In this NYU Skirball commission, John Kelly takes on the incredible true story of Samuel Steward – history professor, tattoo artist, and sexual renegade, who numbered Thorton Wilder, Gertrude Stein, and Alfred Kinsey among his confidantes. Learn more about Kelly’s work, and the show.

Read the exclusive Indefinite Article by Marvin J. Taylor (NYU Fales), and join us for the NYU Skirball Book Club on Friday, Oct 11, 2019. We’ll be reading Secret Historian, Justin Spring’s biography of Samuel Steward.

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Get Into It

UNDERNEATH THE SKIN (concept video)
Concept video for "Underneath the Skin"

Get Thee to the LIbrary

Recommended readings to accompany the Indefinite Article by Marvin J. Taylor.

Phil Andros, Stud. Alyson Books,1993.

Debra A. Moddelmog and Martin Joseph Ponce (Editors), Samuel Steward and the Pursuit of the Erotic Sexuality, Literature, Archives. Ohio State University Press, 2017.

Justin Spring and Sam Steward, An Obscene Diary: The Visual World of Sam Steward. Elysium Press/Antinous Press, 2010.

Justin Spring, Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.

Sam Steward and Jeremy Mulderig (editor), Philip Sparrow Tells All: Lost Essays by Samuel Steward, Writer, Professor, Tattoo Artist. University of Chicago Press, 2015.

Read All About It

February 26, 2018

Dan Callahan for The Village Voice

John Kelly is a downtown–New York legend, an unclassifiable performer who has embodied figures as diverse as Joni Mitchell, Egon Schiele, and Caravaggio… a self-described “range queen.”

August 3, 2009

Ariel Levy for The New Yorker

Given Kelly’s thirty-year career as a painter, opera singer, actor, fashion illustrator, tightrope walker, musician, and ballet dancer, it’s also easy to understand his mild frustration at being reduced to the cross-dresser who “does” Joni.

Based on a True Story

Learn more about the life & times of Samuel Steward (1909-1993) – aka Phil Andros – aka Phil Sparrow. Or go to the source: Steward’s collected papers are available at in the archives at Yale.

July 25, 2010

Sexual Outlaw on the Gay Frontier

As new biographies of artists and writers like E.M. Forster detail the effects of sexual repression on their work, Steward’s history shows what a life of openness, when embraced, entailed day to day.

Paris Review | December 13, 2017

Autobiography of a Professor, Tattoo Artist, Gay Pornographer, and Sexual Record Keeper

The life that Steward sought to present in his autobiography was by any measure a remarkable one.

Extra Credit

“Read your history, as much as you can”: this charge concludes “Finding Stonewall,” Alexander Chee’s brief account of coming of age as an AIDS activist in the 80s, with limited understanding of the relevance of Stonewall to his own life. He reviews a trio of recent books on Stonewall that helped him contextualize the importance of gay history on contemporary political struggles.

There is no license to be queer, as my friends and I used to say, no exam to pass. That is both a weakness and a strength of this identity, and it has always been this way.

Learn more in our study guide for #Stonewall50.