Virtual Event: David Hajdu and John Carey


A Revolution in Three Acts:
The Radical Vaudeville of Bert Williams, Eva Tanguay, and Julian Eltinge

in conversation with ERIC K. WASHINGTON


October 15, 2021
12:00 PM ET


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Free - $5 contribution suggested at registration

Harvard Book Store's virtual event series welcomes DAVID HAJDU—author of Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhorn—and acclaimed cartoonist JOHN CAREY for a discussion of their book A Revolution in Three Acts: The Radical Vaudeville of Bert Williams, Eva Tanguay, and Julian Eltinge. They will be joined in conversation by historian ERIC K. WASHINGTON, author of Boss of the Grips: The Life of James H. Williams and the Red Caps of Grand Central Terminal.

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About A Revolution in Three Acts

Bert Williams—a Black man forced to perform in blackface who challenged the stereotypes of minstrelsy. Eva Tanguay—an entertainer with the signature song “I Don’t Care” who flouted the rules of propriety to redefine womanhood for the modern age. Julian Eltinge—a female impersonator who entranced and unnerved audiences by embodying the feminine ideal Tanguay rejected. At the turn of the twentieth century, they became three of the most provocative and popular performers in vaudeville, the form in which American mass entertainment first took shape.

A Revolution in Three Acts explores how these vaudeville stars defied the standards of their time to change how their audiences thought about what it meant to be American, to be Black, to be a woman or a man. The writer David Hajdu and the artist John Carey collaborate in this work of graphic nonfiction, crafting powerful portrayals of Williams, Tanguay, and Eltinge to show how they transformed American culture. Hand-drawn images give vivid visual form to the lives and work of the book’s subjects and their world.

This book is at once a deft telling of three intricately entwined stories, a lush evocation of a performance milieu with unabashed entertainment value, and an eye-opening account of a key moment in American cultural history with striking parallels to present-day questions of race, gender, and sexual identity.

Praise for A Revolution in Three Acts

"A Revolution in Three Acts is a vivid window into a bygone era of American entertainment. Here is vaudeville and all its comic, dramatic, and tragic dimensions as witnessed in the lives of three of its most pivotal practitioners. David Hajdu and John Carey have not simply crafted an elegy for an art form, they have chronicled the figures whose talent made it great in the first place." —Jelani Cobb, author of To the Break of Dawn: A Freestyle on the Hip Hop Aesthetic

"Three amazing people—Bert Williams, a Black entertainer who pushed the boundaries of minstrelsy; Eva Tanguay, a sexually provocative and funny performer whose best-known song is about not caring what people thought of her; and Julian Eltinge, a cross-dressing vaudevillian who even had his own magazine—are the stars of this entertaining, thought-provoking work of graphic history." —Roz Chast, author of Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

"This vivid book offers the tales and truths of pioneering performers who challenged the rules of race, gender, and sexuality. “Change the joke and slip the yoke,” as Ralph Ellison said. And so they did, remaking American art and history and culture in the process." —Margo Jefferson, author of Negroland: A Memoir

David Hajdu
David Hajdu

David Hajdu

David Hajdu is a professor at the Columbia Journalism School. His books include Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhorn (1996); Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Fariña, and Richard Fariña (2001); The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America (2008); and Adrianne Geffel: A Fiction (2020).

Eric K. Washington
Eric K. Washington

Eric K. Washington

Eric K. Washington is an independent historian and a Bundles Community Scholar of Columbia University. His books include the recent biography, Boss of the Grips: The Life of James H. Williams and the Red Caps of Grand Central Terminal (Liveright, 2019)—about a once influential Black railway labor figure and his Harlem-based workforce—that won the New York Academy of History’s Herbert H. Lehman Prize, the Guides Association of New York City’s Apple Award and special recognition from the Municipal Art Society of New York as a finalist for its Brendan Gill Prize. Washington is a board member of the Biographers International Organization (BIO), for which he recently spearheaded an inaugural award for African American biography, the annual Frances “Frank” Rollin Fellowship.

John Carey
John Carey

John Carey

John Carey is a painter and cartoonist. He was the editorial cartoonist for Greater Media Newspapers for many years.

Photo Credit: Takako Harkness

Join our online event (or pre-register) via the link in the event description.
Event Series: Friday Forum

Harvard Book Store's Friday Forum series takes place on Friday afternoons during the academic year as a way to highlight scholarly books in a wide range of fields, with a particular focus on local scholars.

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