Steven Reigns Brings ‘A Quilt for David’ to Santa Fe

One of the many great things about having this website is being able to draw attention to important causes, the amazing people who’ve crossed my path, or unique happenings in Santa Fe. Today, I get to do all three.

About three years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting activist, educator, and poet Steven Reigns at a Friends of Dorothy event. Although Steven lives in West Hollywood, he frequently makes the trip out to The City Different. Steven is no ordinary denizen of the LA area’s gay mecca; he was its inaugural poet laureate.

Meet Steven Reigns

“It was a great honor to be the first to raise the poetry profile of the city. I created several poetry programs that have become annual,” he says, adding that he loves being able to promote other poets he loves, including Atlanta-based Collin Kelly, who’s most recent collection is “Wonder and Wreckage.” “It thrills me to read his work.”

And his accomplishments in the LGBTQ community are extensive. Steven created “My Life is Poetry”, the first-ever autobiographical poetry workshop for LGBT seniors, he’s lectured and taught workshops around the country to queer youth and people living with HIV.

One of his more high-profile projects is touring “The Gay Rub,” which is a collaborative project that features more than 450 rubbings from LGBTQ+ landmarks from around the world, including ones in different languages. “When I travel, I try to do rubbings of public commemorative monuments,” he says. “The ones I’m most touched by are the memorials to hate crime victims. Overall, with the project, it’s interesting who gets a marker and who doesn’t. Who is rubbed out of history.” The project was also featured in a 2019 award-winning documentary. “The Gay Rub: A Documentary”

A Dark Chapter Provides Inspiration

On April 11th, Steven will be stopping by Santa Fe for an evening of readings from his book “A Quilt for David”–a meticulous recounting of a three-decade old story about David Acer, a shy, largely closeted Florida dentist who became the subject of AIDS panic-era headlines when he was accused of transmitting HIV to his patients–one of whom was 22-year-old Kimberly Bergalis (1968-1991), who claimed to have no sexual history, despite posthumous proof to the contrary.

The idea to tell Acer’s story came to the poet at work one day. “I remember seeing Kimberly Bergalis on the show ‘A Current Affair’ in 1990. I watched it often because as a gay middle schooler, that was the only time I saw gay people on TV,” says Steven, who spent more than a decade providing HIV testing and counseling.

Reflecting on the media circus decades later, “My immediate thought was ‘How did he infect those patients?’ The more I read up on it, the more it seemed spurious. I initially thought I was writing about what happened in that dental office and I was but I was also telling a greater story of what was going on in America at that time.”

Initially the poet’s research for “A Quilt for David” was from curiosity, and he considered writing Acer’s story as a piece of long-form journalism. But he eventually chose to approach the work through poetry.

“To me it was obvious what happened in this case. People’s response against David and positive response toward Kimberly ignored data and was fueled by bias,” Steven says. “I decided to use poetry to do the labor of getting people to understand the emotional experience of what was going on for David.”

A Reading to Remember

Famed gay author Andrew Holleran had high praise for “A Quilt for David.”  “Told in short, occasionally haiku-like entries, Reigns has done what literature should: put the reader into the mind, the suffering, of another human being,” he wrote.

Another noted queer author who lauded “A Quilt for David” was Natalie Goldberg, whose bestselling 1986 novel “Writing Down the Bones” has been translated into 14 languages, and in Steven’s opinion, started a revolution about how we practice writing in this country.

“This (Steven’s) writing is energetic, alive, and uncensored,” Goldberg wrote. “Through poetry and prose we glean a deep understanding of a life misunderstood and mischaracterized. Reigns goes to the mat to find out what really happened, and with his expert pacing, we’re right there with him.”

During the evening where Steven will be reading excerpts from “A Quilt for David,” he’ll be sharing the stage with Goldberg and the event will culminate with a Q&A hosted by Marshall Martinez, Executive Director of Equality New Mexico. “I’m really looking forward to this. Marshall is going to be a great conversation partner,” Steven says.

“I really sweated over this book. It’s a non-traditional work and I’m very pleased with the way in which it’s been received,” he says. “It’s poetry, but every detail in the book is information I came across in my research. This story was saturated with misinformation and I didn’t want to add to it with fictionalizing details or poetic musings.”

Mark your calendar!

Steven Reigns reads from A Quilt for David

Introduction: Natalie Goldberg

Q&A: Marshall Martinez

Thursday, April 11, 2024, 6:00pm

Collected Works Bookstore (202 Galisteo St., Santa Fe)