Howard Philips Smith
Howard Philips Smith’s Unveiling the Muse: The Lost History of Gay Carnival in New Orleans, the first publication on the history of gay Carnival, was published in 2017. He has collaborated with author Frank Perez to complete Southern Decadence in New Orleans. Currently he is the Art Director of the University of Southern California Libraries where he lives with his husband and three cats in the former home of actress Anna Mae Wong.
12:15 p.m. to 1 p.m.
State Capitol Building, House Committee Room 5
Unveiling and Decadence: The History of Gay Celebrations in New Orleans
1:15 p.m. to 2 p.m.
Barnes & Noble Bookselling Tent
Unveiling the Muse: The Lost History of Gay Carnival in New Orleans
Traditional Carnival has been well documented with a vast array of books published on the subject. However, few of them, if any, mention gay Carnival krewes or the role of gay Carnival within the larger context of the season. Howard Philips Smith corrects this oversight with a beautiful, vibrant, and exciting account of gay Carnival.
Gay krewes were first formed in the late 1950s, growing out of costume parties held by members of the gay community. Their tableau balls were often held in clandestine locations to avoid harassment. Even by the new millennium, gay Carnival remained a hidden and almost lost history. Much of the history and the krewes themselves were devastated by the AIDS crisis. Whether facing police raids in the 1960s or AIDS in the 1980s, the Carnival krewes always came back each season. A culmination of two decades of research, Unveiling the Muse positions this incredible story within its proper place as an amazing and important facet of traditional Carnival.
Based on years of detailed interviews, each of the major gay krewes is represented by an in-depth historical sketch, outlining the founders, moments of brilliance on stage, and a list of all the balls, themes, and royalty. Of critical importance to this history are the colorful ephemera associated with the gay tableau balls. Reproductions of never-before-published brilliantly designed invitations, large-scale commemorative posters, admit cards, and programs add dimension and life to this history. Sketches of elaborate stage sets and costumes as well as photographs of ball costumes and rare memorabilia further enhance descriptions of these tableau balls.
Southern Decadence in New Orleans
Founded in the summer of 1972 by a few friends as a modest celebration, the Southern Decadence festival has since grown into one of New Orleans's largest annual tourist events.
The multiday extravaganza features street parties, drag contests, dancing, drinking, and bead tosses, culminating with a boisterous parade through the French Quarter. With over 200,000 participants―predominantly LGBT+―these unbridled, pre–Labor Day festivities now generate millions of dollars in revenue.
Howard Philips Smith and Frank Perez's Southern Decadence in New Orleans brings together an astounding array of materials to provide the first comprehensive, historical look at Southern Decadence. In an engaging account spanning five decades, the authors combine a trove of rare memorabilia from the event's founders, early photographs and film stills, newspaper and magazine articles, interviews with longtime participants, a list of all the parades and grand marshals, as well as reproductions of early Southern Decadence invitations. Throughout, the authors explore the pivotal moments and public perceptions related to the festival―including the myths and conjecture that often inaccurately characterized it―and provide an in-depth narrative detailing how a small party in the Faubourg Tremé grew into a worldwide destination predominantly for gay men.
Lauded by city leaders as the second-most profitable festival in New Orleans (outshone only by Mardi Gras), Southern Decadence emanates an air of frivolity that masks its enormous impact on the culture and economy of the Crescent City. But with such growth comes the challenge of maintaining the original spirit of camaraderie while managing expanding administrative and logistical responsibilities. Southern Decadence in New Orleans serves as a historical record that helps ensure the future of the celebration remains forever linked to the joyous impulse of its humble beginnings.
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