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First-time novelists Gregory G. Allen and Kergan Edwards-Stout have a lot in common. Both are openly gay, both published their books through small presses, and in their debut novels, both write movingly about AIDS, a topic which today seems to be shrouded in silence. Suddenly, theyve found themselves to be competitors too, as Edwards-Stouts Songs for the New Depression and Allens Well With My Soul battle it out in the LGBT short list for the 2018 Indie Lit Awards. The authors sat down recently to chat about their commonalities and differences as well as the hovering specter of AIDS in the gay community. Kergan Edwards-Stout: Greg, thanks so much for taking the time to chat. Im sure youve found the buzz about your novel Well With My Soul very gratifying. Gregory G. Allen: It has been an amazing ride! Im overwhelmed by the comments of readers, and then coming across you and your great reviews led me to purchase Songs for the New Depression, which completely blew me away. Edwards-Stout: Thanks so much! Like you, while the reviews have been nice, more than anything, I appreciate the notes Ive gotten from readers. When someone says something like Your book touched my soul, that really resonates with me. Allen: I couldn't agree more. Edwards-Stout: Both of our novels touch on HIV/AIDS, while it isnt the central storyline in either. How did your story originate? Allen: I wanted to deal with whether or not you could pray the gay away, long before that phrase became so prevalent. Well With My Soul takes place in New York City in the late 1970s through the 90s, which meant dealing with the drugs, sex, and the reality of that time. I couldn't tell the story of an up-and-coming male model without discussing what HIV/AIDS was doing to our community. In the late 80s, I moved to New York and remember attending memorials every other week. It was an awful time, but one that shouldn't be forgotten. What made you write your book? Edwards-Stout: I had a partner who died in 1995, and Songs for the New Depression was inspired by him and other friends I lost. It is set just before the introduction of the HIV cocktail and tells the story of a man a lost soul who is dying and trying to find redemption. The book goes back in time, peeling back the layers to reveal his former innocence. Allen: Why do you think people are still reluctant to address HIV and AIDS? Edwards-Stout: Maybe its just me, but Ive found many in the community to be ambivalent about almost everything. Even during our Prop. 8 rallies where I live, in Orange County, Calif., attendance was low. But with AIDS, I feel as if that silence around it, and our communitys unwillingness to explore and acknowledge it, further perpetuates the lie that who we are and what we do are somehow shameful.
Allen: I think, while HIV may no longer be a death sentence, there is still a stigma attached. Also, in gay fiction we went through a period where you couldnt open a book without it being an AIDS story and then they just sort of stopped. But AIDS hasnt stopped.