Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation

Robert W. Fieseler. Liveright, $26.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-63149-164-1
Journalist Fieseler’s eye-opening first book examines the 1973 arson attack on the Up Stairs Lounge in New Orleans, which killed 32 people and which was, until the Pulse nightclub shooting of 2016, the worst attack on a gay club in American history. The book begins with a scene from the morning of the fire in which bartender Buddy Rasmussen and his lover, Adam Fonte, drive to the bar. The chapter on the fire itself is a haunting recreation of what it was like for those trapped inside, including Fonte, who died, and Rasmussen, who made it out and led a group to safety. Fieseler then focuses on the public’s largely ambivalent response to the attack, which received little media attention and a less-than-thorough police investigation that failed to identify the culprit. He describes how the gay liberation movement virtually shut down in New Orleans in the fire’s aftermath and adds that “the Up Stairs Lounge... exposed a majority of citizens as at best apathetic towards homosexuals while also revealing that civil rights movements of the era were tone-deaf.” Though Fieseler’s prose leans toward overreach—“Humidity, so thick with vapor that breathing air could feel like crying tears, would almost routinely reach 100 percent”—his attention to detail and intricate exploration of the material is spot-on. Fieseler shines a bright light on a dark and largely forgotten moment in the history of the gay rights movement. (June)
Reviewed on: 04/16/2018
Release date: 06/05/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 320 pages - 978-1-63149-165-8
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