Former Visual AIDS Programs Manager Ted Kerr considers Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher, HIV/AIDS and the history of Postcards from the Edge.
As a volunteer, contributor, and staff member, I have taken part in eight Postcards from the Edge events over the years. And the most common question I have been asked is: Where does the name of the event come from?
This year, with the passing of mother-daughter Hollywood legends Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, I bet the question will come up even more.
Many people assume that Postcards from the Edge takes its name from the 1987 semi-autobiographical book with the same title that Fisher wrote about her relationship with her mom, Reynolds, which was later made into a movie in 1990 staring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine.**
This is an understandable assumption. Beyond the name connection, both Fisher and Reynolds were active HIV advocates and fundraisers. As POZ reported after their passing, Reynolds hosted an early fundraiser enabling the creation of what would eventually become the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, and Fisher not only cared for friends living with HIV in her home, but wrote about the virus in her work.
But the name of the annual fundraiser did not come from Fisher or Reynolds. Not really. But it was inspired by the movie.
The first Postcards From the Edge was held in 1998, under the direction of then Visual AIDS Executive Director Barbara Hunt (now, Barbara Hunt McLanahan). After Fisher and Reynolds passed away, current Executive Director Nelson Santos asked Hunt McLanahan if there was a connection.
“I didn’t know about Carrie’s book, or even that the film was a reference to her," wrote Hunt McLanahan in an email, adding, “Perhaps the Board when I pitched it to them knew and thought this, but as a Brit, and newcomer to the US, I wasn’t as into/knowledgeable about celebrities as Americans were/are.”
But of course the act of influence is not that simple. Hunt McLanahan had seen the movie and when creating the fundraiser centered around postcards thought that the movie title, “was a perfect name.”
And she was right. The first Postcards from the Edge event was small but mighty. It was hosted by Kenny Schacter’s Gallery/Rove with less than 500 artists donating work, compared to the nearly 1500 that participate on an annual basis now. It was such a success that Hunt McLanahan and the Board decided to do it again the following year, and it has gone on to become a signature event for Visual AIDS, raising over a million dollars to date, used to support artists living with HIV for almost two decades now.
In the wake of the passing of these two Hollywood stars, and in the midst of the ongoing epidemic, we are reminded that life is precious and that the influence of our work may not always be obvious, or understandable. Yet, what we put out in the world has impact, and always has the capacity to be part of positive change–just like every postcard donated has a role in supporting artists living with HIV.
As I prepare to be part of another Postcards from the Edge during this tumultuous time, I look forward to this weekend, being with others, working to make a difference as we continue to live together on the edge.
** Others thought the name came from the David Wojnarowicz exhibition essay, “Postcards from America: X-Rays from Hell” that he wrote in 1989 for Witnesses: Against our Vanishing at Artists Space. The title Postcards From America was later used for Steve McLean's film based on Wojnarowicz's life.
Canadian born Theodore (ted) Kerr is a Brooklyn based writer, organizer and artist. He is a founding member of What Would an HIV Doula Do? collective. He was the Programs Manager at Visual AIDS. He currently teaches at The New School. His work will be seen in the upcoming exhibition, "One day this kid will get larger," at the DePaul Art Museum, curated by Danny Orendorff. "Inflamed: A Litany For Burning Condoms," a film he made with Christopher Jones and LJ Roberts will make its NYC premiere on the opening night of MIX, the 29th New York Queer Experimental Film Festival.