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Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegadeby Justin Spring
Synopses & Reviews
Samuel Steward (1909andndash;93) was an English professor, a tattoo artist for the Hells Angels, a sexual adventurer who shared his considerable range of experiences with Alfred Kinsey, and a prolific writer of everything from scholarly articles to gay erotica (under the penname Phil Andros). Given this biography, he sounds like a most unlikely contributor to a trade magazine like the Illinois Dental Journal. Yet from 1944 to 1949, writing under the name Philip Sparrow, Steward produced monthly columns for the journal that were full of wit and flourish and that constituted a kind of disguised autobiography, with their reflections on his friendships and experiences and their endless allusions to his trove of multifarious knowledge.and#160;
For Philip Sparrow Tells All, Jeremy Mulderig has gathered thirty of Stewardandrsquo;s most playful and insightful columns, which together paint a vivid portrait of 1940s America. In these essays we spend time with Stewardandrsquo;s friends like Gertrude Stein, Andrandeacute; Gide, and Thornton Wilder (who was also Stewardandrsquo;s occasional lover). We hear of his stint as a holiday sales clerk at Marshall Fieldandrsquo;s (where he met and seduced Rock Hudson), his roles as an opera and ballet extra in hilariously shoddy costumes, his hoarding tendencies, his disappointment with the drabness of menandrsquo;s fashions, and his dread of turning forty. We go along with him to a bodybuilding competition and a pet cemetery, and together we wander the boulevards of Paris and the alleys of Algiers. Throughout, Mulderigandrsquo;s entertaining annotations identify Stewardandrsquo;s often obscure allusions and tie the essays to the people and events of the day.
Many decades later, Stewardandrsquo;s writing feels as stylistically fresh and charming as it did in his time. With richly detailed introductions to the essays that situate them in the context of Stewardandrsquo;s fascinating life, Philip Sparrow Tells All will bring this unusual and engaging writer to a fresh readership beyond the dental chair.
Essays by Sam Steward, originally published under the name Philip Sparrow, and now edited for republication by Jeremy Mulderig.
and#160;and#160; Samuel Stewardandrsquo;s life spanned most of the 20th century (1909-1993).and#160; He was an English professor (at DePaul University), a tattoo artist (the Hellandrsquo;s Angels were a prime client), and writer of erotic fiction whose place in gay history has been established by Justin Springandrsquo;s award-winning biography, Secret History (FSG, 2010).and#160; Muldergiandrsquo;s edition of Stewardandrsquo;s essays now gives us Steward in his own words in a way that Springandrsquo;s biography could only gesture at.and#160; We have here a singular collection of witty, charming, and erudite essays in the tradition of Montaigne and Bacon, examining the world at large and Stewardandrsquo;s and the readerandrsquo;s place in it that bring the persona Philip Sparrow to life while reflecting Stewardandrsquo;s own expansive knowledge of literature, history, music, art, philosophy, and contemporary events (not to mention Chicago people and places).and#160; Mulderig supplies consistently smart and informative headnotes to each of the 30 essays that speak to general readers on a wide range of topicsandmdash;including cryptography, espionage, psychiatry, opera, pet cemeteries, bodybuilding, keepsakes, medieval recipes, Gertrude Stein, Chicago, Paris, and the Womenandrsquo;s Christian Temperance Union.and#160; That they were originally published in the Illinois Dental Journal (from 1944 to 1949) is notable in itself, for the obscurity of the source as well as the novelty of a venue that would compel its author to create a persona.and#160; Under the guise of andldquo;Philip Sparrowandrdquo; he could say things the he might otherwise have written under his own name. Steward later published material in a Swiss gay magazine and erotica for Danish gay magazines and, in the 1980s, for The Advocate. The collection is a significant life document and will appeal to general readers and students across a spectrum of GLBT studies, Chicago literature, American Studies, and go directly to passionate fans of this cult author, an audience that was born in 2010 with Springandrsquo;s biography.
Drawn from the secret, never-before-seen diaries, journals, and sexual records of the novelist, poet, and university professor Samuel M. Steward, Secret Historian is a sensational reconstruction of one of the more extraordinary hidden lives of the twentieth century. An intimate friend of Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, and Thornton Wilder, Steward maintained a secret sex life from childhood on, and documented these experiences in brilliantly vivid (and often very funny) detail.
After leaving the world of academe to become Phil Sparrow, a tattoo artist on Chicagos notorious South State Street, Steward worked closely with Alfred Kinsey on his landmark sex research. During the early 1960s, Steward changed his name and identity once again, this time to write exceptionally literate, upbeat pro-homosexual pornography under the name of Phil Andros.
Until today he has been known only as Phil Sparrow—but an extraordinary archive of his papers, lost since his death in 1993, has provided Justin Spring with the material for an exceptionally compassionate and brilliantly illuminating life-and-times biography. More than merely the story of one remarkable man, Secret Historian is a moving portrait of homosexual life long before Stonewall and gay liberation.
Secret Historian is a 2010 National Book Award Finalist for Nonfiction.
About the Author
Justin Spring is a writer specializing in twentieth-century American art and culture, and the author of many monographs, catalogs, museum publications, and books, including Fairfield Porter: A Life in Art and Paul Cadmus: The Male Nude.
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