Unveiling the Muse
The Lost History of Gay Carnival in New Orleans
The untold story of a powerful Mardi Gras tradition
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.
Unveiling the Muse is a tremendous addition to scholarship on New Orleans and the history of sexuality. Smith helps move us past elite-driven histories of Carnival and returns the history of Mardi Gras to the libidinal and sexually dissident spaces where it belongs. This book will be tremendously useful for scholars of New Orleans and of urban gay life across the world. For general readers, the book is full of fascinating stories and beautiful tableaux that will give us all a greater appreciation for the long and diverse history of New Orleans Carnival and the queer people who have shaped it.- Thomas Jessen Adams, lecturer in history and American studies at the University of Sydney and author of Working in the Big Easy: The History and Politics of Labor in New Orleans
In Unveiling the Muse, Howard Philips Smith presents a lively and comprehensive history of New Orleans's gay Carnival organizations formed in the post-World War II era. In addition, he takes a wider look at the places, people, and non-Carnival annual calendar of events that are allied with it. His use of archival sources, both public and private, enhances the narrative and adds a stunning visual element to the history of the krewes, clubs, and society that has defined and transformed gay Carnival in New Orleans for over half a century.- Priscilla Lawrence, executive director, The Historic New Orleans Collection
Readers will find spectacular drama and beauty in the often fantastically costumed figures.- Publishers Weekly
Howard Philips Smith, a Mississippi native who began writing about New Orleans gay life in the '80s, brings a journalist's attention to detail and a social historian's focus on lived experience to his account of 'gay Carnival', from the '50s to the present.- Pop Matters