Queer Places, Practices, and Lives: A Symposium in Honor of Samuel Steward Scheduled for May 2012

December 30, 2011

The idea to honor OSU and English Department alumnus Samuel Steward (B.A. 1931; M.A. 1932; Ph.D. 1934) with a symposium “was serendipitous in many ways”, says Debra Moddelmog, Professor of English and Co-Director of the Sexuality Studies Program at Ohio State, discussing plans for the international symposium to be held May 18-19 2012.  In 2011, Steward -- writer, educator, and pioneer of gay erotica and tattoo art – was the subject of Secret Historian, a groundbreaking biography by Justin Spring, which was published to great critical acclaim. But as an alumnus of OSU, Steward had made a generous bequest to the University in the mid 1990s, asking that these funds be used to support LGBT speakers and research.  The fund  became known as the Samuel Steward/Eric Walborn Endowment Fund, but over the years, Steward’s purpose for the fund went unrealized.  However, this purpose was rediscovered almost simultaneously with the publication of Secret Historian, and thus the seed was planted to use his bequest for Queer Places, Practices & Lives: A Symposium in Honor of Samuel Steward.

The international symposium will be held at The Ohio State University May 18-19, 2012. It provides a forum for scholars, creative writers, performance artists, archivists, and others to present and discuss their work relating to the legacy of Samuel Steward in particular, and queer issues in general. Symposium co-organizers Moddelmog;  Joe Ponce, Associate Professor of English and Coordinator of the Asian American Studies Program; Tommy Davis, Assistant Professor of English; and Shannon Winnubst, Associate Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSS) see the symposium as a springboard exploring  queer studies based on Steward’s life, such as gay Chicago, LGBT issues in academia, tattoo art, and pulp fiction, as well as advancing new trends in the field, such as queer American Indian studies, spatial studies, and queer of color critique.

To accomplish this, the conference planning committee, composed of faculty and graduate students in English, WGSS, Art Education, and Education, have secured a number of speakers to present on issues relevant to Steward’s life and to the conference. Some of these include:  the presumption that urban areas are more progressive than rural ones for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender; the intersection of race and class with queerness; and immigration along with matters of imperialism and colonialism as these affect sexual minorities.

The symposium will feature workshops, films, an exhibit, and many speakers to address key issues and topics. One of the highlights will be the Keynote address on Friday, May 18, by Justin Spring.  Specializing in twentieth-century American art and culture, Spring is the author of several books.  His most recent, Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade, is a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, a 2010 National Book Award Finalist, a Top 10 Biography of the Year on Amazon, an American Library Association Stonewall Honor Book for 2011, a runner-up for the PEN American Center’s Weld Prize for Distinguished Biography, and the winner of the Lambda Literary Award in Biography. His Keynote will consider the question of why Steward is important today. In addition, the Thompson Library will host an archive and collections roundtable, and  an exhibit containing items related to the conference themes of queer places, practices, and lives, such as letters from Steward to Gertrude Stein, Thornton Wilder, and other notable cultural and LGBT figures, books written by Steward,  and other LGBT books and magazines written during  Steward’s time..

The conference organizers hope to make this the first of many queer-focused conferences to come. Through the symposium, Moddelmog says that their goals are “[t]o draw attention to Sam Steward [and] how important he is to queer studies, and to foster new directions for the field. The 1930s and 40s, in particular, were a time period that has been understudied in regard LGBT lives, and the conference will have several speakers who will bring that period to life. We also hope that the conference puts Columbus, and particularly Ohio State, on the map as a place where queer studies is done in a significant and exciting way.”

Visit the following links to find out more about Queer Places, Practices & Lives: A Symposium in Honor of Samuel Steward:

Symposium Home

Samuel Steward’s Influences and Legacies at OSU

The conference is free and open to OSU students, faculty, staff, alumni, and the general public.


Report by Andrea Leigh Hilliard, AU11 Website Intern