Skip to content

All the Young Men

 12.15

by Ruth Coker Burks

By turns shocking, inspiring and deeply moving, Coker Burks account of caring for men with HIV and AIDS in conservative 1980s America affirms the ignorance and prejudice with which the condition was treated and the courage and determination displayed by those willing to defy the strictures of authority.

All the Young Men

‘If I have one message with this book it’s that we all have to care for one another. Today, not just in 1986. Life is about caring for each other, and I learned more about life from the dying than I ever learned from the living. It’s in an elephant ride, it’s in those wildflowers dancing on their way to the shared grave of two men in love, and it’s in caring for that young man who just needed information without judgement.’

In 1986, 26-year-old Ruth Coker Burks visits a friend in hospital when she notices that the door to one of the patient’s rooms is painted red. The nurses are reluctant to enter, drawing straws to decide who will tend to the sick person inside. Out of impulse, Ruth herself enters the quarantined space and begins to care for the young man who cries for his mother in the last moments of his life.

And in doing so, Ruth’s own life changes forever.

As word spreads in the community that she is the only person willing to help the young men afflicted by the growing AIDS crisis, Ruth goes from being an ordinary young mother to an accidental activist. Forging deep friendships with the men she helps, Ruth works to find them housing and jobs, and then funeral homes willing to take their bodies – often in the middle of the night. She prepares and delivers meals to ‘her guys,’ supplementing her own income with discarded food found in the dumpsters behind supermarkets.

She defies local pastors and the medical community to store rare medications for her most urgent patients, and teaches sex education to drag queens after hours at secret bars. Emboldened by the weight of their collective pain, she fervently advocates for their safety and visibility, ultimately advising Governor Bill Clinton on the national HIV-AIDS crisis, and in doing so becomes a beacon of hope to an otherwise spurned group of ailing gay men on the fringes of society.

Ruth kept her story a secret for years, fearful of repercussions within her deeply conservative community. But at a time when it’s more important than ever to stand up for those who can’t, Ruth has found the courage to have her voice – and the voices of those who were stigmatised, rejected and abandoned – heard.

The LitVox Bookshop

Our bookshop’s range grows by the day. Moreover, we pride ourselves on being able to track down and obtain any book our customers want. Our recommendations service is open for all to use. If we recommend books to you through this service, we’ll be able gather up those books and send them to you no matter where you are in the world. We can even hand-write your greetings card with your personal message.

Remember that if you’re buying books as a gift, we also offer a wide-range of book prints, gifts and greetings cards for readers of all ages! Check out our print studio and gift-shop today. If you have any special requests for your order or need further gift inspiration, just contact our team at hello@litvox.com, we’re ready and waiting to help!

Weight 0.3 kg
Dimensions 12.8 × 3.5 × 19.7 cm