Jersey-Born Author Revisits Life During AIDS Epidemic

In his new memoir, Paul Lisicky reflects on the process of becoming himself—in the midst of a global crisis.

paul lisicky
Paul Lisicky Courtesy of Beowulf Sheehan

“Provincetown then was a ghost town haunted not so much by the past as by the losses to come,” Jersey-born Paul Lisicky writes in Later: My Life at the Edge of the World, his vivid, resonant memoir about Provincetown, Massachusetts, during the AIDS epidemic. The book, Lisicky’s sixth, was released March 17 from Graywolf Press.

Lisicky, a product of Cherry Hill East High School and Rutgers University, revisits 1991–1994, his years in the gay-embracing arts scene at the tip of Cape Cod, where he discovered how it felt to live at one with his body. “I stand up straighter, my shoulders fall backward as if they’d been held up for too long by pulleys and strings,” he writes. “To be freed from the day-to-day expectation that someone’s out to kill you. The air alive with released human energy.”

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But AIDS posed lethal dangers. As he attends funerals for friends who have died, he ponders the intersection of disease and sex. “Isn’t illness really just a window into a more acute sense of living?” he asks.

It took Lisicky three drafts to complete his memoir, a process that led him to new truths about himself. “You’re writing toward energy, the unexpected, where you feel like you’re learning something” he says. “I guess I’m looking for points of discovery.” In writing about his early 30s, he learned he couldn’t really become himself until he became part of a community.

(Lisicky was scheduled to read from his new memoir this month at Rutgers University-Camden and Stockton University, but both events have been cancelled in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.)

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