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Celluloid Activist is the biography of gay-rights giant Vito Russo, the man who wrote The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies, commonly regarded as the foundational text of gay and lesbian film studies and one of the first to be widely read.
            But Russo was much more than a pioneering journalist and author. A founding member of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and cofounder of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), Russo lived at the center of the most important gay cultural turning points in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. His life as a cultural Zelig intersects a crucial period of social change, and in some ways his story becomes the story of a developing gay revolution in America. A frequent participant at “zaps” and an organizer of Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) cabarets and dances—which gave the New York gay and lesbian community its first social alternative to Mafia-owned bars—Russo made his most enduring contribution to the GAA with his marshaling of “Movie Nights,” the forerunners to his worldwide Celluloid Closet lecture tours that gave gay audiences their first community forum for the dissection of gay imagery in mainstream film.            Biographer Michael Schiavi unravels Vito Russo’s fascinating life story, from his childhood in East Harlem to his own heartbreaking experiences with HIV/AIDS. Drawing on archival materials, unpublished letters and journals, and more than two hundred interviews, including conversations with a range of Russo’s friends and family from brother Charlie Russo to comedian Lily Tomlin to pioneering activist and playwright Larry Kramer, Celluloid Activistprovides an unprecedented portrait of a man who defined gay-rights and AIDS activism.

“Schiavi tells a compelling story in this biography—from his re-creation of life on the streets of East Harlem and in Greenwich Village of the 1960s and 1970s to the way he conveys Russo’s excitement about his film research and popular education to his account of the AIDS years in New York City.”—John D’Emilio, Italian American Review 

“In [Schiavi’s] hands Russo’s life is both fascinating in its own right and a window into a larger milieu of activism during two critical decades.”—Italian American Review
 
Best Special Interest Books, selected by the American Association of School Librarians

Best Books for General Audiences, selected by the Public Library Reviewers

Finalist, Gay Memoir/Biography, Lambda Literary Awards

Finalist, Over the Rainbow Selection, American Library Association

Table of Contents

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  1. Cover
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  1. Frontmatter
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  1. Contents
  2. p. vii
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  1. Acknowledgments
  2. pp. ix-xiii
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  1. Introduction
  2. pp. 3-5
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  1. 1. Birth of a New Yorker
  2. pp. 6-26
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  1. 2. Jersey Boy
  2. pp. 27-51
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  1. 3. Return of the Native
  2. pp. 52-76
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  1. 4. Birth of an Activist
  2. pp. 77-128
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  1. 5. “Professional Movement Flash and Trash”
  2. pp. 129-165
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  1. 6. Building the Closet
  2. pp. 166-196
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  1. 7. “A Time of Major Change”
  2. pp. 197-233
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  1. 8. The Activist in Wartime
  2. pp. 234-277
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  1. Afterword
  2. pp. 278-283
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  1. Notes
  2. pp. 285-333
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  1. Interviews and Personal Communications
  2. pp. 335-338
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  1. Bibliography
  2. pp. 339-350
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  1. Index
  2. pp. 351-361
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