Robert FieselerOct 30, 2020
The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation
An essential work of American civil rights history, Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation (Liveright, 2018) mesmerizingly reconstructs the 1973 fire that devastated New Orleans’ subterranean gay community. Buried for decades, the Up Stairs Lounge tragedy has only recently emerged as a catalyzing event of the gay liberation movement. In revelatory detail, Robert W. Fieseler chronicles the tragic event that claimed the lives of thirty-one men and one woman on June 24, 1973, at a New Orleans bar, the largest mass murder of gays until 2016. Relying on unprecedented access to survivors and archives, Fieseler creates an indelible portrait of a closeted, blue- collar gay world that flourished before an arsonist ignited an inferno that destroyed an entire community. The aftermath was no less traumatic—families ashamed to claim loved ones, the Catholic Church refusing proper burial rights, the city impervious to the survivors’ needs—revealing a world of toxic prejudice that thrived well past Stonewall. Yet the impassioned activism that followed proved essential to the emergence of a fledgling gay movement. Tinderbox restores honor to a forgotten generation of civil-rights martyrs.
Robert W. Fieseler is the 2019 National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association "Journalist of the Year" and the acclaimed debut author of Tinderbox-- winner of the Edgar Award and the Louisiana Literary Award, shortlisted for the Saroyan International Prize for Writing. Queer literary icon Andrew Holleran reviewed Tinderbox as "far more than just a history of gay rights," and Michael Cunningham praised it as "essential reading at any time." Fieseler graduated co-valedictorian from the Columbia Journalism School and is a recipient of the Pulitzer Traveling Fellowship. Born and raised in Chicago, Fieseler now lives with his husband and dog in New Orleans.
Morris Ardoin is the author of Stone Motel - Memoirs of a Cajun Boy, published in April 2020 by the University Press of Mississippi. His blog, "Parenthetically Speaking," about the food and culture of Louisiana and his life as a New Yorker, can be found at morrisardoin.com.
John Marszalek III is author of Coming Out of the Magnolia Closet: Same-Sex Couples in Mississippi (2020, University Press of Mississippi). He is clinical faculty of the Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program at Southern New Hampshire University. Website: Johnmarszalek3.com Twitter: @marsjf3