Richard McKay - Patient Zero - Sarah Schulman

Author Reading: Richard A. McKay’s Patient Zero and the Making of the AIDS Epidemic, with Sarah Schulman

« Back to Events
This event has passed.
Author Reading: Richard A. McKay’s Patient Zero and the Making of the AIDS Epidemic, with Sarah Schulman
April 6, 2018 7:00 PM
April 6, 2018 9:00 PM
$10 suggested donation to benefit the Bureau. No one turned away for lack of funds.
OUT Professionals
March 14, 2018
Bureau of General Services—Queer Division
Google Map
208 West 13th Street, Room 210, New York, NY, 10011, United States
Richard McKay - Patient Zero - Sarah Schulman


Please join Richard A. McKay, author of Patient Zero and the Making of the AIDS Epidemic, for a reading, followed by a conversation led by Sarah Schulman.


The search for a “Patient Zero”—popularly understood to be an epidemic’s first infected case—has been key to media coverage of major infectious disease outbreaks for more than three decades. Yet the term itself did not exist before the emergence of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. How did this idea so swiftly exert a strong grip on the popular consciousness? In Patient Zero and the Making of the AIDS Epidemic, Richard A. McKay demonstrates how this seemingly new concept drew upon centuries-old ideas—and fears—about contagion and social disorder.


McKay presents a carefully documented account of the life of Gaétan Dugas, a gay man whose skin cancer diagnosis in 1980 took on very different meanings as the epidemic developed and who gained widespread posthumous infamy when he was incorrectly identified as Patient Zero of the North American outbreak. McKay shows how public health investigators inadvertently created the term amid their early research into the emerging health crisis; how an ambitious journalist dramatically amplified the idea in his determination to reframe national debates about AIDS; and how many individuals grappled with the notion of Patient Zero—adopting, challenging, and redirecting its powerful meanings—as they tried to make sense of and respond to the first fifteen years of an unfolding epidemic in Canada and the United States. With important insights for our interconnected age, Patient Zero untangles the complex process by which individuals and groups create meaning and allocate blame when faced with new disease threats.


Copies of Patient Zero and the Making of the AIDS Epidemic are available for purchase at the Bureau. To reserve a copy please write to us at Please support the Bureau by buying books from us. Thank you!


Originally from Vancouver, Canada, Richard A. McKay is a Wellcome Trust Research Fellow in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge. His research has been published in the Bulletin of the History of Medicine and in Nature, and he is currently investigating the pre-AIDS history of sexual health and illness among gay men, other men who have sex with men, and trans people ( Patient Zero and the Making of the AIDS Epidemic is his first book and has been nominated for the Publishing Triangle’s Randy Shilts Award for Gay Nonfiction. He lives in London, where he also works as a coach for academics, writers, and other creative thinkers.


Sarah Schulman’s work spans novels, plays, journalism, and nonfiction. She is a Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at the College of Staten Island. Some of her recent works include the movie United in Anger: A History of ACT UP, and the nonfiction work Conflict is not Abuse: Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility and the Duty of Repair. Her 19th book, Maggie Terry, a novel of murder and intrigues, will be published in September, 2018 by The Feminist Press. This year she was awarded the Publishing Triangle’s Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement.