LECTURE, BOOK SIGNING AND RECEPTION: Tuesday, November 9, 2010. 3:00 PM
Lownes Room, John Hay Library, 20 Prospect Street, Brown University, Providence, RI
Recent incidents of bullying on several college and university campuses across the USA have prompted leaders and educators to look at the question of sexual identity and its relation to individual self-esteem. In examining the many social challenges faced by Samuel Steward, a gifted underground writer of homosexual erotica whose life spanned the better part of the 20th century, biographer Justin Spring will trace the course of Steward’s life from the Jazz Age through World War II, the McCarthy Era, the early years of sexual liberation, Stonewall, the AIDs crisis, and its aftermath.
Drawing upon 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. Born in Southeastern Ohio, Samuel Steward maintained a very active sex life from adolescence onwards, and documented these life-experiences in brilliantly vivid detail. As a poet, scholar, and literary novelist he became an intimate friend of Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, and Thornton Wilder, but after seventeen years as a University professor he decided to leave the world of academe to become instead “Phil Sparrow,” a tattoo artist on Chicago’s notorious South State Street. He also worked closely with Alfred C. Kinsey on his landmark sex research. During the early 1960s, after a stint at the official tattoo artist for Oakland’s Hells Angels Motorcycle gang, Steward changed his name and identity yet again, this time to write exceptionally literate, upbeat pro-homosexual pornography under the pseudonym Phil Andros.
Along the way he contributed pioneering homophile journalism to European and American magazines and reviews. 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 the story of one remarkable man, Secret Historian is a moving portrait of homosexual life long before Stonewall and gay liberation.
Justin Spring, who began his research on Sam Steward at the John Hay Library on a John Nicholas Brown American Studies fellowship, is a writer on 20th century American Art and Culture whose previous biography, Fairfield Porter: A Life In Art, was hailed as “superb” by Mark Ford in The New York Review of Books. Justin Spring is nominated for the 2010 National Book Award for his book on Sam Steward.
For more information on Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist and Sexual Renegade (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, August 2010) see: