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Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation

Thursday, May 2, 2019 - 6:00pm to 7:00pm
Registration is required
Members Free and Non-members $15

Robert W. Fieseler in conversation with Jeremy Hobson

An essential work of American civil rights history, Tinderbox 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. Fiesler will be joined in conversation with Jeremy Hobson of WBUR. 

Robert W. Fieseler is the acclaimed debut author of Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation, a nonfiction account of a notoriously unsolved arson fire at a gay bar in 1973 New Orleans that claimed 32 lives. Tinderbox has been featured in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, plus on ABC News and NPR's "All Things Considered.” Queer literary legend Andrew Holleran declared it "far more than just a history of gay rights" in a rave review. Fieseler wrote the book in a secret corner on the third floor of the Boston Athenaeum over the span of several years. Tinderbox was listed as a Best Book of 2018 by Kirkus Reviews; named an American Library Association Stonewall Honor Book; and nominated for the Edgar Award in Best Fact Crime. Fieseler graduated co-valedictorian from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and is a recipient of the Pulitzer Traveling Fellowship. He lives with his husband in Boston and New Orleans.

Here & Now co-host Jeremy Hobson started telling stories on the radio when he was a kid and hasn't stopped since. After joining Here & Now in 2013, he's helped grow the program into public radio's indispensable midday news magazine, nearly tripling the audience in just a few years. He conducts nearly 2,000 interviews a year on a range of topics, speaking with world leaders, governors and members of Congress, as well as actors, musicians, business leaders, athletes, scientists and journalists. Hobson also started many regular segments on Here & Now, including the DJ Sessions, the daily business segment, conversations with Recode, BackStory, Derek Thompson of The Atlantic and a weekly interview with political journalists. Before joining Here & Now, Hobson hosted the Marketplace Morning Report, a daily business news program with an audience of more than 6 million. As host, he interviewed some of the most powerful people in business including Warren Buffett, Bill and Melinda Gates and Richard Branson. Hobson was previously a reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C., and later New York City where he covered Wall Street and its impact on ordinary Americans during the financial crisis of 2008. Hobson has also reported and hosted for public radio stations including WRNI Providence, WCAI Cape Cod and WILL in Urbana, Illinois. He spent years as a producer for NPR's All Things Considered, Day to Day and Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me! Hobson's radio career began at the age of 9 when he started contributing to a program called Treehouse Radio. He is a graduate of Boston University and the University of Illinois Laboratory High School, and is proud to have been honored by both institutions with distinguished alumni awards.

The Boston Athenæum has an never ending supply of talented authors coming into our doors. Robert Fieseler was one of our Authors of the Month in June of 2018.  Check his interview with our very own Rare Material Cataloguing Librarian, Graham Skinner.

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