Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade by Justin Spring
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 Sparrowbut 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.
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.
Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade 3.9 out of 5based on
More than 1 year ago
Reading SECRET HISTORIAN: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF SAMUEL STEWARD, PROFESSOR, TATTOO ARTISTS, AND SEXUAL RENEGADE it is difficult to decide which is the more important - learning about a rather phenomenal man (Samuel Steward) whose life to date has been a well-guarded secret, or discovering one of the finest biographers writing today - Justin Spring. Spring is a seasoned biographer whose publications include 'Paul Cadmus: The Male Nude', 'Fairfield Porter: A Life in Art', 'The Essential Jackson Pollock' and 'The Essential Edward Hopper' among others. But to whichever the compass point designates as the worthier of the two men, this is a fascinating book about art, about philosophy, about the great figures in the world of the arts in Paris and the US in the first half of the 20th century, about the details of the important Alfred Kinsey Reports on human sexuality, a detailed description of the art of tattooing, and, most importantly, a solid well documented written history of the homosexual community in the days before Stonewall began to break down centuries long barricades of understanding human sexuality. Samuel Steward (July 23, 1909 - December 31, 1993) was a man born out of his time. He was a brilliant teacher and professor who happened to have discovered his sexual preferences very early in life, servicing men without a sense of guile even as a teenager, and following his insatiable sexual appetite with journals and cards, with coded but detailed description of every encounter - a fact discovered by Alfred Kinsey who used Steward's `material' to support his investigations of male sexuality in a book that would change sociology forever, if taking some pauses during the McCarthy era for condemnation! Steward was a very fine writer and would have been an exceptional novelist had his subject matter of choice been more in keeping with the mores of the times. It is doubtful that Alfred Kinsey would have been able to document his interview investigations across the United States without the additional help of constant communication form Steward with his chronologically obsessive diaries of his activities. But that is only one aspect of the man, Samuel Steward, that Justin Spring so thoroughly and graciously unveils. He had access to Steward's letters to such people as Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, Thornton Wilder, Thomas Mann, Jean Genet, Jacques Delaunay, George Platt Lynes and so many other who were involved in the early days of sexually oriented literature. He changed his name frequently (monikers to protect his professorial identity to save his job at university), thus surviving in a world that considered materials that dealt with `invert behavior' to be against the law to write, photograph, worn or sell. Always fascinated with pushing boundaries, Steward engaged in sessions of `daisy chains', photographing them and detailing them and then sending them on to Alfred Kinsey. His obsession with rough types of men led him to learn tattooing and he became an authority and an artist of the trade. Justin Spring has done an amazing amount of research and from his very readable writings we learn more about many aspects of the subterranean world of the 20th century as any book yet published. If at times it seems that Spring's reportage becomes redundant, it is only because he is reporting a life as it unfolded.