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Reed, Paul (1956-2002)  
 
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By writing the earliest novel to respond directly to AIDS and subsequently producing innovative journal and sex writing, American author Paul Reed made several significant contributions to glbtq literature, especially as it struggled for relevancy during the early days of the AIDS epidemic.

Biographical Context

Reed's biography helps illuminate his work, especially as it reflects his intimate experiences with the emergence and evolution of AIDS.

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He was born Paul Hustoft to Sigurd William and Melva Hustoft in San Diego, California on May 28, 1956. Reed, whose biological father died when he was five months old, also had a sister, Karen Hustoft, and a stepfather, who was a Baptist preacher. Reed legally changed his last name in 1969.

As a child and adolescent, Reed studied the organ and harpsichord, and as an adult, he obtained a B. A. in Sociology from California State University, Chico in 1978 and an M. A. in Social Anthropology from the University of California at Davis in 1981.

Reed attended his first gay pride parade in San Francisco in 1980, and moved to the city in July 1981. He remained in the Bay area for the remainder of his life.

Reed's move to San Francisco occurred one month after the Centers for Disease Control published "Pneumocystis Pneumonia: Los Angeles" in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the report that introduced the medical world to what would become known as AIDS.

Reed entered the Castro gay urban subculture as post-Stonewall gay liberation zeal gave way to the sobering realities of the AIDS epidemic. The sense of this change is reflected in his somewhat autobiographical novel Longing (1988), which narrates its protagonist's similar move to San Francisco. The specter of the epidemic looms within the novel and, indeed, permeates all of Reed's writing. This consciousness is a direct result of Reed's life experiences, for in addition to writing during the emergence of the HIV virus, Reed also survived the transformation of AIDS from an acute to a chronic condition.

Reed claims in The Redwood Diary: A Journal (1995) to have known he had AIDS at least as early as 1981. Reed's understanding may well be retrospective, however, since AIDS was not named until midyear 1982; nonetheless, Reed HIV-seroconverted during the early years of the epidemic.

Surviving until 2002, Reed lived to witness and benefit from progressive advances in antiretroviral therapies. More specifically, when Reed's T-cell count dropped to 120 in late 1987, he benefited from the Federal Drug Administration's approval of AZT, the reverse transcriptase inhibitor he credited for his recovery. Similarly, when Reed's viral load (the amount of HIV in the bloodstream) rose to an incredible 1.1 million in early 1996, his health was restored through the use of Saquinavir, the first protease inhibitor to receive FDA approval in 1995.

In addition to being a person living with AIDS, Reed participated in experimental HIV treatments, such as the Compound Q trials, which he recorded in his diary The Q Journal (1991).

Reed also experienced the waves of AIDS bereavement common to the early years of the pandemic, having lost his lover Tom in 1990 and several acquaintances, peers, and friends--notably his intimate long-term friend Cap in 1996. This personal history and epidemiological context informs all of Reed's writings, as they document the changes and challenges facing a writer living with AIDS.

Reed himself succumbed to complications of AIDS on January 28, 2002.

Reed's Literary Motifs

Reed's primary rhetorical mode is first-person and autobiographical, even when working in fiction. Something of Reed's life echoes through nearly all his work, as is evidenced by the recurrent references to his friend Cap, which are peppered throughout his fiction, nonfiction, and sex writing. Although a fairly common characteristic of writers, this blurring of the line between fact and fiction takes on specific resonance in AIDS literature, revealing the primacy of first-person reportage in AIDS writing.

AIDS figures as a poignant and powerful topic in nearly all of Reed's work, but it is not his only subject. His writing also explores the nature of longing, love, attraction, friendship, masculinity, aging, spirituality, monogamy, sex, eroticism, activism, politics, commercialism, and Americanism--to catalog just a few of his other frequently explored themes.

All of Reed's themes are narrated against a rich tableau of closely observed and artfully recorded climate conditions. The world of weather, the primary motif that permeates all of Reed's writing, also serves as its most prescient metaphor, for the omnipresence of climatic conditions underscores the ubiquity of the disease in the Age of AIDS.

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A portrait of Paul Reed by Steve Savage. © Steve Savage.
  
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