The powerful story of art collective Gran Fury–who fought back during the AIDS crisis through organizing, direct action, and community-made propaganda–offers lessons in love and grief to today's marginalized communities.

By the late 1980s, the AIDS pandemic was deeply impacting gay and lesbian communities in America, and disinformation about the disease was running rampant. Out of the activist group ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), an art collective that called itself Gran Fury was formed, to create graphics and media that campaigned against corporate greed, government inaction, and public indifference to AIDS.

In It Was Vulgar and It Was Beautiful, writer Jack Lowery examines Gran Fury's art and activism, from the iconic images like the Kissing Doesn't Kill poster, to the act of dropping thousands of fake bills onto the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Lowery offers a complex, moving portrait of a group that expressed through art the profound trauma of surviving the AIDS crisis and formed essential solidarities between gays and lesbians in the activist community.

Gran Fury and ACT UP's strategies are today employed by a variety of activist groups, including survivors of school shootings, harm reduction organizers, and activists for universal healthcare. Their belief in the power of art to create social change and drive political movements is illuminating in this era when violence and unending structural racism continue to target the most vulnerable.

What's Inside

Read More Read Less


“I picked up Jack Lowery’s It Was Vulgar and It Was Beautiful and didn’t stop reading it for the next three days. Lowery’s plainspoken, patient, and probing approach to his dramatic subject matter is totally compelling, and his focus on Gran Fury fills in a critical piece of aesthetic and political history. Anyone and everyone interested in still-urgent questions about the relations between art, activism, living, and dying should immediately read this book.”—Maggie Nelson, author of THE ARGONAUTS
“Jack Lowery has written an engaging, provocative, and moving book about one of the most successful political movements in American history, a painstakingly researched narrative about how activism and art saved untold lives. At a time when the lessons of Gran Fury and ACT UP are more crucial than ever, this is essential reading.”—Alex Halberstadt, author of YOUNG HEROES OF THE SOVIET UNION
“A lively depiction of how graphic art can bring political activism to life.”—Kirkus
Read More Read Less

Meet The Author: Jack Lowery

Jack Lowery is a writer and teacher, whose writing has appeared in The AtlanticThe Times Literary Supplement and The Awl. He completed his MFA in Nonfiction Writing at Columbia University, and has taught in the Undergraduate Writing Program at Columbia University. As an editor, he has published the poetry of David Wojnarowicz. He lives in Brooklyn.

Discover More