Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in English (MA)

Degree Level





Lisa Hinrichsen

Committee Member

Danny Sexton

Second Committee Member

Ben Fagan


Literature, Social sciences, AIDS, African-American, Down low, E. Lynn Harris, Masculinity, Armistead Maupin


Rather than waiting decades to respond, novelists of nearly every literary genre began conceptualizing the AIDS epidemic shortly after the first documented case of the virus in the United States in 1981. Writers, feeling a sense of urgency, wasted little time constructing didactic texts that differ from much historical fiction in that they were written as the tragedy they are commenting on occurred. However, AIDS literature has changed as the disease has spread well beyond the gay communities of San Francisco and New York, causing people to reexamine their longstanding beliefs on masculinity, sexuality, and body politics.

My Master's thesis will analyze this new literary subgenre in an attempt to determine the different ways that Socially conscious novelists, screenwriters, and comic book writers have conceptualized AIDS over the past four decades. Several texts, including Armistead Maupin's Babycakes (1984) and R.D. Zimmerman's Hostage (1997), portray the virus as a force capable of diminishing the sexuality of the body and causing tainted blood to be viewed as the ultimate biological weapon. Furthermore, closeted gay characters in the literature of African-American authors E. Lynn Harris and Sapphire construct hyper-heterosexual personas, naively believing that masculinity will somehow protect them from contracting the virus once dubbed "gay cancer."

The often-restrictive rhetoric associated with AIDS has been analyzed during the epidemic, perhaps most notably by Susan Sontag in her seminal work AIDS and Its Metaphors (1989). Furthermore, Judith Laurence Pastore's Confronting AIDS through Literature (1993) examines the language used with the virus. My thesis will expand upon these previous works, as well as others by queer theorists and Social commentators, to determine how the last epidemic of the twentieth century has forever influenced literature and other forms of pop-culture entertainment.