Paul Burston: We Can Be Heroes

Paul Burston
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Paul Burston talks to Susie Boyt about his new memoir.

This event will take place at the British Library.

Writer and activist Paul Burston’s memoir, We Can Be Heroes, charts his journey from prejudice to Pride.  Paul came out in the mid-1980s, when ‘gay’ still felt like a dirty word, especially in the small Welsh town where he grew up. He moved to London hoping for a happier life, only to watch in horror as his new-found community was decimated by AIDS. But even in the depths of his grief, Paul vowed never to stop fighting back on behalf of his young friends whose lives were cut tragically short.

But his lifestyle hid a dark secret, and Paul’s demons – shame, trauma, grief – stalked him on every corner. In an attempt to silence them, he began to self-medicate. From almost drowning at 18 to a near-fatal overdose at 38, this is Paul’s story of what happened in the 20 years between, and how he carved out a life that his teenage self could scarcely have imagined.

Join him in conversation with Susie Boyt for a unique insight into the ups and downs of his life.

Paul Burston is the author of six novels and four non-fiction books and the editor of two short story collections. Paul is the founder of The Polari Prize book awards for LGBTQ+ writers. Before turning to journalism, Paul was an AIDS activist with ACT UP London and regularly risked arrest by blocking traffic, occupying the offices of the Australian Embassy and catapulting condoms over the walls of Pentonville Prison. He also worked for the Gay London Policing Group, GALOP. A founding editor of Attitude magazine, Paul’s writing has also appeared in the Guardian, the Sunday Times and many other publications. He has also written and presented documentaries for Channel 4 and is a regular contributor to TV and radio.

Susie Boyt is the author of seven acclaimed novels which have been praised for their precision and wisdom about the heart under duress as well as for their mordant wit. Her much-loved memoir My Judy Garland Life which was shortlisted for the PEN Ackerley Prize, staged at the Nottingham Playhouse and serialised on BBC Radio 4. She recently edited The Turn of the Screw and Other Ghost Stories by Henry James for Penguin Classics and writes columns and reviews for a wide range of publications.  Her latest novel Loved and Missed was called ‘a gentle masterpiece’ by Joan Bakewell in the Observer books of the year. Susie is a director at the Hampstead Theatre in London. She also works for Cruse Bereavement Care.

Praise for We Can Be Heroes:

‘A compelling and hugely enjoyable memoir about a fearless life lived to the full. From the groundbreaking gay activism over many decades to the wild years of intoxication and compulsive sex, I so admired Burston’s ruthless honesty and brave emotional vulnerability.’
– Bernardine Evaristo, author

‘What a bloody brilliant piece of work. What a bloody brilliant life. I’m inspired, moved, reminded, held, enraged, and consumed with a strange joy. Just remarkable.’
– Joelle Taylor, poet and performer

‘Paul Burston is the best of us. A great activist, a great journalist, a great man. This memoir is brutally honest, powering through the AIDS crisis, gay shame, addiction, all the way through to hope and redemption. If you’re in trouble, read this; Paul shows that you can survive. Above and beyond the issues, this book is great at capturing the madness of your 20s; talking all night to a boy who’s off his head and you’ll never see again but he is, just for that moment, so beautiful. Queer chaos.'
– Russell T Davies, writer and producer

Please arrive no later than 15 minutes before the start time of this event.

This event will not be live-streamed.

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Name: Paul Burston: We Can Be Heroes
Where: Piazza
The British Library
96 Euston Road
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When: -
Price: From £5 – £10
Concessions available
Enquiries: +44 (0)1937 546546
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