Celluloid Activist: The Life and Times of Vito Russo

Michael Schiavi, New York Institute of Technology

East Harlem native Vito Russo (1946-1990) was a gay and AIDS activist best known as the author of The Celluloid Closet:  Homosexuality in the Movies (1981), a book that simultaneously exposed Hollywood’s decades-long smear campaign against gays and lesbians and established the discipline of gay and lesbian media studies.  A tireless fighter against injustice, Russo was also the co-founder of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP). In this presentation, Michael Schiavi, author of Celluloid Activist: The Life and Times of Vito Russo (University of Wisconsin Press, 2011), traces Russo’s biography and discusses his accomplishments. Schiavi’s book draws upon over 200 original interviews, with subjects ranging from comedian Lily Tomlin to playwright and activist Larry Kramer, along with previously untapped letters and journal entries.  His talk incorporates lecture, readings, and multimedia presentation in order to give a vivid portrait of Russo, whose legacy endures over twenty years after his death.

Recently named a Lambda Literary Award finalist