Best biographies and memoirs of 2021 | Autobiography and memoir

All the Young Men by Ruth Coker Burks

In a bonanza year for memoirs, Ruth Coker Burks got us off to a strong start with All the Young Men (Trapeze), a clear-eyed and poignant account of her years spent looking after Aids patients in Little Rock, Arkansas, in the 1980s. While visiting a friend in hospital, Burks witnessed a group of nurses drawing straws over who should enter a room labelled “Biohazard”, the ward for men with “that gay disease”. And so she took it upon herself to sit with the dying and bury them when their families wouldn’t. Later, as the scale of fear and prejudice became apparent, she helped patients with food, transport, social security and housing, often at enormous personal cost. Her book, written with Kevin Carr O’Leary, finds light in the darkness as it reveals the love and camaraderie of a hidden community fighting for its life.

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