my piece and I was done.

In the past couple of weeks, articles have popped up on various websites. Most have been written by long-term survivors in the HIV/AIDS...

My Second Pandemic

My Second Pandemic
Apr 01, 2020 by Victoria Noe
I’m not sure what the first trigger was. It might have been a picture like this one, medical personnel dressed in ‘space suits’ to remain safe from their patients.

It might have been the word ‘pandemic’.

It might have been ‘only certain people will get this virus, not me’.

It might have been stories of meal deliveries left on porches, or recommendations that counters and doorknobs be wiped down with disinfectants. 

It might have been a Republican president indifferent at best to the suffering of those whose lives he did not consider important.

It might have been the blame, the pointing fingers, the demonizing. 

It might have been the insistence of many people to carry on their lives as usual, no matter...

Still Connected, Even if Not Physically

Still Connected, Even if Not Physically
Mar 19, 2020 by Victoria Noe
Like most people, my life has turned upside down this month.

Last week I was in New York, for what would turn out to be a five-day visit instead of a three-week trip to four cities. I’d been there less than 48 hours when the emails started popping up: cancellations and rescheduling. The one event that wasn’t cancelled was drastically downsized. My hotel was emptying quickly, crowds were disappearing. Everyone was scared. What would have been a busy and lucrative month was now a financial disaster. Fear of the unknown - and so much is unknown about COVID-19 - overwhelmed every other consideration.

Still, I remained oddly calm. All...