'Extraordinary' tale of 'first' drag queen to Picador

'Extraordinary' tale of 'first' drag queen to Picador

Picador will publish the story of the world’s first self-described drag queen billed as a marriage of "RuPaul's Drag Race" and “Hidden Figures”.

The House of Swann by journalist Channing Joseph explores the “extraordinary" true story of William Dorsey Swann, a man born into slavery who became the world’s first self-described “drag queen”, as well tracing the untold history of the birth of drag culture.

Joseph, a former drag queen, discovered a "startling cutting" in the archives whilst he was a journalism student.  The news report from April 1888 described the arrest of a group of black men who had been discovered dancing together in satin ball gowns only blocks away from the White House. At the centre of the party was William Dorsey Swann, the self-proclaimed 'queen' of the ball. As his friends fled the scene, Swann ran towards the arresting officer and reportedly said: "You is no gentleman.”  The discovery prompted Joseph's "years-long quest to learn the truth about William Dorsey Swann and his forgotten world".

Georgina Morley acquired UK and Commonwealth rights for Joseph's The House of Swann from Rachel Clements at Abner Stein on behalf of Alia Hanna Habib at The Gernert Company. It will be published in 2021.

"Combining ground-breaking historical discoveries with larger-than-life characters, The House of Swann shows how the nascent spirit of queer pride was forged amid raucous debates over black civil rights and women’s equality at the end of the American Civil War," a Picador spokesperson said. 

Swann’s rebellious group of butlers, messengers, coachmen and cooks risked their livelihoods and reputations - even their lives - to carve out a space for themselves at the centre of American power, prestige, and influence. Joseph also "captures 19th century Washington DC's transgressive underground with its forbidden sex, dazzling fashions, shocking pseudoscience, and political intrigue".

Joseph has written for the Atlantic, Entertainment Weekly, MTV and the Guardian, and was an editor and staff writer at the New York Times. He lives in Los Angeles and currently teaches journalism at the University of Southern California. The House of Swann is his first book.

Morley said: "William Swann’s story is breathtaking and Channing Joseph will tell it beautifully.  It shines a bright light on a piece of history most of us know nothing about and – more than that – it’s a hoot. Marry "RuPaul" with "Hidden Figures" and you’ll get the idea."  

Joseph said: "I feel so privileged to know that Picador understands and appreciates my vision for the book -- and for the impact that I hope it can make in the world."