Victoria Noe

Award-winning Author, Speaker, Activist

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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.

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.

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 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...

Why Women's History Month is Like A Treasure Hunt

Why Women's History Month is Like A Treasure Hunt
Mar 02, 2020 by Victoria Noe
I have a friend who posts the same thing on Facebook every morning: “Today is National X Day. Please celebrate responsibly.” He shares commemorations that are sometimes important, often obscure, frequently funny. I look forward to them because they start my day with a smile and a new bit of - sometimes useless - knowledge.

Women’s History Month is like that, too. Just like February’s Black History Month, every day in March brings stories that are new to many and endlessly fascinating. Uncovering those jewels is critical to our understanding of the world. 

This year marks the centennial of the 19th amendment, which finally gave women the right to vote. One hundred years ago, my grandparents were teenagers and young adults. It...

Finding Grace on a Metro Platform

Finding Grace on a Metro Platform
Oct 04, 2019 by Victoria Noe
It's been quite a while since I blogged. The absence was not intentional. Two weeks of travel, the death of one of my dearest friends, and severe bronchitis have brought my daily life to a screeching halt. But in the midst of so much stress, there have been some wonderful moments. None as wonderful as this:

 

I spent the weekend after Labor Day in Washington, DC at the US Conference on AIDS. There was a lot of focus on long-term survivors, as well as how to serve the unique needs of those aging with HIV. As usual, it was an intense 3-½ days, which this year included a book signing in the A&U Magazine booth for the book I’d first started...

Book Review - Nurses on the Inside

Book Review - Nurses on the Inside
Jul 13, 2019 by Victoria Noe
“Not everyone knows what you know.”

That has been a mantra of mine for many years. It has served me well in public speaking, in interviews and in my writing. Nurses on the Inside: Stories of the HIV/AIDS Epidemic in NYC by Ellen Matzer and Valery Hughes is a great example of why it’s so important to share what we know with those who don’t.

Things we take for granted today like case management and universal precautions were unheard of before the AIDS epidemic became publicly known in 1981. One of the great strengths of this book is documenting how treatment changed, so that the reader can fully understand the evolution of critical care nursing when confronting this frightening new virus.

They pull no punches,...

Friend Grief and Pride

Friend Grief and Pride
Jul 05, 2019 by Victoria Noe
 

This year was a special one: the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. Some call it a riot, though there’s some debate about whether the resistance to yet another police raid at the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969 fit that definition. But it was momentous.

It was a time when being arrested in a raid at a gay bar meant not only legal hassles, but the likely prospect of your name being reported in the local paper the following day. And since you were most certainly closeted at the time, that publicity could get you fired, evicted or worse.

The LGBT community has come a long way, so there was a lot to celebrate at Pride parades around the world last...

HIV Long-Term Survivor Awareness Day

HIV Long-Term Survivor Awareness Day
May 31, 2019 by Victoria Noe
In 2015, this essay won the Christopher Hewitt Award for Creative Nonfiction. I'm sharing it again today, in advance of June 5, which is HIV Long-Term Survivor Day. I never thought of myself as a long-term survivor, but I was assured I fit the definition. 

 

 

"Long-Term Survivor"

It’s only the past few years that that designation has become widely used. Hell, no one expected it would ever be possible. There was a time when my only prayer was to get through a week without reading the obituary of someone I knew or admired from afar.

Since many who have reached that milestone are also baby boomers like me, I’ve taken a special interest in their challenges. During a visit to New York, I...

Time to Carry On a Friend's Work

Time to Carry On a Friend's Work
May 18, 2019 by Victoria Noe
Peter Staley, Jim Eigo, Andy Velez, Eric Sawyer, Jay Blotcher. Photo by Jennifer Morton

I had a blog post ready for this week. Well, not quite ready, but it was getting there. Then on Tuesday, a post popped up in my Facebook newsfeed:

A man of great heart, deep conviction, and scalding wit has been taken from us. Veteran AIDS activist and ACT UP New York member Andrew Velez died today (May 14) in a Manhattan hospice. He was 80.

It stopped me cold (partly because I had no idea he was anywhere near 80). I knew Andy had had some serious health challenges last year, though I didn’t think much of it. The community was rallying around...

The Post-Book Launch Glow

The Post-Book Launch Glow
Apr 20, 2019 by Victoria Noe
I’ve had two book launch events in the last two weeks: one in Chicago, one in New York City, both at indie bookstores. Both events had delicious cakes that looked like the book cover.

This book - Fag Hags, Divas and Moms: The Legacy of Straight Women in the AIDS Community - is very different than the Friend Grief series I wrote. It’s longer and more complicated, being published almost five years to the day after I first got the idea for it. My production team - editor, cover designer, interior designer - was different. I hired a publicist, for the first time ever. Like I said, very different.

But the biggest difference is that so many people were invested in this...

A Special Women's History Month

A Special Women's History Month
Mar 28, 2019 by Victoria Noe
It’s been almost five years since the idea for my next book popped into my head.

On April 1, 2014, I was at the New York Public Library for a panel discussion: “The Women of ACT UP/NY! Fight Back! Fight AIDS!” A group of accomplished women - straight and lesbians - talked about the things they’d accomplished that changed the AIDS epidemic. The most significant one was arguably a four year battle to change the definition of AIDS to include women. Until 1992, the government and insurance companies defined AIDS by how it presented in men.

I knew most of the stories they told, though many in the audience, including my 19 year old daughter, did not. I remember thinking,...