A Personal Reflection in Two Parts from The #TUOR Project Manager Eric Solomon
Part One: The Inheritance
“He has a story to tell.” In the year in which I was born, one of the first years for which there are somewhat reliable numbers, more than one million Americans were estimated to be HIV+ and more than 16,000 Americans were known to have died of AIDS in 1987 alone. Though AIDS-related deaths peaked above 40,000 people in this country in 1995, more than 13,000 people continue to die from HIV/AIDS-related complications each year in the United States. Each number represented the loss of a person whose absence irrevocably shaped the generations of men and women who would come after. My generation of gay and queer identifying men came of age in an era saturated with often misinformed and misguided messages about the risks of gay sexual practices. Most of the gay men I know around my age have stories of doctor’s office visits wherein a nurse or physician offered advice that clearly stemmed from a place of subjective morality and not objective medical science. What it would have meant to men like me to have mentors from an older generation of gay men who could have offered advice grounded in the care of shared experience. What it would have meant to me to call one of those men the first time my heart was broken or the time a nurse in my native Mississippi instructed me, when I questioned her about safer sexual practices, “well, you’re not supposed to have sex like that.” What did she know and where were the men who could tell me differently?
In his play The Inheritance, Matthew Lopez writes, “Eric wondered what his life would be like if he had not been robbed of a generation of mentors, of poets, of friends and, perhaps even lovers. Eric breathed and filled his lungs with the past. It stretched before him now, limitless—the past and the present, mingling together inside this house, inside him.” Working on The #TUOR Project often in the solitude of my home office over the last year in the middle of this COVID-19 pandemic has felt like filling my lungs in intimate communion with the queer past even as much of our queer spaces and stories continue to pass away around us. It has also made me reflect upon my own journey. I am aware that these structures of “feeling backward,” to paraphrase Raymond Williams and Heather Love, often reproduce negative emotional states in the present even as they seek to affirm and enact a sense of queer community. And I have allowed myself to feel a full spectrum of affective experience in this work. In this confluence of personal and collective past and present, there have been many questions and fewer answers. How could I best serve to document a project originally developed and created by a man who survived the AIDS years, a man who would become a friend? What was my responsibility to Dave Hayward, to Touching Up Our Roots, to the public knowledge and anecdotal stories of the sites and lives shared on the tour routes? Or, as Marianne Hirsch asks, “How can we best carry their stories forward without appropriating them?” Further, what information could I access? And, as Rachel Gelfand questions, “What is not mine to know?”
In my work on The #TUOR Project, I have proceeded with care and respect as I have attempted to connect past to present, generation to generation, acknowledging as Heather Love writes that “historical rescue” is not a “one-way street,” that the present is dependent on the past for meaning as much as the past depends on the present to give it meaning. This two-way street work is ongoing even as The #TUOR Project launches. “A careful fostering of imagination,” writes Tahneer Oksman, “is what might help us maintain powerful and evocative associations between here and now, between here and there.” When not directly experienced, such “powerful and evocative associations” often take the shape of postmemory imagination and interpretation. I acknowledge that I am of the AIDS postmemory generation of gay men and there are limitations on what I can know and more importantly what is mine to know. As the term’s originator, Marianne Hirsch, writes, “postmemory is not a movement, method, or idea; I see it, rather, as a structure of inter- and trans-generational transmission of traumatic knowledge and experience.” For generations of gay men born after the development of treatments that shifted HIV from a fatal to a chronic diagnosis (for those who can access and afford the treatments), the postmemory of AIDS is the inherited house, the structure in which we all dwell. It is the work of all of our adult lives to learn how to honor and remember the traumatic experiences of our collective past without appropriating or misrepresenting them as we strive to find joy and pleasure and connection in the present house we each embody in our own unique ways. Each of us must ask, how do I want to live within this structure? What walls might I rearrange and what foundation must I understand as integral?
When I began working on The #TUOR Project, my ethical and intellectual commitment was first and foremost intergenerational. I am in my early thirties, and Dave Hayward is in his early seventies. As COVID-19 began to take many seniors from us, I felt an urgency to record both Hayward’s story and his Story Tour. After meeting Dave Hayward and hearing his vision, I wanted to document and preserve the work he had done previously so that young men like I had once been could openly access and hear the voice of someone who had “been there,” someone who had been in Atlanta for the last fifty years and had lived beyond the fatal years of the AIDS crisis, someone who had “a story to tell.” Throughout the process, I have asked myself, how can I best serve as a conduit for his story?
As I got to work on the shared story we could tell, two recent projects which move within the postmemory structure of AIDS helped to shape my thinking around the narrativity of The #TUOR Project. The first was Lopez’s The Inheritance (2018) and the second was Leo Herrera’s speculative short film The Fathers Project (2020). Though Herrera thinks of his project as “ancestor” work, The Fathers Project imagines what would have happened if AIDS had not occurred. While grounded in research of the queer past, Herrera’s film envisions a “new queer world order,” a United States of “Queer Colonies,” a “Stonewall Nation” where “for the first time in history, disease would have no dominion over sex.” In short, The Fathers Project imagines an alternative reality where the AIDS generation of gay and queer identifying men survived to be “fathers” and mentors for a more radically queer and transgressive present generation. Though grounded in the past (with its own sense of nostalgia), it is present-future oriented in the story it tells. Though not speculative, Matthew Lopez’s play The Inheritance similarly traces the two-way street of historical rescue across multiple timelines. Lopez both rewrites E.M. Forster’s 1910 novel Howards End and reanimates Forster as the character “Morgan,” who serves as a mentor for several subsequent generations of gay male characters. Beyond my shared name with one of the central protagonists (“Eric”), I see myself in The Inheritance. Art and storytelling offer the representative gift that “real life” often fails to provide: the knowledge that we are not alone, that others like us have moved through the world even if they did not always survive it. The intertextual conceit of Lopez’s work has become a queer literary refrain, what I call the intergenerational intertextual, in which artists depict convergent generations of queer people in order to imagine a different future. Herrera’s The Fathers Project, for example, memorably reanimates the kink-aesthetic of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, who in Herrera’s vision is alive and thriving on Instagram where he has the highest following of anyone on the planet. The intergenerational intertextual reminds us, then, as the character Eric states in The Inheritance, that “we need our community, we need our history. How else can we teach the next generation who they are and how they got here? Human culture from time immemorial has been transmitted through stories… If we can’t have a conversation with our past, then what will be our future? Who are we? And more importantly: who will we become?” It is my commitment to both a future queerer “world order” (Herrera) and this lineage of responsibility in the intergenerational transmission of knowledge and narrative (Lopez) that continues to shape my approach to The #TUOR Project.
To be clear, the role of narrative is central to #TUOR, which like Dave Hayward’s Touching Up Our Roots initiative is framed as a “story” and not a “history” project. Growing up in Mississippi, I did not have that sense of connection to queer community or our history until I discovered it in the transmission of story. I neither read about men or women who identified like me nor did I receive advice from men and women who had sex like that, to use my one-time nurse’s expression, in the pages of history books or from the history or health curricula at my middle and high school. I learned about what it meant to be (and do) gay from creative works of literature, from the English and Drama classes taught by two of my best teachers (Castlen King and Sonya Bixler), and from the library where I searched in the early internet age for information and connection. (In retrospect, I know this affective connection between burgeoning sexuality and deep textual immersion has shaped the professional life I have been pursuing as an interdisciplinary queer studies academic). I learned about my people and my culture from these texts. I fell in love with fellow Mississippian Tennessee Williams, with Oscar Wilde, Terrence McNally, Larry Kramer, Lorraine Hansberry, Edward Albee, William Inge, and Paula Vogel. I remember sitting in Drama class as we embellished hats for a production of Hello, Dolly! watching a video in which Adam Pascal sang “One Song Glory” from Rent. I went to the mall that afternoon and bought the two-disc CD, listening to it start to finish in my bedroom that evening. In studying these queer texts, I became a writer-scholar. I remember writing a term paper on Peter Shaffer’s Equus and an article for the student newspaper on World AIDS Day citing Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. When my father found drafts of these on our dining room table, he was very upset at my teachers for “exposing me to ideas that once in my head I could not take out.” To this day, I remain grateful to the teachers who helped me discover myself in the ways they knew how: through books and the arts. I also wrote my first creative work in high school, a one-act play titled “Protection” about a phone call between a son dying of AIDS in a solitary hospital room in New York City and his mother back home down South. The son refuses to tell his mother what is happening. In the stage directions, I suggested a split stage with two beds angled at stage left and right, separated only by a wall with one window through which the son and the mother might occasionally see one another. I remember it won an award at the state high school literary competition. I distinctly remember hiding the script from my father.
Though my deep reading of and training in the lineage of queer drama prepared me for the literary-historical context of Lopez’s The Inheritance, I was underprepared for my emotional reaction to it. I felt sideways, backwards, and forward, but fully present, fully alive. Centrally through the character of Eric, Lopez’s play invites us to reflect on questions of intergenerational ethics: “What was the responsibility between gay men from one generation to another? What was Eric’s role in that continuum?” What strikes me as moving about Lopez’s play is its focus both on the intergenerational transmission of identity, its deep reflection on the traumatic inheritance of collective loss, and its attention to the palimpsestic sites in which queer community has been forged. It is a play about the stories and the sites, the structures of feeling. The house in upstate New York shared by the couple Henry and Walter (and later Henry and Eric) morphs into an AIDS hospice where Walter and Margaret (the mother of man who dies from AIDS in the house) care for people with AIDS. I see myself in Eric, and I see my mother in the character of Margaret Avery, not only because she is the mother of a gay son but because, like Margaret’s dramatic acts of palliative care, my mother helps people to heal or to die with dignity in their homes, directing Home Health and Hospice in my native Mississippi, a role she has performed all my life. And so, with The #TUOR Project, I have come home, accepting my own small role in multiple continuums: the responsibility of a gay man to previous and subsequent generations of gay men and the responsibility of a son who learned the radical potential of empathy from a mother who never questioned her ethical responsibility as a nurse to give objective medical advice and unconditional care to her patients.
Part Two: Haven House
haven. n. 1. A sheltered body of water along a coast or shore where ships or boats can moor or anchor, esp. during stormy weather; a harbour, a port. Also: a town or place possessing a harbour or port. 2. literal and figurative. A place of shelter, protection, safety, or retreat; a refuge, a sanctuary. Also as a mass noun: refuge, shelter. (Now the usual sense.) 3. Originally and chiefly U.S. Chiefly with for. A place providing protection and favourable conditions or opportunities for a particular type of person, or where a particular activity may flourish.
Not long after I moved to Atlanta from Mississippi in August 2011, I was sitting with a friend at Joe’s on Juniper when an older man my friend was trying to pick up told us casually that a live-in AIDS Hospice used to be “right around the corner” in the heart of Midtown. Though this man’s comment registered in the moment, it would be some time before I would return to it. In the past year of working on The #TUOR Project, I now realize that this site which I would come to know as Haven House represented the first time I became curious about the historic sites in Atlanta’s built environment that have been of importance or significance for the LGBTQIA+ community. Haven House became my first Atlanta entry into what anthropologist Gayle Rubin understands as the queer knowledges that exist “in sedimented layers,” layers that invite “succeeding generations” to “ensure that such sedimentary formations are identified, excavated, catalogued, and utilized to produce new knowledge.” Haven House as spatial palimpsest, site of postmemory, became “a careful fostering of imagination” associating past with present, then with my now.
In retrospect, it seems fitting that Haven House was my entry into the sites of Atlanta’s queer past. After Haven House first opened at 250 14th Street in 1991, much was made about its inviting front porch and “casual,” “cozy” atmosphere. “Amid the bustling street life and rush of Midtown traffic,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff writer Richard Gincel wrote in 1993, “sits a modest gray house under a canopy of trees, a scant block from Piedmont Park… Fronted by columns, a porch filled with wicker furniture, and a wood and beveled-glass door, the style is traditionally Southern.” The house “bears no resemblance to an institution,” AJC staff writer Patti Puckett wrote two years later. “Nurses dress casually. Residents relax in a cozy living room or hang out on the house’s front porch.” In 1996, Haven House director of clinical programs Louise Perry commented, “Our big, wide, homelike front porch seems to symbolize it all. Our philosophy is that in the midst of life there is death, and in the midst of death, there is life. Dying is a process just like living is.” This “modest gray house” where “nurses dress[ed] casually” was a for-profit hospice opened at the height of the AIDS crisis to serve as a home for those in the “process” of dying. Haven House charged $350-per-day for patient care, which meant the hospice was not initially a haven for those who could not afford it. (Haven House would establish a nonprofit foundation to help fund hospice care for people with AIDS who were without the means to afford the per-diem costs). Still, as vice president and co-director of nursing Kathryn Middleton stated, for many Haven House functioned as “a place to live… [The patients] know they have HIV and that’s incurable. But we try not to focus solely on dying. We try to focus on living.” In 1995, Haven House added a second five-bedroom house at 244 14th Street, nearly doubling the number of residents it could house (from 10 to 19). “Residents,” Patti Puckett wrote, “tend to men in their 30s.” In a piece published the day before Thanksgiving 1994, Maureen O’Dowd (24) reflected on the care her friend Tony received in the last five and a half months of his life at Haven House, “It’s a warm and beautiful place and I’m thankful that it’s here.”
Haven House AIDS Hospice opened in 1991, but by the early 2000s, it was “here” no more in Atlanta. One could argue its need to be “here” in Atlanta as an AIDS Hospice lessened with the advent of effective life-saving treatments despite the ongoing high rates of HIV/AIDS in the city. There are no plaques to memorialize this space or those souls who moved through it. And even if there were plaques, as of 2021 these buildings are no longer standing. In June 2021, the two homes that once served as Haven House were demolished to make way for a luxury mid-rise from developer Toll Brothers. As Josh Green wrote at the time of the demolition, “Midtown’s penchant for clearing out the old for what’s taller and new is continuing on 14th Street.” Around the corner, plans are also underway for a two-tower complex where Einstein’s and Joe’s on Juniper have “operated for a generation.”
In 1991, around the corner from what would become Haven House, Dave Hayward (future co-founder of Touching Up Our Roots) sat in the locker room at his gym at Colony Square “crying uncontrollably” at the devastation of HIV/AIDS in his community. Though he was HIV negative, Hayward discovered that the only way to cope with astounding loss was to admit he had gone crazy. In admitting that one cannot stay sane in the middle of chaos, Hayward was able to find the spiritual fortitude and mental clarity to cope, process through, and continue to act up in service of his community. He was able to push through to document, to preserve, to remember stories for the next generation of gay men who would come after him. Though I moved to Atlanta in 2011, forty years after Hayward moved to the city, our paths would not cross until 2020.
Both lovers of queer theatricality, it was a performance of sorts that finally brought Dave Hayward and I together. In early March 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic altered all of our routines, I attended the Emory Pride awards to receive the Chesnut Person of the Year Award, named after Saralyn Chesnut, the first director of Emory’s Office of LGBT Life (1993), and Hayward, along with Emory Law Professor Fred Smith, was in attendance to present the Berl Boykin Fierce Leadership Award, named in honor of Hayward’s personal friend, the former Emory Undergraduate who co-founded Touching Up Our Roots. From that first meeting, Hayward and I began discussing the possibility of what has now become The #TUOR Project. I view our digital story tour (#TUOR) as an intergenerational intertext, occurring in queer time alongside the ephemeral transmission of the live story tour conducted by Hayward (2016–2019) and Maria Helena Dolan (2017–2019) as well as a recorded video version of the 2019 live tour featured on our About page.
Though Hayward’s original Live Story Tour consisted of two routes, I have chosen to break those up into four for the purposes of the initial self-guided digital story tour. At present, the digital story tour is organized into four routes organized around neighborhood and inside-the-perimeter corridors: Downtown, Little Five Points, Ponce de Leon Corridor, and the Monroe Drive and Cheshire Bridge Road corridor. The project launches with the first three routes with the Monroe Drive/ Cheshire Bridge Road route coming in November 2021. I have chosen to call each “routes” deliberately to signify that The #TUOR Project is not bound by the confines of what has been currently produced from Hayward’s previous work and his personal sites of memory. Rather, it is my hope that in first honoring Hayward’s fifty-year experience in Atlanta and the sites that he has chosen to narrate, that we next open each of the routes to further interlocutors and sites for inclusion. There are sites beyond what is currently listed in each route. Additionally, there are neighborhoods and corridors that The #TUOR Project aims to include in the future. As I mention on the #TUOR about page, the story that we have created together is far from comprehensive or complete and conversations are ongoing with community members and partners for further routes. The Inheritance playwright Matthew Lopez also understands that there are many stories still untold, and the storytellers who have told the narrative thus far are imperfect narrators. It is my hope that The #TUOR Project continues to grow, inviting others to share their stories of queer Atlanta sites and spaces. As Lopez stated when receiving his Tony Award, “We have so many stories to tell.”
Though I am proud of the work Dave Hayward and I—two very different gay men of different generations—have done with this digital storytelling project, as the project now enters the world, I am equally grateful for Dave’s friendship and persistence. I am grateful he is here for I remain the young man seeking the advice of those who’ve experienced it all before. There are intangibles when you conduct research in personal and archival collections: one of the first files I reviewed in Hayward’s home as we began work were a group of funeral programs dated from those years when Hayward found himself “crying uncontrollably,” programs the sight of which still bring Hayward to tears. “What was the responsibility between gay men from one generation to another? What was Eric’s role in that continuum?” We remember. We tell the stories we can. We honor and document lives in the present. We care without condition. And we live.
“Are there hopeful, productive, and ethical ways to move beyond memory in order to more fully inhabit the present, with all of its ‘real possibilities’?,” Tahneer Oksman questions. Towards the end of The Inheritance, Margaret Avery, a character whose son died of AIDS in the makeshift hospice house central to the plot of the play, finds a way to inhabit the present while honoring the memory of her son. It is the house in which she dwells, “the past and the present, mingling together inside this house, inside [her].” Margaret states: “The house stood then as it had for centuries and would for centuries more: as a shelter, a refuge, a place of healing; a reminder of the pain, the fragility, and the promise of life.” Although it was once nicknamed “terminus” for its location at the end of the Western and Atlantic railroad line, landlocked Atlanta has served as a port of anchor, a harbor in which LGBTQIA+ people from across the U.S. southeast (and beyond) have found haven even if often for too short a time. According to the CDC, “of the 37,968 new HIV diagnoses in the US and dependent areas in 2018, 51% were in the US South” with Georgia ranked the top state for rate of transmission. In this time of ongoing pandemics, may Atlanta continue to serve as a city of refuge—too busy to hate—wherein queer people of multiple generations and backgrounds may flourish in discovering—and sustaining—the “promise of life.”
Henry: What do I do now, Walter? Tell me what to do.
Walter: You do what they could not.
He lovingly takes Henry’s face in his hands and kisses him deeply.
The stage floods with golden light. The house glows intensely. Then black.
End of Play.—Matthew Lopez, The Inheritance
Author: Eric Solomon
Originally Published: October 14, 2021
 The opening line of Matthew Lopez’s Tony award-winning play The Inheritance. Matthew Lopez, The Inheritance (London: Faber and Faber, 2018), 7.
 HIV Statistics Center, CDC, Accessed October 1, 2021.
 “The HIV/AIDS Epidemic in the United States: The Basics,” KFF, June 7, 2021, https://www.kff.org/hivaids/fact-sheet/the-hivaids-epidemic-in-the-united-states-the-basics/.
 Lopez, 151.
 Marianne Hirsch, The Generation of Postmemory: Writing and Visual Culture after the Holocaust (New York: Columbia UP, 2012), 2.
 Rachel Gelfand, “Terezín Art: A (Queer) Family Postmemory,” in Past (Im)Perfect Continuous: Trans-Cultural Articulations of the Postmemory of WWII, edited by Alice Balestrino (Rome: Sapienza, 2021), 72–73.
 Heather Love, “Emotional Rescue: The Demands of Queer History,” Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2007), 33–34.
 Tahneer Oksman, “Postmemory and the ‘Fragments of a History We Cannot Take In,” Women’s Studies Quarterly 48, no 1 and 2 (2020), 134.
 Marianne Hirsch, “The Generation of Postmemory,” Poetics Today 29, no. 1 (2008): 106, emphasis in original.
 See Leo Herrera, “Wojnarowicz: F*CK YOU F*AGGOT F**CKER, Chris McKim and Dave Stanke,” April 7, 2021, in Film Forum Presents, podcast, MP3 audio, 57:00, https://soundcloud.com/ffpresents/wojnarowicz-fk-you-fggot-fker-chris-mckim.
 A few other examples: Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, Christopher Castellani’s Leading Men, Jenn Shapland’s My Autobiography of Carson McCullers, Robert Jones Jr.’s work with “Son of Baldwin.”
 Lopez, 90.
 Lopez, 261.
 “haven, n.”. OED Online. September 2021. Oxford University Press. https://www-oed-com.proxy.library.emory.edu/view/Entry/84714?rskey=9ShICY&result=1&isAdvanced=false (accessed October 01, 2021).
 Gayle S. Rubin, “Geologies of Queer Studies: It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again,” Deviations: A Gayle Rubin Reader (Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2011), 354.
 Richard Gincel, “Life is emphasis in AIDS Hospice.” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 20, 1993.
 Patti Puckett, “Volunteers Giving Freely of the Gift of Presence.” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 20, 1995.
 “Metro Voices- A Community sounding board for the Atlanta area,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 1, 1996.
 “Metro Voices- A Community sounding board for the Atlanta area,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
 Puckett, 1995.
 Maureen Downey, “Peach Buzz: Talk of Our Town: Our Cups Runneth Over,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, November 23, 1994.
 Josh Green, “Midtown Tower Overlooking Piedmont Park is Officially Underway,” Urbanize Atlanta, June 04, 2021, https://urbanize.city/atlanta/post/midtown-tower-development-piedmont-park-toll-brothers.
 Lopez, 261.
 Oksman 135. Oksman quotes Toni Morrison in this question. Morrison, The Source of Self Regard (New York: Knopf, 2019), 320.
 Lopez, 151.
 Lopez, 291–92.
 “HIV in the United States by Region,” Centers for Disease Control, October 26, 2020, Accessed October 5, 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/statistics/overview/geographicdistribution.html. For a digital map tracing the impact of HIV/AIDS in the United States, visit AIDSVu, https://map.aidsvu.org/map.