Philip Sparrow Tells All: Lost Essays by Samuel Steward, Writer, Professor, Tattoo Artist

Samuel Steward, edited by Jeremy Mulderig. Univ. of Chicago, $20 (256p) ISBN 978-0-226-30468-7
This remarkable collection assembles Steward’s essays for an unlikely venue: the Illinois Dental Journal. Steward, a once-neglected figure in queer history, palled around with Gertrude Stein, kept a “stud file” of his sexual conquests, and ran a successful tattoo parlor catering to sailors. In 1944, he was asked by his dentist, the journal’s editor, to write a column providing a “worm’s-eye view” of dentistry. The essays that followed, under the pen name Philip Sparrow, were elegantly constructed, bitingly funny, and likely to be utterly baffling to the original readership—particularly the coded gay references. The first column, “The Victim’s Viewpoint,” features a patient’s musings on “the Dentist as Iago.” Steward’s focus quickly broadened to a wider range of topics, including wartime life, opera, teetotalers, and men’s fashion. As editor Mulderig observes in his introduction, it’s melancholic to think that Steward may have assumed his fine work would never find an appreciative audience. But the other side of that coin is imagining the glee with which he wrote essays such as “On How to Cook a Wolf” and “On Men and Their Feathers,” and relishing the chance to enjoy these subversive gems now. Steward biographer Justin Spring contributes a foreword. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 09/28/2015
Release date: 11/01/2015
Hardcover - 256 pages - 978-0-226-30454-0
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