New book by Pittsburgher Clarisse Jordan details life after HIV diagnosis | Literary Arts | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

New book by Pittsburgher Clarisse Jordan details life after HIV diagnosis

An HIV diagnosis was once a death sentence, a fate made worse by the stigma and false information about how it was spread and who could get it. Many people can now live full and happy lives with HIV, and while it is important to honor the lives lost, we rarely hear about those living with HIV today. A new book by Pittsburgh public speaker and advocate Clarisse Jordan is looking to change that.

Life After… contains stories from Jordan and eight other writers she recruited to share their experiences about living with HIV. The anthology will be released by LoveWins Publishing on Tue., Dec. 21, and was made possible by contributions from advocacy group Allies for Health and Wellbeing, where Jordan has volunteered since the 1990s, when the organization was known as the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force.

Jordan says she didn’t have aspirations to be a writer before 2021, but she felt inspired to do this project.

“Even though I was a public speaker, I still had some suppressed feelings, some things that I had not dealt with,” she says. “Writing was a way of releasing, but healing myself. I wanted to do that, and give that same opportunity to people that were living with HIV.”

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Jordan went to Westinghouse High School in Homewood, and at 16, began hanging out with a boy at her school’s rival, Peabody (now Obama Academy). The boy was a couple years older than her, and after graduating, he tried to join the Navy. He was denied entry, and his HIV status was revealed. Jordan’s brother, who was a Navy recruiter, heard the news and rushed home to tell their mother while Jordan was still in school.

“My reality was that while I was sitting in school at Westinghouse High School, in a health class, someone came and talked to us about HIV,” she says. “I didn't find out until a year later that I even had it.”

Jordan says she wasn’t diagnosed until she was 18, but she had been HIV positive since she was 16. After her brother found out about her then boyfriend and told her mother, she was urged to get tested by her family and waited a month to get the results of the test. Getting that diagnosis changed her world.

“I was beyond devastated,” she says. “I literally just turned 18 years old. I had just, not too long ago, graduated high school. Now I'm given this diagnosis and told I'll probably be dead by the time I'm 24.”

An article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette detailed how Jordan had to endure the side effects of “toxic” medication cocktails which consisted of 20 pills per day. All the while, she attended training for the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force’s speakers bureau in the mid-1990s and began volunteering for the organization, answering phones, working in the food pantry, and cooking for staff members and volunteers. She served on the board of directors for PATF for the AIDS Coalition.

In May, Allies awarded Jordan with its Kerry Stoner Award to honor the countless hours she gave to helping those with HIV/AIDS.

Now 52, Jordan is ready to share her story with a wider audience through Life After…, and give others the same opportunity.

“I'm hoping that the readers will get a true understanding of who we are. We're just like everybody else. I want them to understand that we are survivors,” she says. “We are overcomers, that bad things sometimes will happen to you, but in it all, there is nothing that you cannot overcome. I want them to understand, I want them to see our stories, so they'll see who we are.”

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