Good Reads: Miami Book Fair Spotlights LGBTQ Authors, History

Celebrating its 38th anniversary, Miami Book Fair International is one of the largest literary events in the nation. More than 500 titles will be on sale this weekend at the popular downtown street fair, in addition to dozens of lectures, panel discussions and cultural events held throughout the week at the Miami-Dade College downtown campus and other nearby venues.

LGBT authors and poets are regularly featured on the program and this year is no exception. One young author is Robert Fieseler, who recently published his first book, “Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation.”

“I’m a queer person myself and I’ve always been obsessed foundationally with queer history and what happened before I came out,” explained the author, who lost an uncle to AIDS. “I learned what sodomy was and AIDS at the age of 13 on the way to his funeral.

At that time, I was still discovering who I was. When I became a journalist and historian, I was drawn to stories that captured the culture of early closeted gay life…the things my uncle might have told me had he not died.”

Long forgotten, the Up Stairs Lounge tragedy has only recently emerged as a catalyzing event of the gay liberation movement, according to Fieseler, who chronicled the tragic fire that claimed the lives of 31 men and one woman on June 24, 1973 at a New Orleans bar. Until the 2016 Pulse massacre, the fire had been the largest mass murder of gays. 

Fieseler spent years researching the incident—following his reporter’s “Spidey sense”—and tracking down witnesses and survivors, many of whom had relocated across the country and others who were still reluctant to speak of the traumatic event. Despite the astonishing advances of civil rights at the time, even “progressive” city leaders refused to acknowledge the heinous nature of this crime against gays and lesbians, Fieseler charged in a phone interview, equating their silence to a “conspiracy.”

“Make no mistakes, this was a crime,” he said, “perpetrated against a community that balanced the city’s flamboyant character with closeted self-discretion.”

Ironically, Fieseler now calls New Orleans home after relocating there this fall so his husband can pursue an art fellowship. Despite this dark chapter in history, he finds the city to be intriguing and culturally rich, a welcoming place for a diverse LGBT community.

Other LGBT authors and poets to be featured at the 2018 Miami Book Fair International include: Neil de la Flor, “Reading Queer: Poetry in a Time of Chaos;” Hieu Minh Nguyen, “Not Here;” Arlene Stein, “Unbound: Transgender Men and the Remaking of Identity;” and graphic novelist Erin Nations, “Gumballs.”

Garrard Conley, whose memoir about forced religious conversion therapy, “Boy Erased,” has been made into a feature film starring Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe, will be interviewed in “Identity, Faith and Family: An LGBTQI+ Memoir,” on Sunday, Nov. 18 at 2 p.m.

The Miami Book Fair street fair will be held Friday, Nov. 16 – Sunday, Nov. 18, 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. Admission is free on Friday and $10 on Saturday and Sunday. For a complete schedule of events and tickets, go to MiamiBookFair.com.