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It Was Vulgar and It Was Beautiful Summary and Reviews

It Was Vulgar and It Was Beautiful

How AIDS Activists Used Art to Fight a Pandemic

by Jack Lowery

It Was Vulgar and It Was Beautiful by Jack Lowery X
It Was Vulgar and It Was Beautiful by Jack Lowery
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Book Summary

The powerful story of art collective Gran Fury - who fought back during the AIDS crisis through organizing, direct action, and community-made propaganda - offers lessons in love and grief to today's marginalized communities.

By the late 1980s, the AIDS pandemic was deeply impacting gay and lesbian communities in America, and disinformation about the disease was running rampant. Out of the activist group ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), an art collective that called itself Gran Fury was formed, to create graphics and media that campaigned against corporate greed, government inaction, and public indifference to AIDS.

In It Was Vulgar and It Was Beautiful, writer Jack Lowery examines Gran Fury's art and activism, from the iconic images like the Kissing Doesn't Kill poster, to the act of dropping thousands of fake bills onto the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Lowery offers a complex, moving portrait of a group that expressed through art the profound trauma of surviving the AIDS crisis and formed essential solidarities between gays and lesbians in the activist community.

Gran Fury and ACT UP's strategies are today employed by a variety of activist groups, including survivors of school shootings, harm reduction organizers, and activists for universal healthcare. Their belief in the power of art to create social change and drive political movements is illuminating in this era when violence and unending structural racism continue to target the most vulnerable.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Editor Lowery debuts with a fascinating study of how art galvanized AIDS activism in the 1980s and '90s...Throughout, Lowery provides crucial context about the history of the AIDS epidemic and draws vivid sketches of key players in Gran Fury. The result is a captivating look at the power of art as a political tool." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Lowery lovingly portrays the strength, effort, happy victories, and overwhelming sadness of [ACT UP's] historic efforts…Art had a major role in the movement, and as this testimonial lays out, the people behind the art stand as pillars of beautiful humanity. This is a rich and necessary documentation." - Booklist (starred review)

"Readers especially interested in HIV/AIDS in New York in the '80s and '90s will find this book essential; general readers will also profit from Lowery's insights on issues of art and activism. Recommended for all interested in how art can change the world." - Library Journal (starred review)

"While the narrative is highly readable and educative, the author's 'Notes on Sources' are not quite up to scholarly standards...This is an undeniable weakness in an otherwise strong social history. A lively depiction of how graphic art can bring political activism to life." - Kirkus Reviews

"I picked up Jack Lowery's It Was Vulgar and It Was Beautiful and didn't stop reading it for the next three days. Lowery's plainspoken, patient, and probing approach to his dramatic subject matter is totally compelling, and his focus on Gran Fury fills in a critical piece of aesthetic and political history. Anyone and everyone interested in still-urgent questions about the relations between art, activism, living, and dying should immediately read this book." - Maggie Nelson, author of The Argonauts

"Jack Lowery has written an engaging, provocative, and moving book about one of the most successful political movements in American history, a painstakingly researched narrative about how activism and art saved untold lives. At a time when the lessons of Gran Fury and ACT UP are more crucial than ever, this is essential reading." - Alex Halberstadt, author of Young Heroes of the Soviet Union

This information about It Was Vulgar and It Was Beautiful was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

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Author Information

Jack Lowery

Jack Lowery is a writer whose work has appeared in the Atlantic, the Times Literary Supplement, and on The Awl. He has taught in the Undergraduate Writing Program at Columbia University, where he also completed his MFA in nonfiction writing. He lives in Brooklyn.

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