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Cornelia Meatpacking District

28 Sep

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For many years, the Cornelia Street Café was one of my favorite haunts in all of New York City. Situated on a tiny, quiet street in the Village, it burst with energy and innovation. “Minister of Culture, Wine Czar, Dean of Faculty” Robin Hirsch gave the stage to the exquisitely unique musicians and poets that make New York City so great.

Among the monthly guests was David Amram. Composer, author, veteran, he began his professional career playing French horn in the National Symphony Orchestra in 1951. A few years later, after serving in the US Army, he moved to New York and began playing in bands by jazz musicians Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, and Oscar Pettiford. A decade later, Leonard Bernstein selected him to be the New York Philharmonic’s first composer-in-residence. In between that time, he’d written the scores to such films as Splendor in the Grass and The Manchurian Candidate. To host a musician of Amram’s caliber spoke to the esteem of the Cornelia Street Café, though both the Café and Amram always brought in up-and-coming acts as well. At his monthly Monday night sessions at “the Cornelia Street Stadium,” as he always called the tiny venue, Amram shared not just his music but stories of life in the ‘50s and ‘60s in the Village. He’d talk about the great international instrument shop he frequented and the poetry and music venues that have now shuttered.

And then just like that Cornelia Street Café became one of them. Opened in July 1977, the café closed due to rising rents on New Years 2019.

The news of Cornelia Street Café’s shuttering is a huge loss to the literary community and to New York City. While New York’s profitability is positive, its rampant gentrification destroys the very thing that makes the city so exciting, beautiful, and unique. If a city loses its artists, it loses its heart, its pulse.

It was also a loss for me. My editor and mentor introduced me to Cornelia Street Café, urging me to check it out. Soon I began attending Amram’s jams, Three Room Press’s Beat-centric events hosted by founders Kat Georges and Peter Carlaftes, and a slew of other readings. I got to hear impressive poets like Steve Dalachinsky (who passed on September 16), Anne Waldman, George Wallace, you name it! It was also the place where Sopranos actor John Ventimiglia came in and sat across from me at the table where I was seated. Incredibly, more than once I found myself on stage. David Amram kindly invited me to read from Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” coauthored with biographer Paul Maher Jr.,which is one of the highlights of my life. I also had the great pleasure of reading a section from my memoir-in-progress at the Greek American Writers Association, thanks to an invitation from the ever-gracious Penelope Karageorge. I, in turn, introduced many of my friends to Cornelia Street Café, and when the news broke that it was closing, we grieved because it didn’t just mean the loss of a venue—it meant the loss of a community spirit.

So, when my mentor emailed to alert me that Cornelia Street in Exile was heading to the Meatpacking District for a Sunday afternoon outdoors at Gansevoort Plaza on September 15, I had to go! I was also intrigued. Though there was a beautiful—and ohmygosh delicious—restaurant at the street level, to get to the performance venue you had to descend down the stairs into the cavernous basement. It was dark and narrow, lit by candlelight. Plush red drapes and mirrors perhaps sought to make the tiny room elegant and more spacious, but in fact the space felt womblike. It was, after all, a place pregnant with creative possibilities, where one grew, evolved, and was, in a way, reborn into the slippery city night. So how would it work to for Cornelia Meatpacking District to be out in broad daylight, on the street, for passersby to wonder it?

 

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Hirsch and Amram

Incredibly well, actually. When it was open, Cornelia Street Café often hosted a full day of events over Memorial Day weekend that spilled out onto the sidewalks. It felt very much like one of those events. Of course, that’s probably thanks to the Shinbone Alley Stilt Band, who were a staple of the summer events and who helped create a seamless transition from one performer to the next at Cornelia Meatpacking District by stilt-walking from the stage to the crowd to perform between sets. That got people’s attention!

David Amram & Co. held the show together, playing many of our favorites and introducing—and even performing with—the other musicians and poets. It was a full afternoon of delight thanks to all the fun musicians and poets who read. As it was more performance-driven, I missed getting to hear David’s stories, which for me are always fascinating, but poet—and new dad—Frank Messina told how he’d met his wife at the Cornelia Street Café!

 

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Messina and Amram

The event also included Arturo O’Farrill Trio. Son of the legendary Latin jazz musician Chico O’Farrill, Arturo is a musician in his own right: the Grammy Award winning musician is known for his free jazz and experimentations with hip hop. There was also Rogerio Souza and the Billy Newman Quarteto.

The lively music soon had people dancing at the front of the stage! Proprietor Robin Hirsch, publisher Kat Georges, attendees in the crowd, and a bold young woman who seemed to enjoy the attention danced and swayed and moved to the music. The sun then began to set over the Hudson, and with it the show came to a close.

Though it lacked some of the intimacy of the basement and felt commercial because the corporate sponsors were profusely thanked between each set, the event was a success. It showed the resilience of the arts and captured the beauty of community. Many of the familiar faces were there, but so were new people, intrigued by musicians playing jazz on stilts, the charm of VickiKristinaBarcelona Band, and folk musicians singing of bad dates. Four hours long, the Cornelia Meatpacking District felt organic—and hopeful.

Next up, Hirsch brings Yom Kippur for Yogis to the Integral Yoga Institute for Cornelia Integral on October 3 at 7pm. Tickets are $20. FMI: iyiny.org.

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The Mad Are Holy: Mental Health in Ginsberg’s “Howl”

26 Jun

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So excited to share with you that Geez published my essay “The Mad Are Holy” in their current issue about the poetics of resistance. I explore how Allen Ginsberg’s seminal poem “Howl” was met with legal resistance because of its language and sexual content, but how the poem was a call to embrace the people society had determined were “mad.”

Special thanks to my editor Aiden Enns and the entire team at Geez for putting together this great issue focused on the Poetics of Resistance. You can purchase the magazine here.

5 Quotes about Jack Kerouac’s Influence on Bob Dylan

19 Oct

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So you may have heard that Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize.

For Literature.

At first, no one could get ahold of him. Then, when they did, he rejected it. The initial news, though, set the literary community ablaze. He’s a singer. A songwriter. Are lyricists worthy of literary awards?

Some said no. In The New York Times article “Why Bob Dylan Shouldn’t Have Gotten a Nobel,” Anna North wrote:

Yes, Mr. Dylan is a brilliant lyricist. Yes, he has written a book of prose poetry and an autobiography. Yes, it is possible to analyze his lyrics as poetry. But Mr. Dylan’s writing is inseparable from his music. He is great because he is a great musician, and when the Nobel committee gives the literature prize to a musician, it misses the opportunity to honor a writer.

 

Bob Dylan, Nobel laureate? It’s not so strange, really” was the headline from the editorial staff of the Los Angeles Times, which went on to say:

The permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, which awarded Dylan the Nobel Prize for Literature on Thursday, compared him to Homer and Sappho, and it’s a fact that great literature has its roots in lyrics that were set to music and transmitted from town to town and from generation to generation by a succession of minstrels, troubadours, cantors and choirs. And then records, radio and streaming services.

For me, it wasn’t all that shocking for Bob Dylan of all songwriters to have won a literary prize. Growing up, I knew very little of Bob Dylan. I knew that he was from Minnesota, like Prince, and like my mother. I knew he was a folk singer with a unique voice who’d famously brewed a storm when he went electric. And, I knew him as someone featured in the very first Beat book I ever bought — Ann Charter’s The Portable Beat Reader.

The Portable Beat Reader had included four pieces of Dylan’s in its pages:

  1. “Blowin’ in the Wind”
  2. “The Times They Are A-Changin'”
  3. “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”
  4. Tarantula (excerpt)

Ray Bremser, Jack Micheline, Peter Orlovsky, and Anne Waldman only got one a-piece. If Ann Charters and the editors at Penguin were any indication, Bob Dylan was as much a poet as other recognized poets.

 

The poets and writers of the Beat Generation encouraged Bob Dylan tremendously. The documentary Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder touches on this poignantly. Much has already been written extensively about Dylan’s literary influences, so here are just five quotes connecting Bob Dylan and Jack Kerouac:

  1. “’I read On the Road in maybe 1959. It changed my life like it changed everyone else’s,’” said Bob Dylan via BobDylan.com
  2. “But it captures what Dylan cherishes in Jack Kerouac, who understood freedom in much the same way….” — Cass R. Sunstein wrote about Dylan’s “Desolation Row” in “Dylan soars past Whitman as the great American poet” in the Chicago Tribune 
  3. “’Someone handed me Mexico City Blues in St. Paul in 1959,’ Dylan told him. ‘It blew my mind.’ It was the first poetry he’d read that spoke his own American language, Dylan said—or so Ginsberg said he said.” — Sean Wilentz wrote in “Bob Dylan, the Beat Generation, and Allen Ginsberg’s America” in The New Yorker 
  4. “Dave Van Ronk, in discussing both Dylan’s literary filiations and his well-known intolerance of the sixties rock revolution, noted that ‘Bobby is very much a product of the beat generation.… You are not going to see any more like him.’ Dylan likened his songs of this period to the cut-ups of William Burroughs, and there are notable similarities between these songs and the writings of Jack Kerouac, especially the Neal Cassady-inspired Visions of Cody and On the Road—not only in their phrasings but also in Dylan’s whole persona, which seemed almost to be modeled on Dean Moriarty, the ‘holy goof,’ the ‘burning shuddering frightful angel.’” — wrote Mark Polizzotti in “On Bob Dylan’s Literary Influences” via LitHub
  5. “In the East, some wended their way up to Lowell, becoming pilgrims at his grave, often leaving notes, mementos, or an empty wine bottle or half-pint of whiskey in salute. Then, in 1975, Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg, in Lowell on Dylan’s Rolling Thunder tour, made a trip to Kerouac’s grave, famously recorded in the film Renaldo and Clara. While Ginsberg rambles on about the famous graves he’s visited, Dylan is noticeably quiet as he ponders Kerouac’s brief dates and the ‘He honored life’ coda etched in the granite. ‘Is this what’s going to happen to you?’ asked Ginsberg, indicating Jack’s slab. ‘No,’ said Dylan, then just thirty-four. ‘I wanna be in an unmarked grave.’” — from John Suiter’s “Kerouac’s Lowell: A Life on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers

You can watch the video of Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg at Kerouac’s grave here.

For the connection between Homer and Jack Kerouac, go here.

 

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Everybody Goes Home in October

1 Oct

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Schedule for Lowell Celebrates Kerouac 2016

15 Sep

The annual Lowell Celebrates Kerouac is just around the corner. This year the event will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the publication of Jack Kerouac’s Satori in Paris.

Here is the full schedule:

Thursday, October 6

6:00 pm: Traditional Kerouac Pubs Tour. From the Old Worthen, 141 Worthen St. to Ricardo’s to Ward Eight to Cappy’s Copper Kettle. Led by Bill Walsh.

8:00 pm: Traditional LCK Kick-off: Music and Readings. Cappy’s Copper Kettle, 245 Central St. Performances by Alan Crane, George Koumantzelis, Colleen Nichols, and local readers. Joined by special guest David Amram. Always a kick! Hosted by John McDermott.

Friday, October 7

9:30 am: The Annual Jack Kerouac Poetry and Prose Competition. Held at Jack Kerouac’s alma mater. Lowell High School. Students will read their poetry and prose entries. David Amram will share his memories of collaborating with Jack Kerouac. Lowell High School Theater. LHS is located at 50 Father Morissette Boulevard. [Note: This is a Lowell High School event, and not open to the public at large.]

2:30 pm: Talking Jack. Readings and conversation. Using the Satori in Paris Anniversary motif, we’ll start off with the topic of “Jack and His Ancestral Roots” and see where it leads. Bring your favorite passage that speaks to Jack’s ongoing quest to answer the “Who am I?” question—it’s one we all have to confront at some point in our lives.
Hyper-Text Cafe. 107 Merrimack St.

4:00 pm: Festival Wine Opening Reception: “Be in Love with Your Life—every minute of it.” An exhibit by artist Barbara Gagel that explores the deep emotional impact of words from Jack Kerouac’s literary language.

Ayer Lofts. 172 Middle Street.

8:00 pm: Jack Kerouac Tribute Concert to Benefit the Proposed New Jack Kerouac Cultural Center. As of this posting plans are still in the works for a special concert to promote a proposed Jack Kerouac Cultural Center in Lowell, which the concert proceeds will go to support.
This event is being sponsored by Lowell’s Coalition for a Better Acre. The CBA will rebrand the building, currently known as the Smith Baker Center, as a performance hall and community center honoring Jack Kerouac with concerts, film festivals, speakers, plays, public debates and theater productions.
Check the LCK website for further details as they become available for ticket purchases.

Saturday, October 8

9:30 am: Commemorative at the Commemorative. “Honoring Jack’s Search for his Roots.” In keeping with the Satori in Paris anniversary observance, we’ll offer some readings from his writings that point to the importance for Jack of finding his identity and ancestral roots. Led by Steve Edington and Roger Brunelle.
French and Bridge Streets.

10:15 a.m. Bus Tour: The Jack Kerouac Tour of Lowell. This tour takes participants to as many Kerouac places that can be covered in a long itinerary, and within a limited time. Included are visits, with interpretative readings, to the author’s birthplace, the schools he attended, the churches and shrines at which he prayed, and his grave. Led by Roger Brunelle.
Leaves from the Commemorative. $10.00 donation requested. Reservations at 978-970-5000.

10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Marathon Reading of “Satori in Paris.” This is being coordinated by Sean Thibodeau, Coordinator of Community Planning for the Pollard Library. Sign up to read a passage by contacting Sean at sthibodeau@LowellLibrary.org, or just show up ready to read.

2:00 pm: Annual Parker/LCK Lecture. “Jack Kerouac: Speed Demon.” Presenter this year is Jay Atkinson. By any standard Kerouac was a remarkable athlete. He was a champion sprinter, a speedy baseball outfielder, and a gridiron phenom. In this talk, Jay sheds some light on Kerouac’s athletic prowess and its influence on his work.
A former two sport college athlete, Atkinson is the author of two novels, a story collection, and five narrative non-fiction books. He teaches writing at Boston University.
Lowell National Historical Park Visitors Center. 246 Market St.

3:30 pm: Kerouac’s Library Haunts and Hooky Tour. The tour includes a visit to the Library’s recently dedicated “Kerouac Corner,” so named to honor the time Jack spent here during high school days—sometimes playing hooky in order to expand his own literary horizons. Led by Bill Walsh.
Pollard Library. 401 Merrimack Street.

4:00 pm: Open Mike at the Old Worthen. Lead off with Brian Hassett, author of “The Hitchhikers Guide to Jack Kerouac.” Bring your favorite Kerouac passage to share, or a Kerouac inspired passage of you own. Emceed by Cliff Whalen. 141 Worthen Street.

6:00 pm: Opening Reception: “Satori in Paris/Le Jazz Hot.” Artists creations based on Kerouac’s novel Satori in Paris and Le Jazz Hot, Jack’s favorite music. Coordinated by Judith Bessette. Music provided by David Amam.
The UnchARTed Gallery. 103 Market Street.

8:00 pm: Buddha and the Blues with Rev. Freakchild and Willie Loco Alexander. An exploration of transcendence through music, musical styles, musical traditions, and musical improvisation with emphasis on the crossroads between the American Blues tradition and the Bodhisvatta Path in one of Lowell’s Acre neighborhood’s Greek establishments.
Olympia’s Zorba Music Hall. 439 Market Street. A $10.00 donation at the door requested.

Sunday, October 9

10:00 am: Mystic Jack: Visions of Jack and Gerard. Walking tour begins at the Saint-Louis-de-France Church and moves along Beaulieu St. to the convent and the school, featuring a look inside Jack’s parish school and ends inside his childhood church. Tours is based on “Visions of Gerard,” the mystical story of Jack’s brother who died at nine years. He is portrayed by Jack as the universal symbol of brotherhood and kindness, with emphasis on Gerard’s tenderness and dreams in his Catechism class and Friday afternoon Confession. Led by Roger Brunelle. $10.00 donation requested.
St. Louis de France Church. 241 West 6th Street.

1:30—4:00 pm: Annual Amram Jam! Our annual event featuring David Amram performing with a cast of many readers, poets, and musicians. You can feel the spirit of Kerouac moving here. Special guest readers Jason Eisenberg and Don Ouelette. Hosted by Peter Eliopoulos.
Upstairs at the Old Worthen. 141 Worthen Street.

6:00 pm: “Ghosts of the Pawtucketville Night” Tour. An evening walk through the streets of the Pawtucketville neighborhood where Jack spent his adolescent years, as he describes them in Doctor Sax and Maggie Cassidy. Readings from his talk-writings at the cottages and tenements where Jack lived when he attended the Bartlett Junior High School and Lowell High. Tour ends at the Sainte-Jeanne-d’Arc Church where Jack saw a vision of the BEATific Generation.
Begin at Cumnock Hall. University of Massachusetts at Lowell, North Campus. 1 University Avenue. Led by Roger Brunelle. $10.00 donation requested.

Monday, October 10

10:00 a.m. Kerouac’s Nashua Connection Tour—By Passenger Van. A tour of the Kerouac sites of Nashua, New Hampshire. Leave from the LNHP Visitors Center at 246 Market Street. Led by Steve Edington. (Will connect with the Loop Walk in progress—see item below—for those who wish to join it upon returning to Lowell.) A $10.00 donation requested. Reservations at 978-970-5000.

10:00 a.m. LCK Loop Walk from the Kerouac Commemorative. Walk goes from Bridge Street to the St. Louis Church in Centralville, past Kerouac homes and landmarks in Centralville and Pawtucketville, finishing at the Old Worthen Tavern. Led by Bill Walsh.

For more information, visit Lowell Celebrates Kerouac.

 

 

The Literary Career of Joyce Johnson

14 Sep

Joyce Johnson is an award-winning author who also has an important role in the Beat Generation.

After Jack Kerouac’s death, she helped get Visions of Cody published. In a 2012 interview with Michael del Castillo at Literary Manhattan, she explained:

In 1972, when I was an associate editor at McGraw Hill, I was able to realize my dream of publishing the entire novel.  I edited it in the way Jack would have liked me to—in other words, hardly at all, mostly conforming the names of the characters and correcting typos.

In 1983 Joyce Johnson won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Minor Characters (described below). In 1987 she won the O. Henry Award for “The Children’s Wing,” published in Harper’s Magazine in July 1986.

Here are 8 books by Joyce Johnson:

 

 

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Come and Join the Dance (1962):

The daring debut of the Beat Generation’s first woman novelist It’s 1955. Seven days before her graduation from Barnard College, Susan Levitt asks herself, “What if you lived your entire life without urgency? just before going out to make things happen to her that will shatter the mask of conformity concealing her feelings of alienation. If Susan continues to be “good”, marriage and security await her. But her hunger is rising for the self-discovery that comes from existential freedom. After breaking up with the Columbia boy she knows she could marry, Susan seeks out those she considers “outlaws” the brave and fragile Kay, who has moved into a rundown hotel, in order to “see more than fifty percent when I walk down the street” the vulnerable adolescent rebel Anthony; and Peter, the restless hipster graduate student who has become the object of Kay’s unrequited devotion. This fascinating novel-which the author began writing a year before her encounter with Jack Kerouac-is a young woman’s complex response to the liberating messages of the Beat Generation. In a subversive feminist move, Johnson gives her heroine all the freedom the male Beat writers reserved for men to travel her own road”

— image and synopsis via Amazon

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Bad Connections (1978):

The award-winning author of Minor Characters writes with delicious transparency about a love that cannot be harnessed and a woman who refuses to be deceived In the great wave of husband-leaving ushered in by the Sexual Revolution, Molly Held frees herself from her cold, flagrantly unfaithful husband after their final quarrel turns violent. With her five-year-old son, she lights out for an Upper West Side apartment and the new life she hopes to find with Conrad Schwartzberg-the charismatic radical lawyer who has recently become her lover. Having escaped from a desert, she lands in a swamp. While Conrad radiates positive energy, he is unable to tell Molly-or anyone who loves him-the truth. No longer the wronged wife, Molly now finds herself the Other Woman. She is sharing Conrad with Roberta, another refugee from marriage-with Conrad’s movements between the two of them disguised by his suspiciously frequent out-of-town engagements. Roberta either knows nothing or prefers to look the other way, but Molly’s maddening capacity for double vision takes over her mind. What saves her from herself is her well-developed sense of irony, which never fails her-or the reader.

— image and synopsis via Amazon

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Minor Characters (1987):

Jack Kerouac. Allen Ginsberg. William S. Burroughs. LeRoi Jones. Theirs are the names primarily associated with the Beat Generation. But what about Joyce Johnson (nee Glassman), Edie Parker, Elise Cowen, Diane Di Prima, and dozens of others? These female friends and lovers of the famous iconoclasts are now beginning to be recognized for their own roles in forging the Beat movement and for their daring attempts to live as freely as did the men in their circle a decade before Women’s Liberation.Twenty-one-year-old Joyce Johnson, an aspiring novelist and a secretary at a New York literary agency, fell in love with Jack Kerouac on a blind date arranged by Allen Ginsberg nine months before the publication of On the Road made Kerouac an instant celebrity. While Kerouac traveled to Tangiers, San Francisco, and Mexico City, Johnson roamed the streets of the East Village, where she found herself in the midst of the cultural revolution the Beats had created. Minor Characters portrays the turbulent years of her relationship with Kerouac with extraordinary wit and love and a cool, critical eye, introducing the reader to a lesser known but purely original American voice: her own.

— image and synopsis via Amazon

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In the Night Cafe (1989):

From the award-winning author of Minor Characters comes a haunting story about the persistence of love and the sustaining and destabilizing power of memories. In the vibrant downtown Manhattan art world of the 1960s, where men and women collide in “lucky and unlucky convergences,” a series of love affairs has left Joanna Gold, a young photographer, feeling numbed. Then, at yet another party, a painter named Tom Murphy walks up to her. “Why do you hang back?” he asks. Rather than another brief collision, their relationship is the profound and ecstatic love each had longed to find. But it’s undermined by Tom’s harrowing past – his fatherless childhood, his wartime experiences, and most of all, the loss of the two children he left behind in Florida, along with the powerful red, white, and black paintings he will never set eyes on again. Tom, both tender and volatile, draws Joanna into the unwinnable struggle against the forces that drive him toward death.

Once again, Joyce Johnson brings to life a mythic bohemian world where art is everything and life is as full of intensity and risk as the bold sweep of a painter’s brush across a canvas.

— image and synopsis via Amazon

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What Lisa Knew: The Truths and Lies of the Steinberg Case (1991):

“She was found in darkness – the bruised, comatose first-grader who would never wake up to tell anyone which of the two adults in the small, filthy Greenwich Village apartment had beaten her.” On January 30 1989, Joel Steinberg was found guilty of first-degree manslaughter after a twelve-week, nationally televised trial in which his former lover, Hedda Nussbaum, was the star prosecution witness. In this book, Joyce Johnson examines the mysteries still surrounding Lisa Steinberg’s death and also addresses the painful question of how she lived, in an account of what is known about her last days and hours, when no one acted to save her.

— image and synopsis via Amazon

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Doors Wide Open: A Beat Love Affair in Letters, 1957-1958 (2001):

On a blind date in Greenwich Village set up by Allen Ginsberg, Joyce Johnson (then Joyce Glassman) met Jack Kerouac in January 1957, nine months before he became famous overnight with the publication of On the Road. She was an adventurous, independent-minded twenty-one-year-old; Kerouac was already running on empty at thirty-five. This unique book, containing the many letters the two of them wrote to each other, reveals a surprisingly tender side of Kerouac. It also shares the vivid and unusual perspective of what it meant to be young, Beat, and a woman in the Cold War fifties. Reflecting on those tumultuous years, Johnson seamlessly interweaves letters and commentary, bringing to life her love affair with one of American letters’ most fascinating and enigmatic figures.

— image and synopsis via Amazon

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Missing Men: A Memoir (2005): 

Joyce Johnson’s classic memoir of growing up female in the 1950s, Minor Characters, was one of the initiators of an important new genre: the personal story of a minor player on history’s stage. In Missing Men, a memoir that tells her mother’s story as well as her own, Johnson constructs an equally unique self-portrait as she examines, from a woman’s perspective, the far-reaching reverberations of fatherlessness. Telling a story that has “shaped itself around absences,” Missing Men presents us with the arc and flavor of a unique New York life—from the author’s adventures as a Broadway stage child to her fateful encounters with the two fatherless artists she marries. Joyce Johnson’s voice has never been more compelling.

— image and synopsis via Amazon

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The Voice Is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac (2013):

Joyce Johnson brilliantly peels away layers of the Kerouac legend in this compelling new book. Tracking Kerouac’s development from his boyhood in Lowell, Massachusetts, through his fateful encounters with Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Neal Cassady, and John Clellon Holmes to his periods of solitude and the phenomenal breakthroughs of 1951 that resulted in his composition of On the Road followed by Visions of Cody, Johnson shows how his French Canadian background drove him to forge a voice that could contain his dualities and informed his unique outsider’s vision of America. This revelatory portrait deepens our understanding of a man whose life and work hold an enduring place in both popular culture and literary history.

— image and synopsis via Amazon

 

 

The First Critique Kerouac Read of “On the Road” on This Day in 1957

5 Sep

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After years on the road, multiple drafts, and arguments over edits, Jack Kerouac at last saw the publication of the book that would put him on the map — On the Road — on this day, September 5, in 1957. He and his girlfriend, Joyce Johnson, who would become an author in her own right, excitedly went to see how the Beat Generation novel was received by the media:

Together they picked up a copy of the midnight edition of the September 5 The New York Times and headed over to Donnelly’s Bar to read the review that would shift his fortune.

The reviewer, Charles Poore, enamored with Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, and Bernard Malamud, had passed on reviewing On the Road because of illness. Had he been the reviewer, the fate of the novel might have changed. Such was Poore’s clout that many publishers determined their publication dates based on who would write the book review that day. Poore’s day was Thursday, but this Thursday, the Bronx-born Gilbert Millstein, who had been working for the Sunday department since 1949, had filled in and appraised On the Road as a cultural milestone:

“On the Road” is the second novel by Jack Kerouac, and its publication is a historic occasion in so far as the exposure of an authentic work of art is of any great moment in an age in which the attention is fragmented and the sensibilities are blunted by the superlatives of fashion (multiplied by a millionfold by the speed and pound of communications).

The critic predicted that though the vast majority of book reviewers would misunderstand the intentions of its author and that the work would be misconstrued as superficial, the writing itself was the “most beautifully executed, the clearest, and the most important utterance yet made by the generation Kerouac himself named years ago as ‘beat,’ and whose principal avatar he is.”

Continue reading the story of how Kerouac’s On the Road came to be published and how it has been perceived throughout history in the book I coauthored with Paul Maher Jr., Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Lulu. Join our community of beatific readers on Facebook and Goodreads for more exclusive snippets, news, and readings.

A few more celebratory links:::

  • Is On the Road a classic? asks Salon.
  • Read about On the Road‘s ever-evolving cover design here.
  • Earlier this summer I sent to see the infamous “Joan Anderson letter” that inspired Kerouac’s writing style, which I blogged about here.
  • I explained what exactly those roman candles that Kerouac waxes poetic about are here.
  • I explore the character of Rollo Greb here.
  • Tim Z. Hernandez talked with me about Kerouac’s Mexican Girl.
  • I wonder about On the Road‘s dilemma here.
  • Lastly, here are 20 reasons to read On the Road.

September 7, 2016 — Correction: Jack Kerouac’s girlfriend, mentioned above, was Joyce Johnson. She is the author of Minor Characters, which won a National Book Critics Circle Award. Her most recent book is The Voice Is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac.

I’ll Be on the Radio Today!

29 Aug

WIOX

The lovely Simona David interviewed me for WIOX Community Radio to discuss the writing workshop — Literary Relationships: Writing In, Into, and To Community — I’ll be leading at the Hobart Book Village Festival of Women Writers. Tune in this Monday at 1pm to hear about why I love Hobart Book Village, why you need literary friendships like Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac‘s, and how to deal with jealousy in the industry.

The Hobart Festival of Women Writers takes place September 9th through September 11 in the Catskills. Here’s a description of the writing workshop I’ll be leading:

Surveying famous literary friendships throughout history—Dickinson and Higginson; Lewis and Tolkien; Hurston and Rawlings; Kerouac and Ginsberg …. we’ll discuss the value of friendship among writers from both a personal and professional perspective as well as how writers today can achieve this type of community through such avenues as residencies, writing groups, and social media.

We’ll also consider the notion of dialoguing with writers past, present, and future through parody, homage, collaboration, and criticism. In-class writing exercises will explore these ideas and more.

Tune in to WIOX Community Radio today at 1pm to learn more!

10 Books of Beat Generation Letters

14 Jul

The other day I wrote about viewing Neal Cassady’s infamous “lost” Joan Anderson letter at Christie’s Auction House.. Letters are a great way to get to know and understand the writers of the Beat Generation. The novelists and poets were prodigious letter writers. Here are ten books of collected letters by the poets and writers of the Beat Generation.

1.

CassadyLetters

 Neal Cassady: Collected Letters, 1944-1967

2.

KerouacLetters

Jack Kerouac: Selected Letters, 1940-1956

3.

Carolyn

Jack Kerouac’s Dear Carolyn: Letters to Carolyn Cassady

4.

KerouacGinsberg

Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg: The Letters

5.

YageLetters

William S. Burroughs’ and Allen Ginsberg’s The Yage Letters Redux

6.

GinsbergSnyder

The Selected Letter of Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder

7.

GinsbergDad

Allen Ginsberg and his father’s Family Business: Selected Letters between a Father and Son

8.

HettieJonesLoveH

Love, H: The Letters of Helene Dorn and Hettie Jones

9.

DistantNeighbors

Distant Neighbors: The Selected Letters of Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder

10.

CorsoBiography

An Accident Autobiography: The Selected Letters of Gregory Corso

Viewing Cassady’s “Lost” Joan Anderson Letter

7 Jul

The “lost” letter that forever changed Jack Kerouac’s writing style was recently “found” and put on auction at Christie’s last month. If you’re someone who has read any biography about Kerouac, you’ve heard of the infamous “Joan Anderson letter.” You know the importance of this letter.

It is — what for it! — legendary.

I was on my way to Christie’s on the day before auction to see the letter when I ran into my coworker on the elevator. We exchanged pleasantries about what we were having for lunch, and I burst out in excitement — or at least the equivalent of bursting out in excitement for my shy nerdy self — that I was on my way to see the Joan Anderson letter. He had never heard of it. He knew very little about the Beat Generation. He asked about it, and I was somewhat at a loss for how to explain it. I started explaining that it was written by Kerouac’s friend Neal Cassady, who wrote in a fast-paced, confessional style.

But what is it about? he wanted to know.

Ah. Now I blushed. I said something about it being … “scandalous.” How could I explain the contents of the letter without sounding like I was into reading other people’s sexcapades? The forty-page letter was Cassady’s sexual exploits in 1946. It included stories about a woman named Joan Anderson in a hospital and one named Cherry Mary who got caught by her aunt.

 

It wasn’t about the subject matter, though. That was not what ever interested me. And it’s not just what interested Kerouac — or even Cassady. It was about telling a good story. Capturing it in a way that is real. Authentic. Captivating.

I had met Neal Cassady’s daughter’s husband at a reading in Greenwich Village, and he had shown me a copy of the letter. What fascinated me was the illustrations and handwritten addenda that I hadn’t known about.

I went to Christie’s auction house because I wanted to see the real letter in person. I’ve never seen the scroll version of On the Road. I missed it the last time it was in New York City about ten years ago. So seeing the Joan Anderson letter, a letter purported to have been lost and unseen by so most, was one of those literary moments I couldn’t pass up.

Having never been to Christie’s before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would I have to be patted down? Would I have to turn in my iPhone? Would I even be able to find the letter amongst all the other treasures up for auction? I was surprised to discover it was the very first thing one could possibly see upon entering Christie’s. I could only see a few pages of the letter, as the whole thing wasn’t on display. It was difficult to read the entire thing, but I tilted my head and read sections. I took the whole thing in. It was exciting. It felt like history. Perhaps the way some people feel about seeing the Constitution. I didn’t press my luck and try to take a photograph, but I carried the memory of it with me as I walked back to work.

The letter didn’t end up selling at auction. You can read about Neal Cassady’s Joan Anderson letter here, on Christie’s auction house website and here.

You can read Cassady’s letters in Neal Cassady: Collected Letters, 1944-1967.