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Never Silent: ACT UP and My Life in Activism

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The previously untold stories of the life of the leading subject in David France’s How To Survive A Plague, Peter Staley, including his continuing activism In 1987, somebody shoved a flyer into the hand of Peter Staley: massive AIDS demonstration, it announced. After four years on Wall Street as a closeted gay man, Staley was familiar with the homophobia common on trading The previously untold stories of the life of the leading subject in David France’s How To Survive A Plague, Peter Staley, including his continuing activism In 1987, somebody shoved a flyer into the hand of Peter Staley: massive AIDS demonstration, it announced. After four years on Wall Street as a closeted gay man, Staley was familiar with the homophobia common on trading floors. He also knew that he was not beyond the reach of HIV, having recently been diagnosed with AIDS-Related Complex. A week after the protest, Staley found his way to a packed meeting of the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power—ACT UP—in the West Village. It would prove to be the best decision he ever made. ACT UP would change the course of AIDS, pressuring the National Institutes of Health, the FDA, and three administrations to finally respond with research that ultimately saved millions of lives. Staley, a shrewd strategist with nerves of steel, organized some of the group’s most spectacular actions, from shutting down trading on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange to putting a giant condom over the house of Senator Jesse Helms. Never Silent is the inside story of what brought Staley to ACT UP and the explosive and sometimes painful years to follow—years filled with triumph, humiliation, joy, loss, and persistence. Never Silent is guaranteed to inspire the activist within all of us. 


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The previously untold stories of the life of the leading subject in David France’s How To Survive A Plague, Peter Staley, including his continuing activism In 1987, somebody shoved a flyer into the hand of Peter Staley: massive AIDS demonstration, it announced. After four years on Wall Street as a closeted gay man, Staley was familiar with the homophobia common on trading The previously untold stories of the life of the leading subject in David France’s How To Survive A Plague, Peter Staley, including his continuing activism In 1987, somebody shoved a flyer into the hand of Peter Staley: massive AIDS demonstration, it announced. After four years on Wall Street as a closeted gay man, Staley was familiar with the homophobia common on trading floors. He also knew that he was not beyond the reach of HIV, having recently been diagnosed with AIDS-Related Complex. A week after the protest, Staley found his way to a packed meeting of the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power—ACT UP—in the West Village. It would prove to be the best decision he ever made. ACT UP would change the course of AIDS, pressuring the National Institutes of Health, the FDA, and three administrations to finally respond with research that ultimately saved millions of lives. Staley, a shrewd strategist with nerves of steel, organized some of the group’s most spectacular actions, from shutting down trading on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange to putting a giant condom over the house of Senator Jesse Helms. Never Silent is the inside story of what brought Staley to ACT UP and the explosive and sometimes painful years to follow—years filled with triumph, humiliation, joy, loss, and persistence. Never Silent is guaranteed to inspire the activist within all of us. 

30 review for Never Silent: ACT UP and My Life in Activism

  1. 4 out of 5

    Richard Derus

    I RECEIVED MY DRC FROM THE PUBLISHER VIA EDELWEISS+. THANK YOU. My Review: There is a certain kind of person who becomes a Wall Street "Master of the Universe," in their self-perpetuated self-applied description of their glorious, oversexed, hyper-entitled selves. The Eighties were the moments of national nightmare, both the ones we saw in Wall Street embodied by poor Michael Douglas delivering the "Greed is good" speech that haunts him to this day, and the ones we ignored, eg the S&L crisis whos I RECEIVED MY DRC FROM THE PUBLISHER VIA EDELWEISS+. THANK YOU. My Review: There is a certain kind of person who becomes a Wall Street "Master of the Universe," in their self-perpetuated self-applied description of their glorious, oversexed, hyper-entitled selves. The Eighties were the moments of national nightmare, both the ones we saw in Wall Street embodied by poor Michael Douglas delivering the "Greed is good" speech that haunts him to this day, and the ones we ignored, eg the S&L crisis whose little brother grew up to become the GFC of the Aughties. There was the moral crisis of the horror of the Reagan Administration's heinous, vile diplomatic disasters and raid on the Social Security Trust Fund. But these are large, generation-spanning structural and systemic disasters, unfolding on time scales not really important to ordinary people. Then there was the AIDS crisis. Or, as it was at one point called, Gay-Related Immune Deficiency. This relates to the fact that the largest, most concentrated population suffering from the awful plague were urban gay men, whose "lifestyle" (how I loathe that term!) was recently, partially, and conditionally destigmatized. It burned through the New York gay-male community, it flared and killed in other gay-friendlier outposts across the country, and it was never a "gay disease" at all. Science, in its slow and ponderous way, had already established that the primary sufferers were Haitian and African heterosexuals by the end of the 1980s; this helped the disease get onto the Federal radar screens not at all. Enter Peter Staley. Here's a Master of the Universe, a white male with all the privilege that conveyed then. And he's got AIDS-Related Complex. It was, in 1985, a kind of death sentence, a sort of scientific shrugging of the shoulders..."you ain't there yet, but it's where you're headed." And the poisonous priorities of the tax-cutting and faggot-hating "leaders" of the time meant little was being done, and that without much urgency, to discover and research the strange new disease. This hateful cover, dated July 1985, was the moment I myownself realized why there were so many people I knew dying but not being discussed..."oh, that's them, that's something they get...not me, not my family. Sad, of course, but..." It's that poisonous little "but..." that makes the real source of the problem obvious. "As long as it stays among them, well, who really cares?" So here's where Peter Staley was in the Eighties. He had an enviable future, one most white men regarded as dream-worthy; he had a fatal disease; and he had a country whose leadership wasn't interested in making his disease's cure or management or even treatment a priority, because by having it, he was Othered. And he got mad. Don't piss off the Peter Staleys of this world. They know how the world works, what value symbolism has, whose words will matter to the average person and whose story will move mountains. And, when they get mad, you will hear their voice. Loud and clear. ACT UP...AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power...was born when Staley had had enough of being told he was a dying victim, either of malevolent chance or a vengeful god or even a US government conspiracy to kill Africans. This book, in all its glorious (yet strangely not angry) insiderness, fills in a huge, huge gap in the history of a movement that forced the entire Federal medical-research machinery to create and implement more humane disease-treatment and prevention protocols. Part of that work has, no doubt, saved many many lives in the current COVID pandemic. Drug treatments and vaccine development are where they are, in part, because of a ten-year fight by the brave young men and women of that powerful coterie of angry queers. The personal stories Staley tells, the intimate truths he reveals about the personal triumphs and sacrifices and battles that attended every step of ACT UP's early years, make the massive organization that it is today feel so much more important to me. Its continued work is very, very different from its genesis because it can be...ACT UP changed because it succeeded, and because it could start fighting for different things in this new millennium. And Staley, while no choirboy in youth or age, has never stopped fighting his demons and the dragons outside himself they light up. His life has had loss and tragedy and deep, dark passages...and he tells us about them honestly. What he doesn't do is score points off people who were once allies and friends. I admire that. I admire Staley's work even more. ACT UP's safe-sex messages reached me, a Manhattan-resident sexually active queer in the Eighties, and very likely saved my life. The love of my life was an AIDS suffering Bajan wrestler, Bland (which he refused to answer to, "my name is B.J.!" he insisted). He was already diagnosed when we met, so all our sex was the safer sort. I lost him thirty years ago, when he was thirty-four; I miss him still. But I am HIV-negative, and alive to do so, in no small part because of Peter Staley and the work he and his cohorts did. Thank you for my life, Peter Staley, all the awful and painful and joyous and rewarding moments of it happened because you wouldn't sit down and shut up. So now's your chance to get the story behind why he made the choices he did, what happened and to whom and when. But don't expect the unpleasant grinding noise of axes being honed to killing sharpness. A long life, longer than you ever thought it would be, teaches one the value of letting go of grudges and the futility of settling scores. Despite his own more recent challenges, Staley remains fully aware of grateful for the gift of his life. It is this that I hope our COVID-ridden youngers will absorb and embody. All who read NEVER SILENT: ACT UP and My Life in Activism have a great head start.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Nev

    I’d heard about Peter Staley’s activism before in both the documentary and book titled How to Survive a Plague. It was amazing to hear his perspective on being a part of AIDS activism in the 80s and 90s with ACT UP and later on with different organizations. Even though I was familiar with a lot of the larger events and protests he was discussing, it was great to hear it in his words. I appreciated that he looked at his and ACT UP’s actions with a critical eye and wasn’t afraid to talk about ways I’d heard about Peter Staley’s activism before in both the documentary and book titled How to Survive a Plague. It was amazing to hear his perspective on being a part of AIDS activism in the 80s and 90s with ACT UP and later on with different organizations. Even though I was familiar with a lot of the larger events and protests he was discussing, it was great to hear it in his words. I appreciated that he looked at his and ACT UP’s actions with a critical eye and wasn’t afraid to talk about ways they could’ve been better. The main focus of the book is definitely his ACT UP years, so some of the later sections can feel a bit rushed or like things are being glossed over. But for the most part this is an excellent memoir and definitely one to check out if you’re interested in learning about LGBTQ+ history and the AIDS epidemic.

  3. 5 out of 5

    willowdog

    It is often hard to write a memoir of one's activism. Sometimes it seems like a vanity press, written for the advancement of one's role in the cause. However, Never Silent is not that. Staley recounts his life within ACT UP and beyond. It never feels like he is pushing his own agenda. It is a fascinating look at the methods employed by ACT UP. Staley brings you into the room where all the action of coordination, planning, discussion, and community is debated. He introduces one to others in in mo It is often hard to write a memoir of one's activism. Sometimes it seems like a vanity press, written for the advancement of one's role in the cause. However, Never Silent is not that. Staley recounts his life within ACT UP and beyond. It never feels like he is pushing his own agenda. It is a fascinating look at the methods employed by ACT UP. Staley brings you into the room where all the action of coordination, planning, discussion, and community is debated. He introduces one to others in in movement, and the growth and power of the various committees. One gets a sense of just how fragile, yet focused, the community organization became. Staley traces his life in the organization, his movement into higher responsibilities, and his failures. One also gets a peek into Staley's personal life--AIDS be damned--and his effort to seek a life sustaining treatment. He's honest about the his love life, even within the organization. It's a very good read. My thanks to Edelweiss Above the Treeline for this electronic copy in exchange for an unbiased review.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kameron Tyler

    Walking beside Peter Staley through a tour of his life in activism is a candid journey full of adventures and learning and sex and camaraderie and perseverance. Staley doesn’t shy away from the good and the bad of his life before, during, and after ACT UP — including the strides and the pride, the successes and the downfalls. As the poster boy for American AIDS activism, his perspective on the entirety of the AIDS epidemic is unique and intimate.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Dave

    This was a fascinating biography of a life lived in and through activism. I didn’t know too much about the AIDS epidemic and this helped enlighten me with a humor and grace as the author recounts all of the difficulties from this time period. There are moments of conventional biography about his early childhood that were also heartfelt and enjoyable and the later stage of the book wrapped up well with a connection to the crystal meth problem and all the way up to the COVID crisis. Thank you to t This was a fascinating biography of a life lived in and through activism. I didn’t know too much about the AIDS epidemic and this helped enlighten me with a humor and grace as the author recounts all of the difficulties from this time period. There are moments of conventional biography about his early childhood that were also heartfelt and enjoyable and the later stage of the book wrapped up well with a connection to the crystal meth problem and all the way up to the COVID crisis. Thank you to the publisher for providing me with this drc available through edelweiss.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Oh

    Sincerely mindbogglingly good. I knew some of this history but for much of it I was too young. I was born in 1975 so much of the AIDS crisis passed before I had any awareness of it. I remember Ryan White being shunned from his school and his home and mother being attacked and I remember how horrible I felt for him. Little did I know that I would face my own reckoning in 2007 when I was diagnosed positive for the HIV virus. While I could never compare my experience with the hero's of this era, I d Sincerely mindbogglingly good. I knew some of this history but for much of it I was too young. I was born in 1975 so much of the AIDS crisis passed before I had any awareness of it. I remember Ryan White being shunned from his school and his home and mother being attacked and I remember how horrible I felt for him. Little did I know that I would face my own reckoning in 2007 when I was diagnosed positive for the HIV virus. While I could never compare my experience with the hero's of this era, I did and continue to face the stigma of being positive. Ironically, it's mostly from gay men that continue to perpetuate the stigma as well as the general populace. Peter Staley is a national treasure and all Americans should read this and be horrified at their own ignorance and hatred of PLWH (people living with HIV and AIDS.)

  7. 5 out of 5

    James

    Solidly written memoir. Too busy to read How to Survive a Plague? Read this instead; covers a lot of the same ground, but with less medical knowledge required. No, seriously, though, try to read both. This book just reads really fast. I enjoyed the chapter about Dallas Buyers Club and was gobsmacked at how much worse the movie could have been. Also wasn't previously aware that AIDS denialism was a thing. Staley's take on Dr Fauci was interesting as well. The doctor made some terrible decisions ear Solidly written memoir. Too busy to read How to Survive a Plague? Read this instead; covers a lot of the same ground, but with less medical knowledge required. No, seriously, though, try to read both. This book just reads really fast. I enjoyed the chapter about Dallas Buyers Club and was gobsmacked at how much worse the movie could have been. Also wasn't previously aware that AIDS denialism was a thing. Staley's take on Dr Fauci was interesting as well. The doctor made some terrible decisions early in the AIDS epidemic, but he really seemed to get better, thanks in part to pushes from activists. It's humanizing. This is a good resource for young activists who are curious about methods from previous generations and for understanding their fellow activists. Overall, good read for understanding activism and an enjoyable read, although parts of the book are obviously kinda heavy.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Harry Wingfield

    I have been aware of Staley and his AIDS activism for years. I enjoyed finding out more about Peter Staley as a person, and finding common ground, even though I spent those early years of AIDS in Alabama. I had been a member of the AACTG Community Constituency Group several years after it was founded. So I especially appreciated learning about the activism that Staley and others did so that I could have a seat and a vote at the table later on. Finally, his gracious acknowledgment of the contribu I have been aware of Staley and his AIDS activism for years. I enjoyed finding out more about Peter Staley as a person, and finding common ground, even though I spent those early years of AIDS in Alabama. I had been a member of the AACTG Community Constituency Group several years after it was founded. So I especially appreciated learning about the activism that Staley and others did so that I could have a seat and a vote at the table later on. Finally, his gracious acknowledgment of the contributions of others, and his loving description of his complicated friendship with Dr Tony Fauci, show a humility that isn’t always evident in his public persona as an activist. I’m glad I’ve gotten to know you better, Peter Staley. Keep up the good work!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Brian Belovitch

    I’ve devoured Peter Staley’s magnificent memoir. NEVER SILENT, ACT UP and My Life in Activism. I couldn’t put it down! This is a must read, especially during these troubled times. As a long term survivor of HIV and someone who witnessed and participated in much of this history I’m so grateful for Peter and his courageous comrades in Act Up. Without their efforts I wouldn’t be here today. His writing is brisk, filled with gorgeous evocative details. I loved everything about this book. Especially, I’ve devoured Peter Staley’s magnificent memoir. NEVER SILENT, ACT UP and My Life in Activism. I couldn’t put it down! This is a must read, especially during these troubled times. As a long term survivor of HIV and someone who witnessed and participated in much of this history I’m so grateful for Peter and his courageous comrades in Act Up. Without their efforts I wouldn’t be here today. His writing is brisk, filled with gorgeous evocative details. I loved everything about this book. Especially, the Wall Street disruption chapter which is thrilling in its 007 like urgency. It completely pulled me in from the start. I experienced all the rage, sadness, frustration, fear and finally inspiration and hope from his incredible, selfless contribution to humanity. Brian Belovitch, author Trans Figured: My Journey From Boy to Girl to Woman to Man ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  10. 4 out of 5

    Leslie Powell-Mccarty

    I became fascinated with HIV/AIDS as a teenager in the mid-eighties and have followed Peter Staley as an activist for decades. Though I have read just about every book written about the AIDS epidemic, I learned some tidbits I had missed before. Peter Staley is a hero and after reading Never Silent, I feel like I know him.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Gil

    Really loved this one. Candid and informative it makes you feel like you could easily be friends with the author. Such rich history from a self-reflecting narrator. For all his resistance on the act of actively writing a book, Peter accomplishes something really special with an enticing voice and easy to read language. I hope he changes his mind about writing another.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jude

    Easily the best book I’ve read this year.

  13. 4 out of 5

    WellReadNegress

    Never Silent should be required reading for anyone who engages in social justice activism. Peter Staley unpacks decade's of activism, starting with the AIDS epidemic to COVID. His writing is beautiful and honest and he holds no punches, whether talking about his comrades or Dr. Anthony Fauci. A brilliant, well-written memoir. Never Silent should be required reading for anyone who engages in social justice activism. Peter Staley unpacks decade's of activism, starting with the AIDS epidemic to COVID. His writing is beautiful and honest and he holds no punches, whether talking about his comrades or Dr. Anthony Fauci. A brilliant, well-written memoir.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Madds

    it melted my gay heart

  15. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    Great companion piece to Let the Record Show: A Political History of ACT UP New York, 1987-1993 and How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS. Loved the more personal perspective, as well as the story of Staley's incredible life so far. Great companion piece to Let the Record Show: A Political History of ACT UP New York, 1987-1993 and How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS. Loved the more personal perspective, as well as the story of Staley's incredible life so far.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Adrian Shanker

    Peter Staley is a legend, and this riveting memoir is a necessary contribution to the literature about the early HIV/AIDS activists who changed the course of an epidemic, and taught us how to fight for the health care our bodies deserve.

  17. 4 out of 5

    James

    Full review here: https://jamesgenrebooks.blogspot.com/... Whether or not he's taking all the credit for what ACT UP accomplished and whether those accomplishments could be credited to ACT UP to begin with are always going to be up for debate. However, he does a good job on shedding some light on events that quite a few of us did not really get exposed to in the time period discussed. Full review here: https://jamesgenrebooks.blogspot.com/... Whether or not he's taking all the credit for what ACT UP accomplished and whether those accomplishments could be credited to ACT UP to begin with are always going to be up for debate. However, he does a good job on shedding some light on events that quite a few of us did not really get exposed to in the time period discussed.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Carla

    I first heard of Peter Staley through the documentary "How to Survive a Plague" and as soon as I found out he had written a book, I had to read it. I enjoyed reading about the history that for the most part, I'm too young to remember. I loved how he wrote about his activism, but I just wish he had added some more stuff about his personal life during these years. I first heard of Peter Staley through the documentary "How to Survive a Plague" and as soon as I found out he had written a book, I had to read it. I enjoyed reading about the history that for the most part, I'm too young to remember. I loved how he wrote about his activism, but I just wish he had added some more stuff about his personal life during these years.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Finn

    I think these books are important to read because they’re telling stories of the Generation who we lost and who we fought for. The most intriguing part of the book is the fight about Dallas Buyers Club due to the controversy regarding AIDS denialism. Everything about this book is really important!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Elissa

    Thank you As my review, I just want to thank Mr Staley for sharing his story (in writing!). We can all learn so much, on so many levels, from the fight against HIV/AIDS. First-hand accounts, like this one, are invaluable. So thanks, again.

  21. 5 out of 5

    LC Meredith

    So many factual inaccuracies! These should all have been corrected, and easily done by asking activists who were at some of the demonstrations he writes about in the memoir. To understand Peter's experiences I would first need to know that he understands the facts. So many factual inaccuracies! These should all have been corrected, and easily done by asking activists who were at some of the demonstrations he writes about in the memoir. To understand Peter's experiences I would first need to know that he understands the facts.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Freyja Vanadis

    Very well-written book about Peter Staley's life as an AIDS activist. He said he hates writing, but he does it well. The book was a fast, easy read. Highly recommended. Very well-written book about Peter Staley's life as an AIDS activist. He said he hates writing, but he does it well. The book was a fast, easy read. Highly recommended.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Joseph William

    4.5

  24. 4 out of 5

    Brad

    Thanks to Staley, other activists like him and Fauci my partner is still alive and healthy. Of course he’s gonna get 5 stars!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Ann Fisher

    Essential, and gripping, reading.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Aimee Dars

    In the late 1980s/early 1990s when ACT UP — the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power — used radical non-violent and often creative forms of activism to challenge ineffective at best, cruel and discriminatory at worst, practices and to get “drugs into bodies” faster, Peter Staley, formerly a closeted bond trader, became one of the most visible members. He was a primary fundraiser for two years, often acted as group spokesperson, and organized some of the flashiest actions—including infiltration of the In the late 1980s/early 1990s when ACT UP — the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power — used radical non-violent and often creative forms of activism to challenge ineffective at best, cruel and discriminatory at worst, practices and to get “drugs into bodies” faster, Peter Staley, formerly a closeted bond trader, became one of the most visible members. He was a primary fundraiser for two years, often acted as group spokesperson, and organized some of the flashiest actions—including infiltration of the stock exchange, Storm the NIH, and covering Jesse Helm’s house with a giant condom. If you’ve got seen the documentary “How to Survive a Plague” (and you should), you’ve seen Staley. As significant as that time was, it represents only a fraction of his interesting life. His memoir NEVER SILENT: ACT UP AND MY LIFE IN ACTIVISM (published last month), covers his early years, his first sexual explorations with men while on a trip to London during college, and his years in ACT UP, offering a behind the scenes perspective of personalities and planning within the group. Staley reminisces about his life after ACT UP, reflecting on survivor’s guilt and his recovery from a crystal meth addiction. One fascinating chapter describes how he intervened to prevent damaging, false scientific information to be included in “The Dallas Buyer’s Club” script. The final chapter and epilogue are reminders that the fight is never over—AIDS activists still work, just focusing on new issues such as access to Prep4all. You may also see a different side to Anthony Fauci! Reading about Staley’s experiences is interesting, but he adds another layer of value to his memoir with his honest and sometimes difficult reflections. Other activists can also learn from his example. I recommend for anyone who enjoys reading memoirs or wants to learn about ACT UP.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

  28. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

  29. 4 out of 5

    Emily

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jan

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