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Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade Paperback – July 19, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“Somewhere in the United States, there may be an attic containing the written remnants of a previously unchronicled 20th-century life that was even more astonishing than the one the writer Justin Spring discovered in San Francisco a few years ago. But even the most skeptical reader of his new book, Secret Historian, will have to admit that the bar is now set high. Samuel Steward, the subject of this absorbing act of biographical excavation, had many identities, including several that the subtitle of the book omits . . . Be assured that it's all for real, and that Spring, even when neck-deep in sensational material, is not a sensationalist. As a biographer, he's humble but firm--he lets Steward's vivid, energetic prose do much of the talking but keeps his own hand on the tiller and never gets giddy, even when Steward seems to be carousing his way through the entire Modern Library . . . The probity and expansive vision of Spring's work is a reminder that a great, outspread terrain of gay history remains to be mapped . . . One suspects there are many more stories of that time worth telling, and too few treasure-packed attics.” ―Mark Harris, The New York Times Book Review
“Can a secret sex diary furnish an artistic legacy as meaningful as Emily Dickinson's sewn-up bundles of poems, or the piles of paintings Theo van Gogh inherited after his brother's premature demise? Samuel Steward may never have imagined it, but his erotic history raises the question. A talented writer who early attracted the attention of Gertrude Stein and Thornton Wilder, he found his career blocked by a determination (so different from hers and his) to write candidly about his homosexuality . . . Steward was an obsessive record keeper, and his journals and his ‘Stud File' of thousands of encounters allow [Justin Spring] to create a remarkably full portrait of a man whose life was what Edmund White's might have been had White been born three decades earlier . . . [This] extensive documentation--and the miraculous rescue of that documentation, recounted in the book's preface--left his biographer material to reconstruct an emblematic homosexual life.” ―Benjamin Moser, Harper's
“Justin Spring's jaw-dropping Secret Historian reads like a novel probing a lifelong rebel's courage, creativity and ultimate sadness . . . Spring has reconstituted Steward, as Phil Andros might say, in flesh and blood and all sorts of bodily fluids.” ―David D'Arcy, San Francisco Chronicle
“This is a rich and exuberant biography of a man who deserves to be better known” ―The Economist
“A fascinating biography . . . [Steward] tackled life with awe-inspiring abandon” ―Details
“Life in the closet proves boisterous indeed in this biography of an iconic figure of the pre-Stonewall gay demimonde . . . 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.” ―Publishers Weekly
“[A] provocative biography . . . Generous excerpts from Steward's journals and unpublished memoirs fortify an already comprehensive examination of a life lived with unabashed independence and homoerotic expression during the sexual rebellion of the pre-Stonewall era . . . A vivid, candid portrait.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“Justin Spring documents the extraordinary life of one of Kinsey's crucial gay witnesses, and reading Secret Historian is like reading Kinsey dramatized. A cultivated, rather shy professor of English literature, Sam Steward dropped out in midlife to become an eminent tattooist and writer of S&M porn. As the story of a sex-obsessed recovering alcoholic later addicted to barbiturates and to masochistic thrills, this could easily have become a portrait of a failure. Instead, through Steward's copious records, we have a brave, fly-on-the-wall account of American homosexual subculture and persecution.” ―Martin Stannard, author of Evelyn Waugh and Muriel Spark: The Biography
“A true page-turner--and a memorable act of historical reclamation. Sammy Steward is all but unknown except by a handful of historians, but Justin Spring's lively biography--which is full of important new information about pre-Stonewall gay life--should put Sammy on the map, which is where he decidedly belongs.” ―Martin Duberman, author of Cures: A Gay Man's Odyssey
“Secret Historian is a startlingly, unforgettably vivid glimpse into a life--and a world--that few of us can imagine.” ―Terry Teachout, author of Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong
“Samuel Steward, secret sexual historian, is a secret no longer. From an evangelical Ohio boardinghouse to the gardens of the Villa Borghese, from the lobby of the City Opera to the South Side YMCA, Steward led--and recorded--an improbably revealing, representative life. Bedding Oscar Wilde's Bosie, taking tea with Stein and Toklas, and confessing to (and performing for!) Dr. Kinsey, he seemed determined to leave no corner of twentieth-century American queer culture unexplored and undocumented. Justin Spring has rescued his story from a San Francisco attic and set it before twenty-first-century readers with unflagging patience, authority, and humanity--Secret Historian is a major achievement.” ―Langdon Hammer, author of Hart Crane and Allen Tate
“Justin Spring has painstakingly and compassionately unearthed the labyrinthine world of a brilliant, multifaceted, and troubled creator. A classically educated and highly talented renegade intellectual, Steward's trajectory was impacted at every turn by his sexual compulsions. This bittersweet story, with its hair-raising and obsessively recorded details, is astonishing. Steward's humor, empathy, and refusal to bow to the repressive status quo are a moving testimonial to honesty, courage, and integrity. His story should resonate with anyone engaged in the ongoing struggle for personal freedom of identity.” ―Ed Hardy
“This is a rare and important book. Secret Historian is a genuinely captivating combination of clear writing, a clean conscience, and more dirty stories than I ever imagined one life could hold.” ―Debby Applegate, author of The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher
Top Customer Reviews
Secret Historian, The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, intrigued and touched me on so many levels. Firstly, it's a real page-turner. I didn't want to put it down, as I could hardly wait to find out what Sam was going to get himself into next. And trust me, Sam never let me down!
Secondly, as a devotee of gay history, not since Donald Vining's detailed diary has a gay man's day to day life been documented in such vivid detail. Through Sam Steward's scandalous Stud File, his letters, his journal and other writings, Justin Spring's fascinating book shatters the myth that the pre-Stonewall gay life was all gloom and sexless doom.
This is not to say that Sam, being an isolator who eschewed emotional attachments with other men (and who battled alcohol and drug addictions), didn't have his share of loneliness and depression, especially in his later years when he felt he was no longer sexually viable. Indeed, with the iconoclastic life he designed for himself, a later life of addiction, isolation and sadness seemed inevitable. Fortunately, Sam's delightful sense of humor, very much in evidence in this book, sustained him through most of his darkest hours.
And therein lies the primary reason this book moved me so much.Read more ›
Samuel Steward (aka Donald Bishop, Thomas Cave, John McAndrews, Phil Sparrow, Ward Stames, Phil Andros) was a poet, novelist, Catholic English professor, tattoo artist, gay pornographer, friend of Gertrude Stein and Alice Tolkas, and a key contributor to Alfred Kinsey's sex research. Justin Spring has rescued this astonishing character from oblivion, giving him the break he never got in what Steward described as "my happily wasted life."
This biography is definitely not for the gentle reader. Steward's prodigious sexual escapades from the 30s through the 80s made my few remaining hairs stand on end. Sailors, thugs, underage hustlers, Rudolph Valentino, Thorton Wilder, students, policemen, ex-cons, priests and one Hells Angel, scripted orgies, brutal S/M sessions: all were documented in his meticulous "Stud File." Almost despite himself, quiet little Steward was a defiant, transgressive artist to his core, surviving repression, literary rejection, AIDS, alcoholism and depression with a staggering sense of aplomb. One favorite example (that will only mean something to gay readers of a certain age): in his late 50s, Steward's favorite paid partner was "one very talented and extraordinarily good-looking hustler who later took the porn name of Johnny Hardin... Between late 1966 and 1970 Steward had sex with him 155 times." Now there is a fun fact to know and tell.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I read this book as I had read Sam Steward's fiction and writings under his pen name of Phil Andros including all of his short stories, and two of his books he published under his... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Just the facts.
I love this book. I wish I could read it again for the first time. Sam Steward was a visionary who refused to rein in his sexuality through many eras which were dangerous for... Read morePublished 3 months ago by faithy
Well researched, well written and balanced biography of a very unique man. While the reality of Steward's daily life and his sexual obsession is depressing at times, it is a... Read morePublished 4 months ago by james zangrilli
Secret Historian, The life and times of Samuel Steward, professor, tattoo artist, and sexual renegade – the title alone suggests the remarkably complicated person Samuel Steward... Read morePublished 7 months ago by Michael J Helquist
Excellent book from which to learn about aspects of gay life prior to Stonewall. I remember Stonewall vividly. Read morePublished 10 months ago by Joseph C. Jacobs
A great biography by any standard. Certainly the best biography of a little known person you'll ever read. Read morePublished 11 months ago by OkieMark
I like reading about real people. Samuel Steward lives up to the song "I Lived" by Onerepublic. If more people when out and truly lived this would be a better world. Read morePublished 12 months ago by Richard Smith