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In her exploration of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in America, Watkins-Hayes introduces readers to over 100 women living with HIV/AIDS in Chicago and beyond. While the women come from a variety of racial and class backgrounds, a disturbing number of them are dealing with a panoply of crushing obstacles before their diagnoses: poverty, sexual violence, drug addiction, and a lack of social services, all of which make the acquisition of HIV more likely. Through their stories, Watkins-Hayes unequivocally demonstrates that HIV/AIDS is an epidemic fueled by inequality.

But she also found something unexpected—a story about the profound power of personal and political transformation, all of which she chronicles in her new book.

Remaking a Life uses the HIV/AIDS epidemic as a lens to understand how women achieve radical improvements in their social wellbeing in the face of social stigma and economic disadvantage. Coupling her conversations with women living with HIV/AIDS with interviews conducted with nationally recognized AIDS activists and policy experts, Celeste Watkins-Hayes takes readers on a powerful, sobering, and ultimately uplifting journey through women’s life transformations and highlights the political activism, public policies, and institutions that helped to make these changes possible. She captures in rich detail how women shift their approaches to their physical, social, economic, and political survival, changing their viewpoint of “dying from” HIV/AIDS to “thriving despite” it.

Once these women receive access to health care, robust social support, modest economic assistance, and on on-ramp to civil and political engagement, they are able not only to live with the disease, but to tap into their reservoirs of resolve to thrive despite it. The book grapples with the perverse irony that it takes an HIV diagnosis for these women to gain access to the help they always needed, and in the process, offers a scathing indictment of our now-tattered social safety net that leaves so many to fend for themselves.

With an eye towards improving the lives of women, Remaking a Life makes a compelling case for the power of opportunity and points to strategies to encourage the private, nonprofit, and public sectors to successfully collaborate to help alleviate the injuries of inequality faced by vulnerable populations.

Remaking a Life speaks to the profound success of the HIV/AIDS community over the past 30 years, and how it can serve as a roadmap for how we can combat today’s public health crises.  The book is published with the University of California Press.

Celeste Watkins-Hayes, PhD is professor of sociology and African American Studies at Northwestern University and a faculty fellow in Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research.


“Urges leaders to deliver bold policy solutions to address the complicated intersection of healthcare, social support, economic assistance, and civic engagement. Offers a solutions-driven model that untangles how the public sector can help individuals and communities in crisis, and carves a path forward to progress.”
Stacey Abrams, Founder and Chair of Fair Fight Action, Former Georgia House Minority Leader

“Important, thoughtful, and original.”
Mario Small, Grafstein Family Professor, Harvard University
“Watkins-Hayes carefully weaves together life and policy histories to give voice to the struggles of women marginalized by society, honoring their transformative work and efforts to make meaning across the life course. Remaking a Life is a powerful read and one critical for so many researchers, students, policymakers, and advocates to engage.”
Scott Allard, Professor, University of Washington
“A brilliant book on political and personal transformation. For anyone interested in how activism and advocacy work to challenge inequality and transform state policy, while also remaking lives in local communities across the country, this book is a must read.”
Cathy J. Cohen, author of The Boundaries of Blackness: AIDS and the Breakdown of Black Politics
“A must read for scholars, activists, policy makers, various communities seeking to understand the continuing challenges of combatting HIV/AIDS as safety nets become more fragile. A brilliant, ground-breaking analysis of how a diverse group of women living with HIV/AIDS transform their lives in the midst of seemingly insurmountable challenges surrounding the pervasive and devastating consequences of a broad range of structural inequalities.”
Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Founding Director of the Women’s Research and Resource Center at Spelman College and Anna Julia Cooper Professor of Women’s Studies