Secret Historian

Secret Historian

The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade

Book - 2010
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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.
Secret Historian is a 2010 National Book Award Finalist for Nonfiction.

Publisher: New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010
Edition: 1st ed. --
ISBN: 9780374281342
Branch Call Number: 813.54 Stewa 3564
Characteristics: xv, 478 p. :,ill. ;,24 cm


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Jan 19, 2019

Well written but ultimately pointless. every man's life is its own work of art and Stewards is no different. That said, a biography of this quality would merit a human that corresponds in stature to such care. Stewards account of his every sexual encounter and release as some sort of defiance of the persecution of homosexuals in his time seems to have been the product of an obsession with quantity rather than a conscious decision and it doesn't make for an interesting life. He seems to have gravitated to the famous closet cases of his times and aided Kinsey in his research , more like adding to his enormous collection of erotica. If something is indeed fascinating is that Steward had the money and time to write diaries and keep himself above water health and financial wise. while the book is certainly well written and detailed, it begs the question why is it worth to revisit Stewards life to such extent as his accomplishments were quite negligible in the arts, politics or anything else.

Bhulsey Jan 04, 2014

A well written and fascinating biography about academic turned tattooist turned pulp porn author Samuel M. Steward/Phil Sparrow. The biography is partially based on Steward's secret, never-before-seen diaries, journals and sexual records and reads as a sensational reconstruction of his hidden sex life. Steward was an intimate friend of Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, and Thornton Wilder. He also considered Alfred Kinsey a mentor and worked closely with him on his landmark sex research. Don Ed Hardy along with other famous names from both the tattoo artist and the literature/arts realm make cameo appearances in the tapestry of Steward's life as well.

This was a tough read, mainly because Steward seemed so lonely and tortured. Though this biography wasn't written as a reader on LGBT history per se, I did like the way the author wove in pieces of history to provide context for Steward's life at the time. He lived in the shadows as a gay man before Stonewall and gay liberation. Everything he did was tied to sex and his understanding/acceptance of his own sexuality, "the H life," during a time when homosexuality was widely feared and reviled, and very often criminalized. The subject matter was fascinating, titillating even, but I found much of Steward's life heartbreaking. His self-destructive patterns and abject loneliness were difficult to read through, though that wouldn't prevent me from recommending this book to others.

ChristchurchLib Oct 15, 2013

"An account based on previously unseen journals and records reveals the mid-twentieth-century writer's hidden sexual life, marked by relationships with famous contemporaries and the identities he created as Phil Sparrow and Phil Andros to conduct his research." Biography and Memoir October 2013 newsletter

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