Secret Historian. The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, tattoo Artist and Sexual Renegade.
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 pseudonym Phil Andros.
Until today Steward’s many identities have been known to only a few—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 in the years before gay liberation.
“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 ofEvelyn 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
“I just read Justin Spring’s Secret Historian about Samuel Steward and let me say that that’s my new favorite book…This guy really knew how to top from the bottom…It’s really good! ” — Film Director John Waters, Baltimore OUTloud
“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, Pulitzer prize-winning author of The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher