Wise Before Their Time

Wise Before Their Time by Ann RichardsonIn the 1980s and 1990s, a diagnosis of HIV was virtually a death sentence. Few treatments existed that could do much more than ease and prolong lives for a period. Those who were HIV positive were mostly young and it was a shock to everyone that they had a limited life span.   This was one of the first books written from their point of view, in their own words. It is based on interviews with 21 people from all over the world attending an international Conference of people with HIV and AIDS in London in 1991, plus some supplementary contributions from others.

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Foreward by Sir Ian McKellen

Glenmore Press, 2017  
First published by Fount, HarperCollins, 1992

“This collection of true stories is as powerful as any great classic of fiction. Everyone who reads Wise Before Their Time will come face to face with the greatest challenge of our age.” Sir Ian McKellen  

Press and Professional Reviews:

The Weekend Review, November 1992 (Australia):

“These writings are not only intensely emotional and despairing, but also deeply confessional and thoroughly humane…The stories are powerful because of the vulnerability of the authors.”

AIDS Dialogue, Winter 1993

“A blaze of honesty embraces personal failures, guilt, stigma, reprisals and ostracism. The voices are funny and sublime; the testimonies full of harsh realities and multiple loss (‘I’ve buried twenty-six of my friends’).”

Information Exchange, National Council for Hospice and Specialist Care Services, No 6, spring 1993:

“The words of the contributors are all the more direct and powerful for minimal editing. They will help carers, informal and professional, gain an understanding of the feelings and experiences of people with HIV. They will give further insight into the strength of the human spirit to overcome this terrifying disease.”

Lynda Lee-Potter, Daily mail journalist, personal correspondence 1992

“Absolutely gripping.”

Christopher Spence, then Director of London Lighthouse, personal correspondence 1992:

“A beautiful and sensitive contribution to people’s understanding of what it means to be a person living with HIV and AIDS”

Excerpts from Readers’ Reviews:

“An enlightening compilation of stories and thoughts from those infected with HIV in the early 1990s. It saddened me to see how fellow humans treated one another and was particularly disturbed by the story about a baby dying from the disease. Though there are messages of love and hope throughout, the book is a good educational tool about the stigma of the virus when not much was understood about it. An important read.” 

An evocative tribute to the experiences of people with HIV and AIDS in the 1980s; to their suffering and to their strength of spirit. A collection of historical value and a reminder of the cruelty inherent to ill-informed, fear-driven prejudice that is just as relevant today….Read this book. Listen to the stories of the people who contributed to it. Feel their experiences. Find the opportunity to learn from their wisdom in the way you live your life and the ways in which you relate to others. Powerful stuff” 

A very compassionate look at the lives and daily struggles of people living with HIV and AIDS back in the early 1990s. You will definitely need your tissues…..Each story will touch your heart in different ways. You will learn that it is not just a gay disease and that even babies can get this. After reading these stories you will never look the same at this disease the same way again.” 

“Describes an unimaginable amount of ignorance, fear and pain. Men, women and children, small babies dying of a mysterious disease and no one knows what it is and no one has the cure for it. There are too few books like this, full of incredibly brave people writing their heart-breaking stories on what it was like to live with HIV and AIDS. I warmly recommend this for everyone.” 

In this book dozens of people from all over the world speak about their experiences of being diagnosed with HIV in those early days – so this is an important document. In their own voices they talk about their fears for the future, their issues around telling their families and friends, their relationships, attitudes to sex and spirituality. It’s at times heart-warming, but always with an underlying sense of sadness. It’s not, of course, an easy read.”

“Most of the people in this book were infected in the late ‘80s when a positive diagnosis meant the sudden end of your life. This often brought on depression, panic, suicidal thoughts, a denigration of self and a loss of purpose. The amazing thing about the book is how each person went about developing a more positive attitude – they had to reach down inside themselves to tap into their emotional and psychological reserves, something that took courage and persistence…By using their own words taken from spoken and written interviews, an intimacy is created that is impossible to ignore. These people open up their hearts and souls and you can’t look away.”

“I have no words to explain how important this book is. It shines light on how AIDS and HIV can affect anyone… The fragments make them even more personal and real…We see doubts, hope, carelessness, etc. We see a full scope of feelings and reactions…. Yet all through the pages there is a message of hope, of resistance…I just hope more people read it and learn a bit more about the virus.”

“This book’s intrinsic historical and cultural value is invaluable, providing insights and accounts which would otherwise be lost to time. These historic interviews are not only rare but also remarkably candid for their era. At times, the stories were alarming. No matter your feelings and beliefs on this disease, you owe it to yourself to read this book!”

“There are heart-breaking stories of people losing their livelihoods once they admit they are HIV positive, but many inspirational stories from sufferers who feel very well and enjoy living life to the full…. Recommended for those who would like to delve a little bit into the early days of HIV/AIDS.”

“A sad book, but I’m glad that I have read it. The first edition was published in the time when AIDS was still a taboo subject. To read the book then would have been, an altogether different experience. This second edition serves a different purpose: what patients feel, the impact being tested positive makes on them, how they come to terms with living with the disease, how the fear of isolation, rejection haunts them. And it was heartening that most patients came out stronger, wiser, and more mature…An honest, moving picture which touches a reader’s heart. Do read this book, if not for anything else then to appreciate the beauty of being healthy and being alive!”

“Each one of the voices in Wise Before Their Time is powerful and sobering. They show the everyday realities of living with a disease that people, including doctors, knew virtually nothing about. They talk honestly and incredibly openly about all aspects of the experience of living with HIV/AIDS – from how they got their diagnosis, to confronting their own mortality, to telling friends and family members, to their hopes for the future. They refused to give up – and that is surely, the true definition of inspiring.”

“When AIDS first hit the headlines in the early 1980s, there was widespread fear and ignorance. These days, attitudes have changed considerably, largely because those who can access antiretroviral drugs can often live a normal life…. Nonetheless, there is a freshness and an immediacy in many of the spoken and written interviews with people of both genders, of different ages and from different cultures. The stories are often moving, even tear-inducing, and also occasionally funny. But what comes over most strongly from many of the people who feature in this important book is their fortitude, in some cases their stoicism, and often intimations of real love.”