2010 National Book Award Finalist for Nonfiction
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 Chicago's 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.
Life in the closet proves boisterous indeed in this biography of an iconic figure of the pre-Stonewall gay demimonde. Steward (1909 1993) was an English professor, a novelist who wrote both well-received literary fiction and gay porn, a confidant of Gertrude Stein and Thornton Wilder, a furtive but exuberant erotic adventurer whose taste for sailors, rough trade, and violent sadomasochism endeared him to sex researcher Alfred Kinsey; later in life, he became "Phil Sparrow," official tattoo artist of the Oakland, Calif., Hell's Angels. Spring (Paul Cadmus) fleshes out this colorful story by quoting copiously from his subject's highly literate journals and sex diaries his "Stud File" contained entries on trysts with everyone from Rudolph Valentino to Rock Hudson which afford an unabashed account of Steward's erotic picaresque and the yearnings that drove it. (His swerve from academia into tattooing, with its mix of physical pain and proximity to nubile male flesh, was essentially a fetish turned into a business.) Spring's sympathetic and entertaining story of a life registers the limitations imposed on homosexuals by a repressive society, but also celebrates the creativity and daring with which Steward tested them. Photos.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Excellent research and telling
I was drawn in by the story of this flawed hero of pre-liberation days.
Heard so much about this book
Love it so far, my only complaint is that none of the photos exist in the digital edition, just a photo caption. With the photographs missing and just the photo caption, it makes for half of the experience. If you like this i suggest you go and get the printed version
I have always been fascinated by glimpses into the past of gay America. I know that as a gay child in the late 60's early 70's I found that the climate even then wasn't conducive to coming out but still far better than the previous decades. I think Sam Steward's life experiences and pioneering thinking should be on every gay man's short list of must read books. I think we owe him a debt of gratitude for his chronicling of his life sexual and otherwise.