The Recollectors is a storytelling site and community for the many children and families left behind by parents who died of AIDS.
When AIDS first emerged in the U.S. decades ago, there was a collective cultural assumption that the disease primarily afflicted gay men who had no children. But that was never true: men and women of all sexual identities, income levels, and cultural backgrounds contracted HIV, and in a variety of ways. Many of these people, including gay men, were survived by children. Because of the secrecy and stigma surrounding AIDS —both at the height of the crisis during the 80s and 90s, and today—a lot of us who lost parents to the disease learned to keep quiet and grieve in the shadows.
The Recollectors grew out of two friends’ experiences losing their fathers to AIDS in 1992. Our fathers died under very different circumstances: Alysia’s father was fully out, living in San Francisco, and passed away in an AIDS hospice, while Whitney’s father was closeted in suburban Kentucky. Until meeting each other, we didn’t really know anyone else who could understand and relate to our experience—but considering that 650,000 people have died of AIDS in the U.S. since the advent of the crisis, we knew we couldn’t be the only ones.
So we created The Recollectors to fill that gap: to build a community to share these parents’ stories, to expand the history of AIDS in the U.S., and to connect with others who know what it’s like to experience this kind of singular isolating loss.
WHITNEY JOINER (@whitneyjoiner) is the Senior Features Editor for Hearst Digital Media and a former Senior Editor at Marie Claire magazine. She grew up in Kentucky, graduated from Smith College, and worked at Inside.com, Salon.com and Seventeen magazine before freelancing for many years from Marfa, Texas. She has written for The Believer, The Daily Beast, ELLE, The New York Times, The Rumpus, Teen Vogue and others. You can read a version of her Recollector story here or listen here.
ALYSIA ABBOTT (@alysiaabbott) is the author of Fairyland, A Memoir of My Father, named a New York Times Editors’ pick and an ALA Stonewall Award winner. She’s a San Francisco native and a graduate of The New School Writing Program in New York. She has written for the NYTBR, The Boston Globe, Vogue, OUT, Real Simple, Psychology Today, and others. She also teaches writing at Grub Street in Boston and lives in Cambridge with her husband and children. You can read a version of her Recollector story here.