"There are a lot of stigmas still surrounding homosexuality, AIDS, being HIV positive," says Janine Avril, a Brooklyn writer whose first book, Nightlight, was published last month. "I think that I'm challenging those."
The 31-year-old founder of monthly Brooklyn women's writing group Girlsalon lost both of her parents before she was 21. Four years later, she found out her mom's mysterious death could have been AIDS-related. Nightlight documents Avril's personal investigation into her parents' illnesses, and challenges the family ties that kept the elusive truth hidden for so long. "I think it's the first of its kind in terms of representing the first crop of children who have lost parents to AIDS," says Avril. "I wanted to be that voice if I could."
Before the hype surrounding her memoir, Avril was already a celebrated writer. Her Girlsalon group, that meets at Park Slope's Perch Café, is a GO Magazine and Time Out New York hit, and Avril blogs for Velvetpark and OurChart. But the memoir is a decidedly more personal project. "I really didn't know the truth about my childhood until I was an adult," says Avril. "When I learned what had happened to my family, it sent me on an investigation. Based on the research I was doing, I was motivated to write."
Nightlight, with its stark and precise prose, is a haunting family memoir just begging for Oprah's Book Club status. Then, Avril can add it to her 9th and 10th grade students' reading lists (she's also a Manhattan teacher). Avril loves teaching, but wouldn't rule out a career change if Nightlight takes off. "But it's not an option now," she says with a laugh. "Not 'til the book gets to Oprah." Avril's next book, a multigenerational novel she describes as "a fictional prequel to Nightlight," is in the works.
–Sharyn Jackson and Melody Wells