LARRY KRAMER, was an American dramatist, author, activist, founder of ACT-UP born on this date (d: 2020). “We’re all going to go crazy, living this epidemic every minute, while the rest of the world goes on out there, all around us, as if nothing is happening, going on with their own lives and not knowing what it’s like, what we’re going through. We’re living through war, but where they’re living it’s peacetime, and we’re all in the same country.”
Kramer was born Bridgeport, Connecticut and was educated at Yale University (class of 1957). He lived in London 1961-70, where he co-produced and co-wrote the film Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush. Kramer next produced and wrote the screenplay for Women in Love, based on the novel by D. H. Lawrence, which was nominated for an Academy Award. Kramer had far less luck on his next film, a musical version of James Hilton’s Lost Horizon released in 1973. It became one of the most notorious flops of the decade.
Kramer was a Gay Rights advocate from the early 1970s, but never an orthodox one. His 1978 novel, Faggots, was one of the best-selling Gay-themed novels, but was heavily criticized by many Gay activists for its negative portrayal of Gay men’s sex lives and habits. Kramer was living in New York City when the AIDS epidemic began in 1981. He published a series of articles in the Gay newspaper the New York Native, including the famous “1,112 and Counting,” urging action in response to the new epidemic.
He was one of the founders of Gay Men’s Health Crisis, a New York-based AIDS advocacy organization, which is still the world’s largest provider of services to Gay men with AIDS. In 1987, increasingly discontented with the response to AIDS by both the U.S. government and the Gay male community, Kramer helped found the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT-UP), an AIDS advocacy and protest organization often engaged in civil disobedience. Susan Sontag called him, ““One of America’s most valuable troublemakers.”
Kramer’s 1985 play about the early years of AIDS, The Normal Heart, remains one of the most important cultural responses to the devastation of AIDS in the 1980s. It has had over 600 productions all over the world. Its New York production starred Brad Davis, who later died of AIDS. It is now used as a set text in many schools and universities.
His next play, Just Say No (1988), was an attack on the Reagan administration and the Mayor of New York, Ed Koch, over what Kramer saw as their hypocrisy and inertia in responding to AIDS. It was less successful than The Normal Heart, possibly due to its sharply political tone. In 1989 Kramer published a book of non-fiction, Reports from the Holocaust: The Making of an AIDS Activist, a collection of his political writings from The York Times and other publications, which is an important record of the “heroic phase” of AIDS activism in the 1980s. During the 1990s, following his own diagnosis with HIV infection, Kramer became increasingly preoccupied with treatment issues, although he continued to issue regular polemical attacks on governments and health authorities.
In 1998, he founded the Treatment Data Project, a coalition of private sector donors and medical institutes, designed to make AIDS treatment more readily available to people with HIV/AIDS. We Must Love One Another Or Die: The Life and Legacies of Larry Kramer, an anthology of essays edited by Lawrence D. Mass, is an important source on Kramer’s career and the issues he worked on. In April 2001, Yale formally accepted a donation of Kramer’s literary and political papers, along with a one million dollar donation from Kramer’s brother Arthur Kramer to endow a Gay and Lesbian studies program. Kramer had been discussing the donation with Yale for several years, and the University had rejected a similar donation in 1997.
Commenting on the results of their donation, in 2004, Kramer said: “My own college, Yale, with $1 million of my own brother’s money to do just this, will not teach what I call Gay history, unencumbered with the prissy incomprehensible gobbledygook of gender studies and queer theory.”
Kramer’s play The Normal Heart premiered on HBO as a film produced by Brad Pitt, Ryan Murphy (“Glee”) and Scott Ferguson, and starring Mark Ruffalo. Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons, Alfred Molina, and Julia Roberts.
Kramer died of pneumonia at home in New York City on May 27, 2020.