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Despite the subtitle's assertion, at least three subjects of "Nothing Ever Just Disappears: Seven Hidden Queer Histories" (performer Josephine Baker, writers James Baldwin and E.M. Forster) have biographies that are far from hidden.

What links the book's sections more than the relative fame of their subjects is their relationship to the "queer spaces" where they lived and made their nonconformist art. Writer Diarmuid Hester is drawn to outsiders, subversives, experimenters. And he urges us in the introduction "to conceive of history more in terms of place than time."

In discussing Baker, Baldwin, Forster, photographer Claude Cahun, filmmaker Jack Smith, British suffragettes of the early 20th century and editor/writer Kevin Killian, Hester travels to and writes about where they lived. (Never mind that he often discusses an artist's era as much as their location.)

In the south of France, a house and acreage where Baldwin spent his final years has been converted into upscale housing. Downtown New York, where Smith shot controversial, ultra-low-budget movies in his tenement apartment, likewise has been gentrified. Hester holds out hope that recognizing the "unrecorded histories" of these and other important cultural places might help preserve them.

Because I knew so little about French-born surrealist Cahun, I loved the chapter about her. Cahun and longtime partner Marcel Moore left France for the Channel Island of Jersey in 1937. During her Paris years, Cahun knew plenty of bigwig French surrealists, but she created in near-complete obscurity, her enigmatic, gender-bending self-portraits and avant-garde writings becoming known only after her death.

Cahun and Moore remained on Jersey after German troops occupied the island during World War II. They dared to resist the Nazis, distributing thousands of antiwar leaflets, manifestos and collages, often sneaking them into places where Germans hung out. The women were later arrested and convicted of "propaganda undermining the morale of the German forces" and sentenced to death. The war ended and they were released after 10 grueling months in prison. In a glaring omission, we learn nothing about Cahun's postwar years (she died in 1954).

While I found little new in chapters on Baker or Baldwin, the section on "London's Queer Suffragettes" is eye-opening. Here we meet not an individual but a ménage devoted to winning the vote for British women in the early 20th century.

Hester's sister-heroes include the "mannish" Vera Holme, who rode horses, acted in men's roles in the theater, and eventually became chauffeur to some of the leading figures of the suffragette movement: actor/producer Edith (Edy) Craig, playwright Cicely Hamilton, activist Emmeline Pankhurst, writer Christopher St John and artist Clare Atwood.

Hester makes a convincing case that these colorful, willful women (some of them gay) redefined public spaces by taking to the male-dominated London streets with large demonstrations and political theater. Their all-women meetings and unconventional household arrangements also worked to "recode" the domestic sphere.

While themes sometimes threaten to overshadow the book's fascinating figures, Hester frequently nudges his argument in novel, intriguing, sometimes contentious directions. As he travels in time and space, he is a keen, impassioned observer of both creative people and their places.

Claude Peck is a former editor at the Star Tribune.

Nothing Ever Just Disappears: Seven Hidden Queer Histories

By: Diarmuid Hester.

Publisher: Pegasus, 368 pages, $29.95.