A Memoir

by Shelby Smoak

The awkward years of adolescence and young adulthood are some of the most trying times in a person’s life. But what if you also had a secret you thought was so terrible you were afraid to tell even those closest to you? If that secret involved a life threatening illness that made you “different” than everyone else, it would be bad enough, but when your secret also involves a medical condition that potentially threatens the lives of others, you might feel as if you have the entire weight of the world on your skinny shoulders. So you hide yourself and your secret from almost everyone and try to lead a “normal” life.

BLEEDER: A Memoir (February 2013; Michigan State University) by Shelby Smoak chronicles one young man’s journey from his last days of high school, through his college years, and into his early attempts at joining the work force, all the while, like a typical young man, searching for true love. But Shelby is not a typical young man. He was born with hemophilia, a rare, debilitating medical condition. But that’s not all.

For his eighteenth birthday, just as he was preparing to go off to college and getting used to the constant medical problems of being a young hemophiliac, Shelby’s already fragile world was turned upside down when his doctor informed him that he was HIV-positive and had been for several years due to a tainted transfusion in the 1980s. What does life hold in store for someone burdened with this twin medical nightmare?

Set in the 1990s along the coast of North Carolina, BLEEDER is a coming-of-age memoir for modern times, chronicling a young, heterosexual, HIV-positive hemophiliac’s quest for love in a world constantly hijacked by life-threatening illnesses. Moving between bedrooms where love is smothered by illness to medical clinics, hospitals, operating rooms, and doctor’s offices where life is always in question, BLEEDER tells the story of Shelby Smoak’s ongoing hope to find love against the greatest of odds.


Shelby Smoak’s poetry, fiction and nonfiction have appeared in journals and magazines such as Northern Virginia Review, Clues, Cucalorus, Juice, The Crutch, New Thought Journal, Cities and Roads, and Coastal Plains Poetry. A recipient of the Melanie Hook Rice Award for Best Novel in Progress and a PEN/American Award for Writers living with HIV, he currently teaches writing at Northern Virginia Community College and lives in Arlington, VA with his wife.

Published by Michigan State University Press
Publication date: February 2013
Price: $22.95 paperback original
Pages: 214
ISBN: 978-1-61186-069-6