Vintage has acquired rights to writer and AIDs historian Sarah Schulman’s People in Trouble, almost 30 years after it was first published, featuring a fictionalised version of Donald Trump.
The novel about AIDs and activism was published by Penguin in the US in 1990 and then Sheba Feminist Press in the UK, which closed in 1995.
Penguin Random House editorial assistant Madeleine Hartley read People in Trouble on holiday in 2018 then emailed about the rights as soon as she returned to work, eventually acquiring UK and Commonwealth rights from Kate McLennan at Abner Stein, in her first acquisition. The new edition will be published on 5th September, retailing at £8.99 in paperback, featuring a new afterword written by Shulman.
“I knew about Sarah because of her non-fiction and had owned an old copy of People in Trouble for a while before deciding to take it on holiday with me last year,” Hartley told The Bookseller. “I was hooked from the beginning, the novel ticks all my boxes, from the queer love triangle at its heart to its foregrounding of late 80s New York City and the activists who fought tirelessly for people with AIDS. It’s a cliché to call a book ‘urgent’, but this felt like it was written in real-time, and in fact Sarah wrote People in Trouble before it became clear that HIV/AIDS would, or could, be treated effectively. Plus there’s the fact that the ‘villain’ is a fictionalised version of Trump.”
Set in the New York in the 1980’s, “the AIDS crisis has taken hold and the world is on the brink of imploding,” according to the synopsis. “Ronald Horne, an entitled property tycoon, lords over the city. Kate, a successful artist, lives in Manhattan with Peter, her husband and fellow creative. She’s having an affair with Molly, a younger gay woman who, when she’s not working a dead-end job, is caring for sick friends.”
“At one of many funerals during an unbearably hot summer, Molly learns about Justice, the guerrilla activist group fighting for people with AIDS. She immediately signs up. Kate isn’t so sure. And Peter is bewildered... Soon the trio learn that a tragedy of this kind not only warps our closest relationships but how anger - and its absence - can make the difference between life and death.”
Six years after the original publication of People in Trouble, Schulman saw “Rent” the musical in Off Broadway previews in 1996, and alleged its writer, Jonathan Larson, had knowingly appropriated her material, according to the New Yorker.
Schulman, the author of 19 books, is also giving a talk titled “A witness to her times - Coalition Politics and Queer Liberty” on Thursday (2nd May) at SOAS University in London’s Bloomsbury.
Meanwhile Hartley will leave Vintage on Friday (3rd May), after more than two years at the imprint, to become copy editor at Stonewall, the charity which campaigns for the equality of lesbian, gay, bi and trans people across Britain.