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Fiction Lesbian

Rat Bohemia

by (author) Sarah Schulman

Arsenal Pulp Press
Initial publish date
Apr 2008
Lesbian, General
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Apr 2008
    List Price

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First published in 1995, this award-winning novel, written from the epicentre of the AIDS crisis, is a bold, achingly honest story set in the "rat bohemia" of New York City, whose huddled masses include gay men and lesbians who bond with one another in the wake of loss. Navigating the currents of the city is Rita Mae, a rat exterminator who holds the optimism of all true bohemians?those who stand outside of the prevailing social apparatus. She and her friends seek new ways to be truthful and honest about their lives as others around them avert their glances. Inspired by A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe, Rat Bohemia is an expansive novel about coping with loss and healing the wounds of the past by reinventing oneself in the city.

Rat Bohemia won the Ferro-Grumley Award for Lesbian Fiction, and was named one of the "100 Best Gay and Lesbian Novels of All Time" by the Publishing Triangle.

Includes a new introduction by the author.

Now in its second printing

About the author

Sarah Schulman is the author of sixteen books: the novels The Mere Future, The Child, Rat Bohemia, Shimmer, Empathy, After Delores, People In Trouble, Girls Visions and Everything, and The Sophie Horowitz Story, the nonfiction works The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness To a Lost Imagination, Israel/Palestine and the Queer International, Ties That Bind: Familial Homophobia and Its Consequences, Stagestruck: Theater, AIDS and the Marketing of Gay America and My American History: Lesbian and Gay Life During the Reagan/Bush Years, and the plays Mercy and Carson McCullers. She is co-author with Cheryl Dunye of the movies The Owls and Mommy is Coming, and co-producer with Jim Hubbard of the feature United in Anger: A History of ACT UP. She is co-director of the ACT UP Oral History Project .

Her awards include the 2009 Kessler Award for "Sustained Contribution to LGBT Studies" from the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Fulbright Fellowship, and two American Library Association Book Awards, and she was a Finalist for the Prix de Rome. She lives in New York, where she is Distinguished Professor of English at City University of New York (College of Staten Island) and a Fellow at the New York Institute for the Humanities at NYU.
Author photograph by Nayland Blake.

Sarah Schulman's profile page

Editorial Reviews

More persuasively than any other contemporary novelist, Sarah Schulman traces the ways in which the disenfranchisement that begins as a political evil pervades every aspect of life, from the metaphysical and spiritual to the most intimate moments of two people together.
?Tony Kushner, playwright, Angels in America

Tony Kushner

Rat Bohemia represent a truth that won't be erased no matter what happens to the East Village in the future.


My surrender to Rat Bohemia is a testimonial to its gimlet-eyed accuracy, its zero-degree honesty.... [It blows] the traditional novel off its hinges.
?Edmund White, New York Times Book Review

Edmund White

I never understood why Rat Bohemia never made it big.... By bringing out a brand new edition of this excellent book, Arsenal Pulp has given us Canadians a chance to put this all right. Rat Bohemia is, I believe, one of the bravest and best lesbian novels of our generation.
?Claire Robson, Herizons


Now viewed with rosy-tinted nostalgia, the '80s were notable, among other things, for the mounting AIDS crisis in the face of the utter indifference of the Reagan administration. A book that captures that time is Sarah Schulman's Rat Bohemia, first published in 1995 and just reprinted in a new edition by Arsenal Pulp. It's set in a New York City of outcasts, gay men and lesbians shunned by mainstream society.... The author adds a fascinating introduction to this edition. She notes that the city's recent gentrification occurred after gay people died in huge numbers in places such as the East Village. Their newly-vacant rental apartments flooded the market, prompting a massive demographic shift. Meanwhile, marginalized New Yorkers can no longer afford to live in Manhattan.... Rat Bohemia, then, is not only a memorial to the 75,000 New Yorkers who died of AIDS, (the number is Schulman's), but also to a kind of city life.
?Uptown (Winnipeg)


Fiction is necessary to history, and Schulman's Rat Bohemia shows why. The new edition opens with a cold figure--75,000, the total number of AIDS deaths in New York City--and it is an incandescent account of the human cost of the epidemic. Rooted in the Lower East Side in the 1980s, Rat Bohemia is told through the perspectives of both sufferers and survivors.... Reading Rat Bohemia nearly 15 years later reminds us that we need our artists to help us remember.


Rat Bohemia imparts insight into the now extinct underbelly of New York City's urban bohemia that made up the fabric of so many lives in the 1980s and 1990s. By reading it today, it showcases the distinction between the compliance and inaction of today's homogenous inheritors of the city and the fervor and dissent of the former inhabitants who created a vibrant, oppositional, and diverse subculture of queers, artists, activists, organizers, and workers who went up in smoke when their neighborhoods became marketable to the privileged few who didn't mind displacing them.
?Feminist Review

Feminist Review

Other titles by Sarah Schulman