October 20, 2010

AMHERST, Mass.—Author Justin Spring ’84 will speak about his book Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist and Sexual Renegade on Thursday, Oct. 28 at 4 p.m. in Amherst College’s Stirn Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public.

Of Secret Historian—which is a 2010 National Book Award finalist in the non-fiction category—Publisher’s Weekly writes: “Steward (1909–1993) was an English professor, a novelist who wrote both well-received literary fiction and gay porn, a confidant of Gertrude Stein and Thornton Wilder, a furtive but exuberant erotic adventurer whose taste for sailors, rough trade, and violent sadomasochism endeared him to sex researcher Alfred Kinsey; later in life, he became ‘Phil Sparrow,’ official tattoo artist of the Oakland, Calif., Hell’s Angels. Spring fleshes out this colorful story by quoting copiously from his subject’s highly literate journals and sex diaries—his ‘Stud File’ contained entries on trysts with everyone from Rudolph Valentino to Rock Hudson—which afford an unabashed account of Steward’s erotic picaresque and the yearnings that drove it. (His swerve from academia into tattooing, with its mix of physical pain and proximity to nubile male flesh, was essentially a fetish turned into a business.) Spring’s sympathetic and entertaining story of a life registers the limitations imposed on homosexuals by a repressive society, but also celebrates the creativity and daring with which Steward tested them.”

Spring is a writer specializing in 20th-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.