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Remembering Mark Van Doren

10 Dec

vandoren

Mark Van Doren passed away on this day in 1972, at the age of seventy-eight. Originally from Illinois, Van Doren worked for many years at Columbia University, at one point testifying on Allen Ginsberg’s behalf to keep the young poet from going to jail. Two days before his death, Van Doren underwent surgery at Charlotte Hungerford Hospital for circulatory problems. He is buried at Cornwall Hollow Cemetery in Connecticut.

 

 

Happy 99th Birthday, Robert Lax!

30 Nov

circus

Robert Lax was born on this day in 1915 in Olean, in the Southern Tier region of New York.

Lax studied poetry with Mark Van Doren at Columbia University and graduated in 1938, right before Jack Kerouac arrived on campus. Similarly, they both took on a life of wandering. Lax worked for some prestigious magazines — The New Yorker and Time – and then joined the circus as a juggler.

Eventually, he found his way to the Greek island of Patmos. The island is known as a place of pilgrimage, as the apostle John had lived there. Lax himself went on to live here for more than thirty years, living the life of a hermit and writing beautiful poetry.

Kerouac indeed did end up getting in contact with his fellow alum. You can read his letter to him in Jack Kerouac: Selected Letters, 1940-1956.

Remembering Alan Ansen

12 Nov

disorderly

On this day in 2006 we lost Alan Ansen.

Today we celebrate his life and work. Ansen, a graduate of Harvard, was secretary to none other than the great W. H. Auden, who had come to New York City in 1939. He hung out with Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs,  Allen Ginsberg, and Gregory Corso, and is even written into their works. By the 1960s, he had moved to Greece, where he lived on Alopekis Street in Athens, and hung out with other expatriate poets such as James Merrill (who went on to get the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry in 1977), Chester Kallman (one of Auden’s lovers), and Rachel Hadas (who went on to receive the Guggenheim Fellowship).

Ansen passed away in Athens at the age of eight-four, but leaves behind his poetry and prose. Check out:

I think reading someone’s work is one of the best way to celebrate their life. Do you have a favorite poem by Ansen?

Remembering Ginsberg’s Teacher Lionel Trilling

5 Nov

trilling2

Lionel Trilling passed away on this day in 1975, at the age of seventy. He had lived through a lot: World War I, the Lost Generation, women’s suffrage, Prohibition, the Great Depression, World War II, the Beat Generation, Hippies, and Disco. It’s no wonder his politics, a topic on which he wrote, shifted and swayed and remain up for discussion.

Trilling taught Columbia’s Colloquium on Important Books, where among his students were Allen Ginsberg and Lucien Carr.

 

Remembering Jack Kerouac

21 Oct

 

Jack Kerouac

March 12, 1922 – October 21, 1969

Jack Kerouac was only forty-seven years old when he passed away. The day before he died, he’d been drinking whiskey and writing at his home in St. Petersburg, Florida, when he suddenly felt ill. He called out to his wife, a Greek American from his hometown of Lowell, and Stella Sampas Kerouac got him to St. Anthony’s Hospital, where he ultimately died from his internal hemorrhage. He was buried in Edson Cemetery in Lowell, in the Sampas family plot.

 

 

Happy 118th Birthday, Fitzgerald!

24 Sep

442px-F_Scott_Fitzgerald_1921Photo circa 1921, “The World’s Work” (June 1921 issue), via Wikipedia

The man who perhaps best captured the glitz and the glam of the roaring twenties, F. Scott Fitzgerald, was born on September 24, 1896, in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Fitzgerald is, of course, the author of The Great Gatsby, This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and Damned, Tender Is the Night, and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” He was connected with a group of expatriates living in Paris, who became known as the Lost Generation.

It was this Lost Generation that inspired Jack Kerouac to come up with the term the Beat Generation when he was having a conversation with John Clellon Holmes one day. However, in many ways, Kerouac’s content is dissimilar to Fitzgerald’s. F. Scott — named after Francis Scott Key, the lyricist of “The Star Spangled Banner,” and his second cousin, three times removed (whatever that means!) — glamorized America’s economic boom during the Jazz Age, while Kerouac glamorized the American hobo that sprung up following the Great Depression. Yet, their language, their syntax, is similar in capturing all that jazz.

 

You might also like:::

Life Continues to Be Absurd: Saul Bellow, Jack Kerouac, F. Scott Fizgerald, and Eugene O’Niell

 

“On the Road” Turns 57!

5 Sep

OnTheRoad

Jack Kerouac’s On the Road turns fifty-seven years old today! It’s such a vibrant work that continues to inspire people to pick up a pen or hit the road that it’s hard to believe it’s been around for so long.

The above picture is what the novel looked like when it first came out. Paul and I actually emulated its design on the title page of Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” which I personally was excited about! Since 1957, Kerouac’s novel has undergone many, many cover transformations. I talked about the significance of these design changes here. And I talked about On the Road’s “girly” makeover here.

The novel has since inspired other artists, such as Tim Z. Hernandez, who actually tracked down “the Mexican girl”; Larry Closs; Jonathan Collins; and J. Haeske.

The film adaptation (you can read my experience going to see it here), which has a long history, came out recently and starred some of Hollywood’s biggest names. It sparked a lot of dialogue, including whether Hollywood was glamorizing the Beats.

Of course, even when it was first published, On the Road received criticism for its morality or lack thereof.

Despite these digs at its morality, one of the creeds I’ve heard over and over again — and with which I disagree – is that On the Road is a book only for teenagers.

And if you’re not a teenager and you read On the Road, it supposedly makes you undateabable. Unless maybe you’re a woman.

It seems like everyone has an opinion about On the Road. What’s yours?

What’s Your Sign, Man?

3 Sep

I went to Philly the other day and visited the site of printer and author Benjamin Franklin’s house. To get there, I had to pass through this little tunnel:::

franklin

The sign made me laugh. Imagine being so famous that historians noted not just the site of your house but the little passageway you walked through to get there! His house is no longer standing, but excavations show aspects of the infrastructure. The signage there is equally humorous, as it seems to reveal a strange relationship between Franklin and his wife, Deborah Read. He seemed very concerned about her ability to manage the household and seemed to think she might burn the whole place down. I was so fascinated by his strange letters to her that when I got home I did a little digging into their relationship. It turned out that our Founding Father wasn’t in a traditional marriage! Apparently, he had proposed to dear Deborah but her mother didn’t approve of him so while he was traipsing through merry old England, Deborah married some rake who took her money and ran, never to be heard of again. Ben and Deb technically then entered into a bigamous, common-law marriage. They had two children together and also raised Franklin’s illegitimate child. They don’t teach that in the history books in school!

* * *

Maybe one day Lowell will put up a bunch of signs pointing out where Jack Kerouac went to church and where he wrote while he drank. My friend George Koumantzelis, who is the nephew of Kerouac’s friend Billy Koumantzelis, recently brought Grant Welker’s article “Is Lowell missing the Kerouac beat?” for The Sun to my attention. Welker writes:

Lowell has a small park with a memorial on Bridge Street dedicated to Kerouac and has a walking tour organized by the National Park Service, but it doesn’t have a permanent center — a museum, library or open-to-the-public childhood home — dedicated to the writer, whose popularity continues to grow here and abroad more than 45 years after his death.

In the meantime, we can still laugh about the signs Constantine Valhouli made!

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What books on Benjamin Franklin would you recommend?

 

Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love’s Daughter Reads the Beats

18 Aug

Frances Bean Cobain turns 22 today!

The only daughter of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love has been in the spotlight since the time she was was born. When I was in high school one of my best friends was a huge Nirvana fan, and I pretty much had Hole’s Live Through This on constant repeat.

I was pretty excited to stumble across some photos that indicated Frances Bean’s literary tastes include the Beats! Here are a couple of photographs of her reading Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums: pic 1, pic 2, pic 3. (Side note::: I tried to dye my hair pink with Kool-Aid when I was in high school, but apart from a pink neck, it did not work for me. I still wish I had pink hair….)

And here is a photo reportedly of Francs Bean Cobain’s bookshelf, which includes:

windblownJack Kerouac’s Windblown World

gerardJack Kerouac’s Visions of Gerard

desolationJack Kerouac’s Desolation Angels

exterWilliam S. Burroughs’ Exterminator!

burroughs1William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch

quWilliam S. Burroughs’ Queer

collectedpAllen Ginsberg’s Collected Poems: 1947-1997

These photos of Frances Bean Cobain reading the Beats are on my Beats board on Pinterest.

 

Remembering Herbert Huncke

8 Aug

huncke

I have to say, Herbert Huncke is one of the most fascinating characters associated with the so-called Beat Generation. He came from a middle-class family in Greenfield, Massachusetts, and was raised in Chicago, but left all that behind when his parents divorced to live the life of a hobo. He jumped trains across America and then hitched a ride to New York City. When he got dropped off on the Upper West Side, he bought himself a boutonniere and hoofed it to Times Square. It was through Huncke that the word “beat” made it into Jack Kerouac’s lexicon.

Despite his influence and his own writing, there wasn’t a book devoted to this incredibly fascinating fellow until last year when Hilary Holladay published American Hipster: A Life of Herbert Huncke, The Times Square Hustler Who Inspired the Beat Movement. Here’s the synopsis from Barnes & Noble:

American Hipster: The Life of Herbert Huncke, The Times Square Hustler Who Inspired the Beat Movement tells the tale of a New York sex worker and heroin addict whose unrepentant deviance caught the imagination of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs. Teetering between exhaustion and existential despair, Huncke (rhymes with “junky”) often said, “I’m beat, man.” His line gave Kerouac the label for a down-at-the-heels generation seeking spiritual sustenance as well as “kicks” in post-war America.

Recognizable portraits of Huncke appear in Junky (1953), Burroughs’s acerbic account of his own heroin addiction; “Howl” (1956), the long, sexually explicit poem that launched Ginsberg’s career; and On the Road (1957), Kerouac’s best-selling novel that immortalized the Beat Generation. But it wasn’t just Huncke the character that fascinated these writers: they loved his stories. Kerouac called him a “genius” of a storyteller and “a perfect writer.” His famous friends helped Huncke find publishers for his stories.

Biographies of Kerouac and the others pay glancing tribute to Huncke’s role in shaping the Beat Movement, yet no one until now has told his entire life story. American Hipster explores Huncke’s youthful escapades in Chicago; his complicated alliances with the Beat writers and with sex researcher Alfred Kinsey; and his adventures on the road, at sea, and in prison. It also covers his tumultuous relationship with his partner Louis Cartwright, whose 1994 murder remains unsolved, and his idiosyncratic career as an author and pop-culture icon.

Written by Hilary Holladay, a professor of American literature, the book offers a new way of looking at the whole Beat Movement. It draws on Holladay’s interviews with Huncke’s friends and associates, including representatives of the literary estates of Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, and Huncke; her examination of Huncke’s unpublished correspondence and journals at Columbia University; and her longtime study of the Beat Movement.

It’s good to see Herbert Huncke finally getting remembered.

Huncke passed away on this day in 1996. He was still residing in New York City.