Book of the Month – January 2021

All the Young Men by Ruth Coker Burks

Our January choice is All the Young Men by Ruth Coker Burks

"If I have one message with this book it’s that we all have to care for one another. Today, not just in 1986. I learned more about life from the dying than I ever learned from the living."

A gripping and triumphant tale of human compassion, All the Young Men is the true story of a young, single mother who finds herself driven to the forefront of the AIDS crisis and who risks everything to give victims back their humanity. In 1986, 26-year-old Ruth Corker Burks visited a friend in hospital when she noticed that the door to one of the patient’s rooms was painted red. The nurses were reluctant to enter, drawing straws to decide who will tend to the sick person inside. Out of impulse, Ruth herself entered the quarantined space and begins to care for the young man who cries for his mother in the last moments of his life. And in doing so, Ruth’s own life changes forever.

Ruth goes from being an ordinary young mother in Hot Springs, Arkansas, to an accidental activist, the only person willing to help the young men afflicted by the growing AIDS crisis in her deeply conservative community. She buries those who have been rejected by their families on her own land. She defies doctors to store rare medication for her most urgent patients, and emboldened by the weight of their collective pain and the deep friendships she has forged, she fervently advocates for their safety and visibility, ultimately advising Governor Bill Clinton on the national AIDS crisis. In doing so, she becomes a beacon of hope to an otherwise spurned group of ailing gay men on the fringes of society.

Buy the book

Read it? Loved it? Let us know on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram using #HayBookoftheMonth.

Alternatively, please buy the book from your local bookshop or borrow it from your local library. Please check opening times and availability in advance.


BOOK OF THE MONTH LIVE Q&A with Ruth Coker Burks took place on Tuesday 26 January 2021, 7pm

Watch the event again below or on Hay Player


Further reading

The cemetery angel, CBS News

Ruth Wilson To Star In AIDS Activism Drama ‘The Book Of Ruth’, BBC America

An unsung hero of the AIDS crisis is finally getting the spotlight, BuzzFeed News

Ark. Woman Became an Inadvertent AIDS Activist After Stepping in as Mom for a Victim in the '80s, People

About the author

Ruth is an advocate for the LGBTQ community and has been honoured as an Unsung Hero by the Human Rights Campaign, the World AIDS Museum in Fort Lauderdale, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Florida and the National AIDS Memorial. She currently resides in Northwest Arkansas.

About Hay Festival's Book of the Month

Hay Festival's Book of the Month is our monthly recommendation of a title we love and think holds particular resonance today. This is our chance to celebrate great works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry – new and old.

Throughout the month, we'll share interesting links and articles relating to our selection on social media using #HayBookoftheMonth and invite you all to get involved with your questions and comments.

Each month we'll have a free digital event with the author for you to ask them questions and explore their ideas further.

If you'd like to recommend a book for consideration, please share on social media using #HayBookOfTheMonth.

Happy reading!