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 diaries and journals of novelist, poet, and university professor Samuel M. Steward, this is a 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, documenting his experiences in vivid (and often very funny) detail. After leaving academe to become tattoo artist Phil Sparrow, Steward worked closely with Alfred Kinsey on his landmark sex research. During the early 1960s, Steward changed his identity once again, this time to write exceptionally literate, upbeat homosexual pornography as Phil Andros. An archive of his papers, lost since his death in 1993, has provided biographer Justin Spring with the material for an illuminating life-and-times biography. More than merely the story of one remarkable man, this is a moving portrait of gay life long before gay liberation.
Publisher: New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, c2010
ISBN: 9780374281342
Branch Call Number: 810.9005 STE 2010
Characteristics: xv, 478 p., [16] p. of plates : ill. ; 24 cm


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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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