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Transforming tragedy into triumph

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Dwayne Ratleff Dwayne Ratleff’s ‘Dancing to the Lyrics’ details the HIV advocate and author’s hardscrabble childhood in 1960s Baltimore. NEAL BROVERMAN | Positive Thoughts The Baltimore of Dwayne Ratleff’s 1960s childhood was not like the one director John Waters parodied in Pink Flamingos and Hairspray or the dystopian wasteland depicted by HBO’s The Wire or the hit song Baltimore from jazz icon Nina Simone.

It was a flawed yet magical place, where horse-drawn carts sold fruit and vegetables, and paper boys sang while they hawked the day’s news.

It was a city that shaped the future author and longtime HIV survivor. Ratleff chronicled his chaotic early days in the memoir, Dancing to the Lyrics, which received 2021’s Best Indie Book Award in the LGBTQ+ Coming of Age category. “Every time I read something about Baltimore, particularly the 1968 riots, the writers often have had the opinions of individuals sitting in a soft cushion a comfortable distance away from the events,” Ratleff says. “I was very young, but I was in the city where it happened.

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