cover image Unveiling the Muse: The Lost History of Gay Carnival in New Orleans

Unveiling the Muse: The Lost History of Gay Carnival in New Orleans

Howard Philips Smith. Univ. of Mississippi, $50 (364p) ISBN 978-1-4968-1401-2

This coffee table collection of archival photographs, memorabilia, and artwork offers a scholarly odyssey into the observance of Mardi Gras among Louisiana’s LGBTQ community, which evolved in tandem with the gay costume ball tradition. Focusing on the balls held from the late 1950s through “the golden age of gay Carnival” in the 1980s and beyond, Smith profiles founding figures and royalty, artists, and the legacies of individual gay “krewes” (social clubs who organize and fund parades and costume balls during Mardi Gras), beginning with Krewe of Yuga in the mid-1950s. Smith meticulously details the rituals, themes, and motifs integrated into each ball, emphasizing an almost regimented sense of order behind the pageantry. The book also places the emergence of exclusively gay krewes within historical and sociological context, noting events like the Stonewall Riots in N.Y.C. and the ongoing threat of police raids nationwide, the AIDS crisis, and the impact of Hurricane Katrina. Readers will find spectacular drama and beauty in the often fantastically costumed figures. This volume will likely find its greatest appeal among knowledgeable enthusiasts who will appreciate poring over the finer details of the book’s expansive selection of ephemera. Color photos. (Jan.)