Presenter of the National Book Awards

2010 National Book Award Finalist,
Nonfiction

Justin Spring

Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward

Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Photo credit: Stanley Stellar

ABOUT THE BOOK

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.

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.

SUGGESTED LINKS

Justin Spring's website
http://secrethistorian.com/

Sexual Outlaw on the Gay Frontier
By Patricia Cohen, The New York Times
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/26/books/26secret.html

EXCERPT

Excerpted from Secret Historian by Justin Spring.
Copyright © 2010 by Justin Spring.
Published in 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

Samuel M. Steward—a poet, novelist, and university professor who left the world of higher education to become a sex researcher, skid- row tattoo artist, and pornographer—may seem at first an odd candidate for a biography, for he is practically unknown and nearly all his writing is out of print.

I first ran across Steward’s name in the gay pulp fiction archive and database at the John Hay Special Collections Library at Brown University, where I had gone to research the social and literary challenges that a particular group of artists and writers had faced during the still largely undocumented years before gay liberation. As a biographer and art historian, I knew only a little about pulp fiction before visiting Brown, and was unaware of how many of these cheap paperbacks of the 1950s and ’60s had described the “secret” world of American homosexuals. But pulp fiction writers had been among the first to chronicle the homosexual subculture for the popular reading public, skirting the stringent antiobscenity laws of the time by describing the homosexual “illness” in ways that were melodramatic and grotesque. While I was at first titillated by the lurid cover illustrations and outrageous titles I found in the archive—Flight into Sodomy, Kept Boy, and Naked to the Night all looked like great fun—the books themselves quickly proved just the opposite: they were, for the most part, badly written tales of loneliness, alcohol, and psychic defeat, often concluding in suicide or murder (or both).

While browsing through these depressing paperbacks, I recalled a very different series of novels and stories I had come across a decade earlier at A Different Light bookstore. Erotic comedies, they had chronicled the adventures of a hustler named Phil Andros, an improbably literate Ohio State University graduate turned leather- jacketed hustler. Phil lived a happy- go- lucky life, for his general interest in human nature made each of his paid sexual encounters a sort of learning experience. The tone of the Phil Andros books had been resolutely sex- affirmative, despite the dark, antihomosexual atmosphere of the times they had described; Phil liked sex—and was good at it—and had apparently become a hustler to have as much of it as possible.

Excerpted from Secret Historian by Justin Spring.
Copyright © 2010 by Justin Spring.
Published in 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.