Book Review: The Essential RuPaul: Herstory, Philosophy & Her Fiercest Queens

Between The Covers | December 2016

By Terri Schlichenmeyer, December 2016 Issue.

The Queen has spoken. Everyone listens because, well, how can they not? Her bearing, her stature, her very demeanor demand attention from all her subjects and in the new book The Essential RuPaul: Herstory, Philosophy & Her Fiercest Queens by John Davis, with illustrations by Libby Vanderploeg, these queens have a lot to say.

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“The Essential RuPaul: Herstory, Philosophy & Her Fiercest Queens” by John Davis and illustrated by Libby Vanderploeg. Smith Street Books, 2016 | $14.95.

When RuPaul Andre Charles was a little boy, his mother told him that he would be a star someday, and she’d given him an unusual name, just so he’d stand out. That’s what he did, starting in his teens when he dropped out of the North Atlanta School of Performing Arts and began to “find his calling.”

On his way, he was a member of a punk rock band, he performed as a go-go dancer, hosted a talk show, and “hosted numerous local events” in Atlanta.

Later, he moved to New York and acted in films. By 1989, after a few pauses in his fabulosity, he became “RuPaul the glamazon” and went on to even bigger fame in fashion, modeling, music, TV, and cosmetics.

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, RuPaul briefly and “quietly” stepped back from show biz to “take a break,” but he couldn’t stay away long: in 2009, he launched “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” a television show that featured snarky judges and competitors in performance, sewing, comedy and, of course, drag.

In this book, we meet some of them.

There’s Santino Rice, a “Drag Race” judge whose comments cut like a razor blade. Adore Delano, whose last-minute debut came on YouTube after her creator, Danny Noriega, appeared on “American Idol.” Alaska, a “Tacky Blonde Bombshell” who hailed from the state she was named after. There’s Cameroon native BeBe Zahara Benet, who arrived following a modeling gig from “an unexpected no-show of a female model.” Drag housewife BedDeLaCreme has created her own cosmetics line, featuring cruelty-free products. Following her taping of “Drag Race” in 2010, Carmen Carrera is now a trans TV star. Cher impersonator Chad Michaels has been fortunate to perform with Cher herself. Manila Luzon’s first appearance was as Cruella de Vil, and performer Nina Flowers enjoys her own “day” in the Denver LGBTQ community.

The Essential RuPaul is one really quirky book.

Despite that its subtitle promises “Herstory” and more, there’s really very little here about RuPaul; four pages, to be exact, and one of those is essentially just an illustration by artist Libby Vanderploeg. The rest of this book, alas, only has tentative relevance to RuPaul, through the drag queens that appeared on the show.

And that’s fine, if that narrow subject is what you want. Author John Davis does a good job in bringing together a bedazzle of performers in this book, but the list is frustrating in its incompleteness and the mini-chapters with mini-biographies are woefully short and quite repetitious. That, plus the misleading title  may frustrate some readers but yet, fans of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” known as #RuPaulBOTS, will probably enjoy this book regardless.

If that’s you, then “Shantay you stay.” Otherwise, “sashay away.” And long live the queens.


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