In this seminar, Dr Bunty Avieson examines how death and success exacerbate the ethical dimensions of truth and representation using a casestudy of Timothy Conigrave’s memoir Holding the Man. The book waspublished in 1994 by Penguin Australia, who promoted it as a “tender andsexy” account of his 15-year love affair with schoolmate John Caleo. Theirromance flourished despite resistance from their middle class conservative Catholic families, various infidelities and relationship struggles, andultimately their shared battle with AIDS. It has been described as “soulshaking”,“one of Australia’s most beloved non-fiction books” and “Romeoand Juliet for the AIDS era”. Ten days after Conigrave delivered themanuscript to Penguin, he died, leaving the aftershocks of his personal revelations to reverberate in his absence. This might have been a small butcontained moment of attention for the two families, who could then have returned to privately grieve, except that the book became a bestseller, then a play performed in Australia, NZ, USA and London’s West End andan international feature film with Guy Pearce and Anthony LaPaglia. Holding The Man has become a “living” memoir and it is thefamilies left behind who carry its legacy in a plurality of ways.
Dr Bunty Avieson is a Lecturer in the Department of Media andCommunications at the University of Sydney. She has published three novels, a novella and two memoirs, which have been variously translated intoJapanese, German and Thai, and been awarded two Ned Kelly Crime Writing Awards for her crime fiction.