Review: Let the Faggots Burn

Review: Let the Faggots Burn

We still have a long way to go, but look how far we've come. 

It isn't every episode that I have access to, and the time to read, an entire book on the topic. There have been some really great books I've looked longingly at, glanced at my calendar, took a hard look at my bank balance, and decided to pass. But when so little information about the victims of the Upstairs Lounge fire was available through magazine and newspaper articles, I knew I would take the time and money to read any book on the Upstairs Lounge. 

Let the Faggots Burn by Johnny Townsend is a collection of stories about those who were lost, those who survived, the events of the evening, and the reaction of the larger New Orleans community. It is written in the third person narrative, taken from first hand accounts. 

Townsend is upfront about the primary weakness of the book. He did not document. Due to the third person retelling, the reader is never sure who told the author the story. However, that wasn't the goal. As the 1980s brought the AIDS epidemic and some of the survivors were advancing in years, Townsend's goal was simple--put the stories in writing before those who held the memories passed on. The book was not initially intended for publication and distribution. 

By only promising to be a collection of memories, Townsend delivers. The stories are broad and touching,  important in humanizing the victims of a forgotten tragedy. However, the strength of this book is the context it provides. Through the story telling, the backdrop of what it was to be a gay man in 1973 is made clear. The reader can feel the weight of the fear and the hurt and the love.

Though I approached this book from a true crime perspective, I learned the real story wasn't in the arson or the whodunnit. The people were the story. The community response was the story. I wish we could have told more of these stories, but thankfully they have been carefully preserved in Let the Faggots Burn.

Links:

Our episode on the Upstairs Lounge Fire

Johnny Townsend's website

Buy Let the Faggots Burn (we do not get a kick back)

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