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

JUSTIN SPRING

Secret is a provocative biography of a little-known university professor turned sex researcher and pornographer. Raised conservative Methodist in a boardinghouse run by three spinster relatives, Steward was taught that sex was an abhorrent sin, which only fueled his erotic exploration with other men, including a clandestine dalliance with Rudolph Valentino. Though he sported a racy look and engaged in frequent sexual experimentation, Steward excelled in school and went on to become an English instructor at Carroll College, a small Montana Catholic institution. However, Steward was curtly dismissed from his employment after school officials deemed his novel Angels on the Bough “obscene.” Through his engagement with Gertrude Stein, he met and seduced a deeply closeted Thornton Wilder and furtively collaborated with Alfred Kinsey in the late ’40s. He shunned academia to pursue tattooing and pen erotic novels loosely based on his “Stud File,” a “whimsically annotated and cross-referenced 746-card catalog in which Steward documented his sex life in its entirety from the years 1924 through 1974.” Under the pseudonym Phil Andros, Steward channeled his unquenchable thirst for rough trade, sailors and hustlers into a wildly uninhibited gay-fiction series. Generous excerpts from Steward’s journals and unpublished memoirs fortify an already comprehensive examination of a life lived with unabashed independence and homoerotic expression during the sexual rebellion of the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 great read if the subject interests you. Secret was one of Washington Post’s best 100 books of 2011.

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2 thoughts on “SECRET HISTORIAN: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist and Sexual Renegade

  1. This really was a very good–if provocative–book . I had the pleasure of meeting Justin Spring when he came to visit my “US History of Sex, Sexuality, and Gender since 1880” at the University of Notre Dame in 2011. He’s just as interesting in person as he is on paper. Great for anyone interested in gender studies or the history of sexuality.

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