A balanced, colorfully depicted portrait of a Southern LGBTQ+ movement.

A NIGHT AT THE SWEET GUM HEAD

DRAG, DRUGS, DISCO, AND ATLANTA'S GAY REVOLUTION

A history of gay culture in 1970s Atlanta.

Padgett revives a significant decade of the South’s queer history through the experiences of two pivotal figures: activist Bill Smith and drag performer John Greenwell. The author dutifully paints his home city as a place formerly seething with open hostility toward queer communities, with rampant homophobic harassment, bar raids, and arrests. But change was inevitable, and Padgett leads us through the revolution via archival research and interview material. Greenwell, who left his Huntsville, Alabama, home a couple years after high school, found strength, solidarity, and unique stardom at the Sweet Gum Head nightclub as stage persona Rachel Wells. Meanwhile, Smith, despite being raised by devout Baptists (“his mother had begged him, and his military father had ordered him, to change”), “lurched into politics” and protested against anti-gay legislation while organizing the Georgia Gay Liberation Front group. His efforts were greatly aided by the election of Atlanta’s first Black mayor, Maynard Jackson, who advocated for gay rights. Smith became a city commissioner and went on to oversee the region’s gay newspaper, the Atlanta Barb, often using its pages as an activist platform. Padgett sketches both profiles with evenhanded journalistic precision while grounding the book’s core at the Sweet Gum Head, a venue incorporating “an intoxicating blend of drag, drugs, disco, and revolution” until its closure in 1981. The author illustrates both the intimacy and the nasty melodrama of nightclub life, and he demonstrates the significant achievements of Smith’s activism, the scourge of Christian crusader Anita Bryant’s anti-gay campaigns, and Smith’s eventual downfall due to his drug addiction. Padgett also acknowledges Sweet Gum owner Frank Powell, who made his club a mecca of self-expression. The author’s analysis also encompasses themes of identity and gender fluidity and creatively marks the progress made by Southern queer communities in terms of sexual freedom and equal rights.

A balanced, colorfully depicted portrait of a Southern LGBTQ+ movement.

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-324-00712-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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A chatty autobiography brimming with heart and humor.

PLAYING WITH MYSELF

Debut memoir from the popular comedian, actor, and writer.

In his debut memoir, Rainbow (“my very real last name”) shares his memories, beginning with his star turn in a backyard production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on his eighth birthday. Growing up on Long Island with a “showbiz-positive family,” the author depicts a flamboyant childhood influenced by his grandmother and her celebrity fascinations. “My eight-year-old childhood bedroom,” he notes, “looked more like the men’s room at a gay bar in Hell’s Kitchen.” Rainbow’s engagement with ballet classes and musical theater provoked relentless schoolyard bullying until a family move to Florida introduced him to the unique strengths to be found in coming out and celebrating his obsession with his “lord and savior,” Barbra Streisand. As his parents’ relationship deteriorated, Manhattan beckoned. In between auditions, Rainbow worked as the “jovial gay boy at the host stand” at Hooters. Honing his stand-up comedy skills, he started a blog, which branched off into a series of comedic video sketches that satirized, among other topics, a fictional relationship with Mel Gibson and a tryout for American Idol. When Rainbow began delving into political parodies, particularly his skewering of the chaotic 2016 presidential campaign, his fame exploded. “For the first few years of Trump,” he writes, “I basically lived inside a giant green screen.” Still, he admits that his career has been a constant hustle and that the isolating cross-country tours “ain’t for sissies.” Rapidly paced comic absurdities fill the remainder of the book, as the author provides anecdotes about his struggles to remain upbeat and social media relevant in the fickle entertainment world despite multiple Emmy nominations. In the concluding chapters, the author openly discusses the public backlash from past controversial comments on Twitter, which he attributes to “sloppy efforts as a young comedian” to be funny. Buoyant and campy throughout, Rainbow’s revelations and lighthearted banter will entertain fans and newbies alike.

A chatty autobiography brimming with heart and humor.

Pub Date: April 19, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-27625-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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