Benjamin Shepard

Benjamin Shepard is a writer, editor, educator, activist and father. His work is an intersection of our lived environments, and social realities, often with a focus on the importance of play and community. Below, Shepard, shares a short piece about his father's roommate Fred.

My father’s best friend lived well, coped with HIV, and lost his mind.

Fred was my Dad’s freshman roommate at college; they met at Harvard in 1956 and ran away from Cambridge to follow the Beat poets, hitchhiked through California, hung out in Leather Bars in pre Stonewall Greenwich village, traveled through Afghanistan and the middle east, experimented with what this friendship could mean, and remained best of comrades for decades until Fred’s premature demise from AIDS. We watched him literally lose his mind, as Ginsberg described in Howl, one of those ‘best minds of my generation destroyed by madness.” He was the first person I knew to die of AIDS. The cruelty of his passing inspired me to become an activist, who valued comrades and poetry, movies and embodied experiences, pleasure and stories. His story traces the lines between the Beat movement, travelogue, and the AIDS activism which would transform my life. I miss him every day.

He was the first of an extended family of friends I’ve know and lost to this epidemic. Sarah Schulman said we’ve lost the brightest most creative minds to this thing. “People that had risky personalities were more likely to die than people who didn’t,” explained Schulman (2002) in an interview on activism. “And those people who had risky personalities were the ones who [invented] new ideas that [moved] the whole world forward.” Fred’s story is a testament to this loss.

Read more of Benjamin's writing at: Play and Ideas
Join Benjamin on September 19th, at the New Museum. He will be moderator for: ACT NOW: Perspectives on Contemporary Performance and HIV/AIDS. See below for details.