Born in Lynn, Massachusetts, Feinberg grew up in Syracuse, New York. He attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, majoring in mathematics and studying creative writing with novelist John Hersey, graduating in 1977. He subsequently worked as a computer programmer for the Modern Language Association of America (MLA) and also pursued a Master's degree in linguistics at New York University. He completed his first novel, Calculus, in 1979, although it has never been published. Feinberg himself described the novel as "godawful", telling one interviewer that it was a novel that "only an MIT math major could have written".
In the early 1980s, he joined a gay men's writing group, eventually creating the character B. J. Rosenthal, a young gay man, much like Feinberg himself, who became the central character in virtually all of Feinberg's later writing. He contributed a humour column to the gay magazine Mandate in 1986 and 1987, which in turn led to his first book deal. The novel Eighty-Sixed was published in 1989, and won Feinberg the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Men's Fiction and the American Library Association Gay/Lesbian Award for Fiction.
Feinberg tested positive for HIV in 1987, and joined the activist organization ACT UP. He participated in ACT UP demonstrations including Stop the Church. In 1991, he published his second novel, a sequel to Eighty-Sixed entitled Spontaneous Combustion, a selection of both the Book of the Month Club and the Quality Paperback Book Club. For the next few years, Feinberg balanced writing and political activism with working full-time. Stories, articles, and reviews by him appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Advocate, Details, OutWeek, Tribe, NYQ, QW, Out, The Body Positive, Gay Community News, Art & Understanding, The James White Review, Diseased Pariah News, Poz, and both Men on Men 2: Best New Gay Fiction and Men on Men 4.
In July 1994, however, failing health led him to take disability leave. That fall, he was admitted to St. Vincent's Hospital, where he died early in November at the age of 37. Even while hospitalized, he continued to write. His final book, a collection of essays called Queer and Loathing: Rants and Raves of a Raging AIDS Clone, was published in 1994 shortly before his death.
B. J. Rosenthal, the main character of Feinberg's first two published books and a wise-mouthed, perpetually libidinous urbanite, was something of an alter ego for his creator. "He and I aren't the same person exactly," Feinberg told New York Newsday in 1992. "I'd say he's 60 to 70 percent me. We're both gay, of course, and HIV-positive. But...I write novels, and he doesn't. And while he's more well-endowed, I'm a better lover."
Queer and Loathing, by contrast, was "as close to the truth as I can get," as Feinberg wrote in the book's introduction. The essays were his attempt "to capture what is to me a painfully obvious reality that is rarely written about: what it is like to be HIV-positive in the 90s; what it is like to outlive one therapist, two dentists, two doctors, and one gastroenterologist."
"He exemplified the best of the gay humor we use to endure impossible situations," said Ed Iwanicki, Feinberg's editor at Viking Penguin. "No one was able to find that humor in the most dire situations as well as he was."
"It was so biting and so satirical, and it had a very New York edge," said author Jameson Currier, who knew Feinberg as a fellow member of ACT UP. "He was the first to write in that style about AIDS, and he created quite a bit of controversy. He broke a lot of ground in that respect."
Feinberg's voice reading from Queer and Loathing was used in the 1995 PBS series Positive: Life with HIV in 1995.
Feinberg's papers are held by the New York Public Library's Manuscripts and Archives Division.
Reviewers suggest that the character Zach in John Weir's 2006 novel What I Did Wrong is based on Feinberg, who was a friend of Weir.
He is mentioned by several interviewees of the ACT UP Oral History Project
Eighty-Sixed by David B. Feinberg. Simply a gay classic. Savagely funny and biting, Eighty-Sixed is written with a complete lack of sentimentality, which makes it a one-of-a-kind in the AIDS literature canon. Feinberg shows us how we use humor as a defense mechanism. His protagonist, B.J. Rosenthal, is clearly based on himself, which makes it all the more amazing since it´s a brutally honest portrayal. I had a teacher tell me during college that this novel wasn´t "literary." I met Feinberg before he died, and repeated the comment to him, and was then put off when he got offended. All these years later, I truly understand. First off, it is literary. Second off, never, ever forget that an author´s book, no matter what it is, is his or her baby. Sorry about that comment, David. R.I.P. -- Bill Konigsberg
"Eighty-Sixed” by David B. Feinberg and “What I Did Wrong” by John Weir. I owe a big debt of gratitude to David Feinberg for being instrumental in my finding a publisher for my first collection of short stories, “Dancing on the Moon”. Back in the mid-1980s David and I were in a writing group together and I had the chance to read the manuscript of his novel, “Eighty-Sixed”, as he was writing it, about an urban gay man’s lovers and friends pre-AIDS and post-AIDS, embellished with David’s biting humor and irony. Anyone wanting to get a sample of David’s wicked and insightful wit should start here, but equally as good are his subsequent stories and essays that can be found in “Spontaneous Combustion” and “Queer and Loathing”, even as they progressively become sharper and angrier as David’s health deteriorated due to AIDS. I also recommend John Weir’s novel “What I Did Wrong” published in 2006. “What I Did Wrong” captures David with uncanny precision in the character of Zack, but it also vividly captured the narrator Tom’s grief and imbalance following Zack’s death. Tom’s “lost boy adrift” sort of life mirrors the lasting affect that AIDS has had on friends and survivors — in a way that doesn’t go away with aging and the passing of years. This is also a deeply felt book about having a New York relationship and the experiences of a certain generation living in the city, in the same way that “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” or “Bright Lights, Big City” or “Slaves of New York” are about New York experiences. This was a profoundly good and satisfying read for me; in many passages of this novel Weir’s prose is stellar and lush, particularly in its last, glorious paragraphs. -- Jameson Currier
David B. Feinberg, 1989, by Robert Giard (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/dl_crosscollex/brbldl/oneITEM.asp?pid=2033667&iid=1123781&srchtype=)
American photographer Robert Giard is renowned for his portraits of American poets and writers; his particular focus was on gay and lesbian writers. Some of his photographs of the American gay and lesbian literary community appear in his groundbreaking book Particular Voices: Portraits of Gay and Lesbian Writers, published by MIT Press in 1997. Giard’s stated mission was to define the literary history and cultural identity of gays and lesbians for the mainstream of American society, which perceived them as disparate, marginal individuals possessing neither. In all, he photographed more than 600 writers. (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/digitallibrary/giard.html)
Eighty-Sixed by David B. Feinberg
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Grove Press (July 12, 2002)
In 1980, B. J. Rosenthal's only mission is to find himself a boyfriend and avoid setbacks like bad haircuts, bad sex, and Jewish guilt. In post-AIDS 1986, B.J.'s world has changed dramatically -- his friends and lovers are getting sick, everyone is at risk, and B.J. is panicking. Parrying high-wire wit against unbearable human tragedy, Eighty-Sixed now stands as a testament to an era. "If Woody Allen were gay and wrote novels, he'd produce something like David Feinberg's Eighty-Sixed." -- David Streitfeld, The Washington Post Book World "[Feinberg] has given us a painful story of one man coming of age in a terrifying age." -- The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) "Entertaining, harrowing, and powerfully unsensational." -- Booklist "[Eighty-Sixed] stands out for its frankness, ferocious wit, and total lack of sentimentality or self pity." -- Catherine Texier, The New York Times Book Review
Victory Deferred: How AIDS Changed Gay Life in America by John-Manuel Andriote
Hardcover: 494 pages
Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (June 1, 1999)
Amazon: Victory Deferred: How AIDS Changed Gay Life in America
There is no question that AIDS has been, and continues to be, one of the most destructive diseases of the century, taking thousands of lives, devastating communities, and exposing prejudice and bigotry. But AIDS has also been a disease of transformation—it has fueled the national gay civil rights movement, altered medical research and federal drug testing, shaken up both federal and local politics, and inspired a vast cultural outpouring. Victory Deferred, the most comprehensive account of the epidemic in more than ten years, is the history of both the destruction and transformation wrought by AIDS.
John-Manuel Andriote chronicles the impact of the disease from the coming-out revelry of the 1970s to the post-AIDS gay community of the 1990s, showing how it has changed both individual lives and national organizations. He tells the truly remarkable story of how a health crisis pushed a disjointed jumble of local activists to become a nationally visible and politically powerful civil rights movement, a full-fledged minority group challenging the authority of some of the nation's most powerful institutions. Based on hundreds of interviews with those at the forefront of the medical, political, and cultural responses to the disease, Victory Deferred artfully blends personal narratives with institutional histories and organizational politics to show how AIDS forced gay men from their closets and ghettos into the hallways of power to lobby and into the streets to protest.
Andriote, who has been at the center of national advocacy and AIDS politics in Washington, is judicious without being uncritical, and his account of the political maturation of the gay community is one of the most stirring civil rights stories of our time.
Victory Deferred draws on hundreds of original interviews, including first-hand accounts from: Virginia Apuzzo, Reverend Carl Bean, Marcus Conant, M.D., John D'Emilio, Anthony Fauci, M.D, Fenton Johnson, Larry Kramer, Lawrence D. Mass, M.D., Armistead Maupin, Walt Odets, Torie Osborn, Eric Rofes, Urvashi Vaid, Timothy Westmoreland, and Reggie Williams.
More Particular Voices at my website: http://www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Particular Voices
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