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Interview: The Woman Who Fought for ‘All the Young Men’

'Drag queens are the most fascinating, exquisite, loving, and caring human beings on Earth.'
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  • All the Young Men
  • 'Drag queens are the most fascinating, exquisite, loving, and caring human beings on Earth.'

Publisher's Summary

“My friend Ruth Coker Burks is one of the most amazing people I know. The care she gave HIV-positive gay men in and around our hometown of Hot Springs, Arkansas during the desperate early days of the AIDS crisis helped them live and die with dignity in the face of stigma and discrimination. In All the Young Men, Ruth tells their stories and hers with the same warmth, wit, grace, and gumption that I have admired for decades. This book will make you love her as much as I do.” (President Bill Clinton)

In 1986, 26-year-old Ruth is visiting a friend at the hospital when she notices that the door to one of the hospital rooms is painted red. She witnesses nurses drawing straws to see who will tend to the patient inside, all of them reluctant to enter the room. Out of impulse, Ruth herself enters the quarantined space and immediately begins to care for the young man who cries for his mother in the last moments of his life. Before she can even process what she’s done, word spreads in the community that Ruth is the only person willing to help these young men afflicted by AIDS, and she is called upon to nurse them. 

As she forges deep friendships with the men she helps, she works tirelessly to find them housing and jobs, even searching for funeral homes willing to take their bodies - often in the middle of the night. She cooks meals for tens of people out of discarded food found in the dumpsters behind supermarkets, stores rare medications for her most urgent patients, teaches sex ed to drag queens after hours at secret bars, and becomes a beacon of hope to an otherwise spurned group of ailing gay men on the fringes of a deeply conservative state.

©2020 Ruth Coker Burks (P)2020 Audible, Inc.

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If you listen to one book this year. THIS IS IT.

There are no words to describe how powerful this entire book was. It touched me like no other book ever has. It is a book with heart, soul, and tells the story of the reality of the AIDS epidemic from the perspective of a true angel ( Ruth along with her daughter Allyson who cared for the men nobody would accept until the end of their lives and everything in between). Ruth and Allyson, if you read this, please know that I will hold this story in my heart and I cannot stop thinking about it. As the mother of a gay son who dressed like a princess on Halloween on his 5th birthday ( which we always supported) and never looked back, I can't tell you how much this book means on so many levels. I love my son no matter what- probably even more because he is gay if that makes sense. To think there are parents who would shun their children is unfathomable. Thank you for NEVER giving up and dedicating your life to helping those most vulnerable. I don't know you yet I feel I do. I also feel like I know Billy. I sensed his zest for life, humor, depth, and from reading this, he truly came alive. I laughed, I cried. This book should be required reading. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing this remarkable journey. Anyone who is considering listening to this....it's worth a 1000 credits. 1,000 stars for all of Ruth's guys!

32 people found this helpful

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An emotional history lesson

I could not stop listening the Ruth's story. Everyday I was moved to tears by her words. This story is reminding us all of the fear and hatefulness in people caused by ignorance. I was not familiar with her story or this book but saw this book cover posted on social media by a celebrity I follow. I looked up the synopsis and immediately purchased. This is a book I will never forget. It is told beautifully and honestly. She tells of us of her journey helping those in the south who were discarded by their families, discarded by their community discarded by the medical profession and how she influenced her community to help her help others. I am forever changed by her story. She takes us back to a time I had forgotten. There are so many levels to this story. The story of her helping others, the story of the medical community and bias in the drs and nurses. The story of her as a mom and the relationship with her daughter. BRAVO TO ALL WHO BROUGHT THIS BOOK TO US. The publishers, the people who helped document it are hero's in my mind.

16 people found this helpful

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The Amazing Story of Ruth Coker Burks

I was looking for a book that had spirit to it. Ruth's story delivers! This is a sober yet compelling read about a womans difficult childhood, about what it's like living in Arkansas in the 80s and 90s, and what it's like to find extreme purpose for living, and what it's like to be a gay (even if you are not). This story will tug at your heart strings, big time!!

10 people found this helpful

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Grit, determination, and a little “Southern malice”

This is the remarkable story of Ruth Coker Burks. In a time when kindness was in short supply and fear and ignorance took hold of many, Ruth provided compassion and dignity to countless men living and dying with AIDS. With grit, determination and a little “Southern malice” she worked tirelessly and selflessly to educate, advocate and care for a truly marginalized community, often at great emotional, social and financial cost. Hearing this story in Ruth’s own voice was incredibly moving. This woman is nothing short of a hero.

9 people found this helpful

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Caring

Ruth was the most caring and patient woman I have ever read about. Thank God she was at the right place at the right time and boldly went into Jimmy’s room and sat there for 18 hours with him. He thinking the whole time he was with his mama. She brought so much great comfort to the ones that were shunned from society. She had a God given heart to the men who mostly needed something positive to look forward to before their deaths. Thank you for sharing your journey with so many.

6 people found this helpful

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Heartbreaking

I started my nursing career in 1984. One of my first patients was diagnosed with a “weird cancer”, Karposi Sarcoma. I remember how everyone was afraid to care for this patient. It took compassion. This book brought all those experiences back. It was sad but uplifting. Thank you Ruth for your amazing journey.

5 people found this helpful

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Powerful

Ruth tells an incredibly powerful account of her life caring for AIDS patients at a time no one would. She is brave, loving and shows unparalleled compassion. Thank you for sharing and being a trailblazer for all of us that consider ourselves allies.

3 people found this helpful

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Life Changing!

Wow! Ruth Burks memoir is full of compassion and doing the right thing when fear, hatred and misinformation was it’s highest during the aids epidemic. Narrated by Ruth herself this audiobook is worthy of all the stars in the sky 🌟

2 people found this helpful

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Heartwarming story

Listening to this restored some of my faith in humanity. There are cold and evil people out there, but sometimes compassionate sould to clean up the carnage.

2 people found this helpful

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I am humbled by this beautiful memoir

I have a new hero in Ruth Coker Burks. This memoir speaks of her life's work as an advocate for AIDS patients in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Ms. Burks had no medical experience, no formal training, and no money to speak of. However, what she did have was compassion, sympathy and courage. I was blown away by Ms. Burks' memoir. She shares stories of her struggles with the ignorance and coldness of medical professionals, church associates and friends while she helped patients with AIDS in the 80s and 90s. When AIDS was called the gay cancer, people were suffering and dying of a disease which made them social pariahs. Ms. Burks found the treatment of AIDS patients despicable and dedicated her life to finding help for them. Whether it was dumpster diving for groceries or holding the hands of the sick until they died, Ms Burks' compassion filled me with humility and admiration. Having been the heir of a cemetery, she buried or kept the ashes of those who were disowned by family, and those with nowhere else to rest in peace. This woman is amazing, and it was a privilege to read her memoir. This is the one book to read this year, and I highly doubt I will find another that kept me so enraptured.

-Wendi

2 people found this helpful