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Asheville hosts Melanie Brooks, whose new memoir recalls her dad’s HIV diagnosis

Melanie Brooks
Melanie Brooks with her father

Author Melanie Brooks remembers the lonely secrecy her family maintained for years after her father died from AIDS complications.

Brooks’ latest book revolves around her and her family's experience with the challenges an HIV diagnosis has on a person and the rest of their family. She is holding a reading of part of her memoir, A Hard Silence, alongside a conversation with fellow author Laura Carney on Tuesday at the West Asheville Library.

Her father, a surgeon, underwent quadruple bypass surgery at age 42 in 1985.

“He found out eight months after his surgery that the blood he'd been given during surgery was contaminated with HIV,” Brooks said in an interview with BPR.

At the time due to “fearing the stigma and the potential ostracism of our family,” she said, her father decided to keep his illness secret. He lived for 10 years with an AIDS diagnosis.

“And so we kept that secret for 10 years.”

She explained that it felt very lonely and isolating to keep that secret from family and friends. She was a teenager when her father had surgery and then was diagnosed. Her younger brother had no knowledge for years that their dad had contracted HIV during the surgery.

“He didn't find out until he was 15 and so for seven of those 10 years, we were also keeping the secret within our family so it wasn't something we could talk about openly,” Brooks said.

Nearly 800 people in Buncombe County are living with HIV, according to state data.

Brooks, who has two children with her husband, says that what she went through as a child influenced how she communicates with her children.

“One of the very conscious choices my husband and I both made with our own kids was to open that lane of communication,” said Brooks. “… Talk to me about the hard things, talk to me about what you're feeling, talk to me about what you're thinking again and again and again so that they would feel like that opportunity was always there for them.”

On Tuesday at 6 p.m., in partnership with the Western North Carolina Aids Project, Brooks will have a reading at the West Asheville Library.

She is donating a portion of book sales to WNCAP. The organization works to provide access to free testing, prevention methods and support care for those facing HIV in 18 counties in the region.

Jose Sandoval is the afternoon host and reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio.