Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation by Robert W. Fieseler

In 1973 there was an arson fire in a New Orleans gay bar called The Up Stairs Lounge that left 32 people dead. It was the largest mass killing of gay people in history until the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016. In Tinderox, Robert W. Fieseler tells the story of The Up Stairs Lounge fire, the people who were killed, the main suspect, the media’s response, the city officials’ incompetence, and how this event was part of the broader Gay Liberation Movement.

There are about ten pages of writing in this book where Fieseler takes us moment by moment through the fire itself. He recreates the scene and the terror and he is relentless in presenting every detail. These ten pages, are some of the greatest ten pages I have ever read. They took my breath away. This book has other moments that are engaging and exciting, but there is nothing like the ten pages in which we relive this fire.

This is a strong book and well researched book. The scope of what Fiesler has created in Tinderbox is powerful and a true indictment on society and how we treat those who are different from us. Fieseler draws parallels between the Gay Liberation Movement and current events in The United States and past movements that led to other groups of people reclaiming their civil rights. While some of the connections Fiesler made were spot on, other times I felt like her was reaching for parallels that weren’t always so obvious.

We covered this book on The Stacks, and for a more in depth conversation on Tinderbox, check out The Stacks Book Club episode with Joseph Papa where we dive deeper into what we thought worked, and didn’t work so well in this book.

  • Hardcover: 384
  • PublisherLiveright; 1st edition (June 5, 2018)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy Tinderbox Amazon or IndieBound

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