Rosemary Davis is a travel writer, essayist, poet, and photographer. She received an MFA in writing from Hamline University in 2007. Her work has been published in Brevity, Minnesota Literature, A View from the Loft, the Open to Interpretation books, the Star Tribune Travel Section, along with other anthologies and literary journals. She is the curator of the reading series: A Language We Speak. In 2005, she was selected for a poetry fellowship in the Loft Literary Center Mentor Series. Davis worked in video and film production for twenty-five years. Her passions include appreciating architecture, watching documentary films, making art books, and tending several overgrown gardens. www.rosemaryanndavis.
Info on the book:
In Before They Left Us, Rosemary Davis explores all the twists and turns of 1970s San Francisco streets on a mission to find her identity, both as a woman and as an artist. The Midwesterner finds herself in the warm embrace of a diverse community. She and her cronies experience not only the exhilarating final days of disco and the changing political scene, but also the jolting tremors of earthquakes and assassinations. Her sensuality and political activism blossom within this charged atmosphere.
In this memoir, Davis captures the people, politics, and history around her. From the news of the International Hotel’s demolition, to the assassinations of her neighborhood’s gay supervisor Harvey Milk and Democratic mayor George Moscone, to the onset of AIDS, Before They Left Us reveals one young woman’s leap from a blue-collar Catholic neighborhood in Milwaukee to California’s gay Main Street—the Castro.
After moving to Minneapolis in 1980, she makes a series of trips from the Midwest back to California into those once and still gorgeous Victorians to tend her dying friends with AIDS. Simultaneously, Davis witnesses the loss of Twin City residents to AIDS – a close neighbor, a filmmaking teacher, an editor with PWAliveNewsletter, several children, and Minneapolis Supervisor Brian Coyle. As a result, she joins the Minnesota AIDS Project as a volunteer and begins a more somber journey toward healing. She learns that activism and art can help channel grief and that community is essential to surviving trauma.
Midwest Book Review, October issue:
“What happens when she's absorbed these lessons and is ready to leave San Francisco to bring them back home, against all odds, makes for compelling reading, indeed, blending autobiography with social inspection in a lively and meaningful way.
Anyone interested in San Francisco's modern history from the perspective of one who lived through its AIDS crisis, the rise of ACT UP, and more will find no better way of absorbing this era than through Rosemary Davis's perspective: that of an outsider turned insider who must process many new experiences and thoughts in a clash between California culture and her own Midwest upbringing.”
With beautiful and unsparing prose, Rosemary Davis provides intricate, well-composed snapshots documenting life and love before and after HIV descended upon her life and the lives of so many. Her memoir is a tribute to the trauma of a generation and a reminder to pay attention, to really pay attention, to the moments of our lives and the impact of social forces on our ability to live, love, and persevere.
—Beth Zemsky, MAEd, LICSW, founding director of the GLBT Programs Office, University of Minnesota and former cochair of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Board of Directors
Before They Left Us is a potent reminder that certain periods of our lives mark us forever. The scars from losses of those years, from HIV/AIDS have not even begun to heal. For many, remembering is the most pressing of endeavors.
—Benjamin Heim Shepard, PhD, author of White Nights and Ascending Shadows: An Oral History of the San Francisco HIV Epidemic and Illuminations on Market Street
Rosemary Davis’s Before They Left Us is an emotional roller coaster ride. We experience the exuberant and carefree life of a young woman from the Midwest who finds herself immersed in the Disneyland of gay culture. She takes us to San Francisco during the frenzied years before AIDS relentlessly invaded the community. Davis’s journey relives the joy, fear, pain, anger, and the sadness all wrapped up in the AIDS epidemic. For the survivors, it’s a difficult revisit. For everyone who picks up the book, it’s a first-person glimpse into a world now gone. Gone, but not forgotten. And forever cherished.
—Lorraine Teel, Executive Director of the Minnesota AIDS Project, 1990-2011, Retired
In this poignant, honest, and loving memoir, Rosemary Davis vividly captures San Francisco’s Castro in the 1970s. Before They Left Us is a beautiful memorial to a place and time that changed the gay community forever.
—Kevin Winge, MPA, author of Never Give Up: Vignettes from Sub-Saharan Africa in the Age of AIDS and former executive director of San Francisco’s Project Open Hand and Open Arms of Minnesota