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Reading: The Up Stairs Lounge Arson

Will Coviello on Clayton Delery-Edwards’ book about the Upstairs Lounge fire, with an author signing Aug. 30 at FM Books



Last year marked the 40th anniversary of the fire at the UpStairs Lounge, an arson fire that blazed through a second-floor French Quarter bar in less than 20 minutes and ultimately killed 32 people, most of them gay men. It's the deadliest fire in New Orleans history and it was reported on national news broadcasts, but no one was ever arrested or charged with a crime. Although gruesome photos of some of the victims ran in local newspapers, the fire quickly disappeared from public discussion and memory. Some of the bodies were never claimed by family members, which some people attribute to homophobia.

  In 2011, former New Orleanian Johnny Townsend released his book about the victims, Let the Faggots Burn: The Upstairs Lounge Fire. On the 40th anniversary, Wayne Self's musical Upstairs, a fictionalized version of the event, debuted in New Orleans. Delery-Edwards completed the bulk of his book The Up Stairs Lounge Arson a few years ago but waited to find a publisher. It was released in June by McFarland & Company.

  Delery-Ewards is a teacher at Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts in Natchitoches, and his book is based on public records, published accounts and his interviews with survivors of the fire. He chronicles the fire and its aftermath, and he also examines homophobia at the time of the event. The response in New Orleans was not the galvanized gay and lesbian movement that arose in New York following the 1969 Stonewall riot, which spawned the first gay pride parade, but the fire had a strong impact and Delery-Edwards' book is an invaluable contribution to illuminating that history.

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