2017 LAMBDA LITERARY AWARD WINNER
The partial inspiration for the ABC television mini-series!
"You could read Cleve Jones's book because you should know about the struggle for gay, lesbian, and transgender rights from one of its key participants--maybe heroes--but really, you should read it for pleasure and joy."--Rebecca Solnit, author of Men Explain Things to Me
Born in 1954, Cleve Jones was among the last generation of gay Americans who grew up wondering if there were others out there like himself. There were. Like thousands of other young people, Jones, nearly penniless, was drawn in the early 1970s to San Francisco, a city electrified by progressive politics and sexual freedom.
Jones found community--in the hotel rooms and ramshackle apartments shared by other young adventurers, in the city's bathhouses and gay bars like The Stud, and in the burgeoning gay district, the Castro, where a New York transplant named Harvey Milk set up a camera shop, began shouting through his bullhorn, and soon became the nation's most outspoken gay elected official. With Milk's encouragement, Jones dove into politics and found his calling in "the movement." When Milk was killed by an assassin's bullet in 1978, Jones took up his mentor's progressive mantle--only to see the arrival of AIDS transform his life once again.
By turns tender and uproarious, When We Rise is Jones' account of his remarkable life. He chronicles the heartbreak of losing countless friends to AIDS, which very nearly killed him, too; his co-founding of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation during the terrifying early years of the epidemic; his conception of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, the largest community art project in history; the bewitching story of 1970s San Francisco and the magnetic spell it cast for thousands of young gay people and other misfits; and the harrowing, sexy, and sometimes hilarious stories of Cleve's passionate relationships with friends and lovers during an era defined by both unprecedented freedom and and violence alike.
When We Rise is not only the story of a hero to the LQBTQ community, but the vibrantly voice memoir of a full and transformative American life.
Jones, an activist and grassroots organizer, weaves together his own coming-of-age story and the broader story of the struggle for LGBTQ rights and safety in America. Much of the story is rooted in San Francisco in the 1970s and '80s, and Jones writes powerfully about the rise of Harvey Milk, who became San Francisco's first openly gay elected official in 1977. This is an ode San Francisco during a bygone era when the city was a gay sanctuary and crucible for activism. Jones also details the genesis and execution of the stunningly elegiac Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt and how that labor of collective love parlayed a feeling of loss into hope for resilience. Over the course of the book, readers experience Jones's own personal journey from closeted young man contemplating suicide to a noted player in the history of the gay rights movement who was portrayed by Emile Hirsch in the movie Milk in 2008. The book's many rose-colored vignettes, coupled with Jones's impressive accomplishments as an activist, serve as an inspiring reminder that one can go from "daydreaming about sex and revolution" to making them reality.