Durham drag queen Kelly Ray, from the book "Legends of Drag: Queens of a Certain Age" by Harry James Hanson and Devin Antheus. Credit: Harry James Hanson & Devin Antheus

Harry James Hanson and Devin Antheus’s Legends of Drag: Queens of a Certain Age, a reverent celebration of queer history, has now been out in the world for nearly a year. But the pair are just getting started.

Initially, the book was conceptualized as a magazine editorial showcasing a generation of older queens in San Francisco, where Antheus was living.

“I was living in New York at the time,” Handson says. “Since we were between New York and San Francisco [we thought], ‘I guess we better do the whole country!'”

The idea then expanded into a book-length project that sprawls across 16 cities and captures the stories and photographs of 81 drag queens; flipping through its pages feels akin to taking a road trip through the shiniest bars and gardens in the country.

The North Carolina book release party at the Pinhook marks the pair’s thirteenth tour stop and will include a sprawling drag showcase, with performances from three local queens—Kelly Ray, Dana St. James, and Ebony Adams—who are profiled in the book.

Salisbury drag queen Jamie Monroe, who is not in the book, will also perform, as will Atlanta’s Shawnna Brooks and Floridian Sharde Ross. The book will be emceed by Drag Race alum Nicole Paige Brooks and Durham’s Vivica C. Coxx; there will also be a book signing and afterparty.

When it was released last June, Legends of Drag received glowing coverage from Vogue and The New York Times. Hanson now says there are plans in the works for a second book and possible television adaptation, and emphasizes the importance of showing up to honor an older generation of drag queens.

“Drag queens are on every wave of queer liberation,” Hanson says. “Queens were crucial in helping the community survive the AIDS crisis. They were the first to the organizing around that—drag queens really are the backbone of the queer community. We’re doing what we can to celebrate and learn from those who have been through moments where drag has not been legal and where they’ve needed to operate underground.”

Both the pandemic and the recent record slate of anti-LGBTQ bills have underscored the urgency of the project, Hanson says.

“In the last month we’ve had three models from the book pass away,” Hanson says. “Every single one of them reaffirmed for me what a blessing it’s been to get to work with these queens but also how important it is that their stories get out there now, when drag is coming under attack.”

“I think for a lot of younger people who maybe have only experienced drag through [places like] Instagram,” Hanson continues, “this emphasizes that it’s an ancient art form passed down from generation to generation, and these are the people who hold that lineage for all of us—and who are still here.”

Follow Arts & Culture Editor Sarah Edwards on Twitter or send an email to sedwards@indyweek.com.

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