THE BLOG
01/21/2014 10:37 am ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

This Is How You Teach AIDS Literature

This past fall 2013 semester, I taught a freshman seminar course in literature and history, as part of the First Year Experience Program at New Jersey City University. I created the curriculum for the course, and my focus was AIDS literature and the History of AIDS in the Gay Community in the United States in the 1980s.

It was one of the best experiences of my life.

One of my students sent this email to me at the end of the semester:

Thank you for opening my eyes about homophobia and gay culture. Before your class, I was so ignorant about the whole AIDS topic. I didn't even know about the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. That's how uneducated I was, and a lot of young people are, today. The revisions you made on my paper helped me a lot. I was always against homophobia, but I never understood the pain it caused people and this weekend I called my uncle who is gay and we talked for hours and he helped me see through his eyes and the hurt and damage homophobia has caused. When you asked me why Vito was important to me I had no clue, no answer, I just wanted to get the paper done and get a grade. Then I read The Celluloid Activist: The Life and Times of Vito Russo and my mind was completely changed. I fell in love with Vito and I felt like I knew him. I read that book in three days, and it [was] an amazing book. Anyway thank you for educating me on a topic that needs more acknowledgement. In elementary school we learn about the Black Plague, even swine flu, but they won't mention a time where people died from a disease, because it was associated with homosexuals. Thank you Professor Carosone.

This fabulous experience inspired me to write a poem:

This Is How You Teach AIDS Literature:

This is how you teach AIDS literature
to a freshman seminar class
at New Jersey City University

You cry on the train
as you choose which AIDS poems to teach
the commute from Manhattan to Jersey City is a long one
so you cry a lot

You cry in the classroom
as you screen AIDS documentaries and films
it's a three-hour class
so you cry a lot

You cry on your ride back home
as you read your students' response papers and essays
you assign something each week
so you cry a lot

Even before the semester begins
as you prepare what to teach
you cry for days

And after the semester ends
as you read the thank-you emails from your students
you cry for hours

And throughout the semester
while you sleep and dream
you cry each night
as you think about what the world would be like
if Paul and Vito were still alive

So this is how you teach AIDS literature
you cry
and you cry
and you