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:

 

 

comeandjointhedance2

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

badconnections

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

inthenightcafe

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

whatlisaknew

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

doorswideopen

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

missingmen

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

voiceisall

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

 

 

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

5 Sep

OnTheRoad

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!

The Crickets Spread the Rumor

29 Aug

CharlottesWeb

 

“The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last for ever. Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year – the days when summer is changing into autumn – the crickets spread the rumour of sadness and change.”

~from E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web

Charlotte’s Web made my list of 10 books that stuck with me. Find out what else did here.

Read a quote I selected from E. B. White’s Trumpet of the Swan here.

One Swallow Does Not Make a Summer

22 Aug

AristotleNicomacheanEthics

“One swallow does not make a summer,
neither does one fine day;
similarly one day or brief time of happiness does not make a person entirely happy.”

~Aristotle in The Nicomachean Ethics

Find my other posts on Aristotle here.

Lit Life: Labor of Love & I Kissed Dating Goodbye

17 Aug

LaborOfLove

As I mentioned yesterday in my Citrus Coconut Drinks post, my alumnae book club recently discussed Moira Weigel‘s Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating. I’ve been a member of the book club for many years now, and I love the intellectual banter that arises for the wide variety of books we choose. We’ve read classics like J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye (see my book club theme party pics here) and we’ve read feminist texts such as Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In

As graduates of a women’s college — Scripps College in Claremont, California — we enjoy discussing womanhood, gender, and feminism. We talk a lot about our lives. We talk about what’s going on at campus. And we talk about politics. Through the course of a recent catch-up session, we began talking about dating, marriage, and motherhood. Our members span a thirty or forty year age range, with some people in their twenties and others retired. Some got married right out of college and juggle career and babies. Others have not gotten married and wonder about fertility and whether they will quit their jobs — their careers — if they have children.

There had recently been an article about Moira Weigel’s book in The New Yorker that discussed the complexities of dating. It addressed dating not as a self-help book might but in terms of its history and through a feminist lens. We decided to read it and see what we thought.

Through the course of our book club discussion, we discussed: Who pays? Is “going steady” and serial monogamy ruining chances for marriage? Why did some generations go out with a different person every weekend and think of dating more casually while today’s generation is more likely to be in committed relationships? Does this have to do with premarital sex? Slut shaming? Why is the biological clock something only women have to worry about? What happens to men’s sperm as they age? Is marriage warped by consumerism the same as dating is?

Here’s an excerpt from Weigel’s Labor of Love:

At a time of dramatic social and economic change, the ways the biological clock was talked about reinforced old ideas about gender difference. Indeed, it exaggerated them, creating a sense that male and female partners were even more different than traditionalists of the 1950s had imagined. More and more women were breaking into the previously male world of well paid work. Nonetheless, conversations about the biological clock suggested that reproduction was an exclusively female concern.

Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating and our discussion of it was fascinating and eye opening. In explaining dating’s history, Weigel talks about how men and women met and married through social events in a family home. There were no flowers. No emoji eggplants. No candlelit dinners at fancy restaurants. It was courtship. Dating began when people moved outside the home. The gender wage gap meant that women couldn’t afford their own meals out, so they had to rely on dates to pay for them. Women were sometimes accused by police of being prostitutes just because they accepted free meals from men! This then set up a power dynamic in that women had to rely on men if they wanted to go out and men were never sure if women liked them or just wanted a free meal. Not much has changed today. Women typically can pay their own way now, but there’s a lot of confusion about what chivalry is, what a date should consist of, what one should look for in their partner, and how to go from a monogamous relationship to a married relationship while still young enough to have children — if one so desires.

What’s interesting is that about the same time that Weigel’s book came out talking about how dating put women at a disadvantage, Joshua Harris has been in the news for taking a step back from his influential 1997 book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Harris, a conservative Evangelical Christian, preached that instead of contemporary dating, singles should practice “courtship.” You might be familiar with that term from the Duggars, of 19 Kids and Counting fame, who are known for their strict rules against even hand-holding. Harris recently told NPR:

But I think one of the things that I’m changing in my own thinking is I just think people – myself included – it’s so easy to latch on to a formula. You know, you do these things and you’ll be great. You’ll be safe and you’ll be protected and you’ll be whatever.

And I just don’t think that’s the way life works. I don’t think that’s the way the life of faith works. And so when we try to overly control our own lives or overly control other people’s lives, I think we end up harming people. And I’m – I think that that’s part of the problem with my book.

It was interesting listening to discussions of both Moira Weigel’s book Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating and Joshua Harris’ book I Kissed Dating Goodbye: A New Attitude Toward Romance and Relationships around the same time. Their perspectives come from such vastly different vantage points, and yet both are critiquing the contemporary dating scene and discussing the idea of courtship. It seems that in the end, when it comes to dating today, men and women need to be upfront about their expectations and desires. Maybe this will scare some people off, but maybe it’s better to know that upfront anyway. Maybe there’s no formula for how relationships work. Maybe each person and each couple has to actually communicate and find out what works best for them.

Citrus Coconut Drink Two Ways: Virgin and with Malibu

16 Aug

Yamas

My alumnae book club was coming over the other day to talk about Moira Weigel‘s Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating, and my apartment was as hot as a sweatbox. I decided to whip up a variation of Kellie Van’s Le Zoe Musing’s Citrus Coconut Soda, which I’d found on Pinterest, to keep everyone cool and refreshed. It looked so pretty and sounded so tasty! There are quite a number of women in the book club who are pregnant or who just had children or who don’t drink, so I thought it would be better than offering soda or regular H2O. Plus, it occurred to me I could alter the recipe for version with alcohol in it for those who wanted a stronger drink.

A note on the coconut soda

Now, here’s where things got a little interesting. I had never heard of coconut soda, and the Le Zoe Musing recipe didn’t specify a brand or where to find it. I went to Whole Foods and considered purchasing coconut water and lime seltzer. If you can’t find coconut soda, I think that would be a great solution. Lo and behold, though, I discovered that LaCroix makes coconut soda!

I first tried LaCroix when I visited my friends in DC last summer. It’s so delightfully summery with its sparkling bubbles. It’s all natural and comes in a variety of traditional and unique flavors like peach pear and melon pomelo (cantaloupe + grapefruit). It’s also inexpensive so great to keep stocked in the fridge for whenever guests pop by. No, this is not a sponsored post. I just am excited by this new discovery!

 

Virgin Citrus Coconut Soda

  1. Wash various citrus fruits. The Le Zoe Musing recipe called for grapefruit, orange, lemon, and lime. I love grapefruit but I was worried it wouldn’t fit too easily in the cups I own, so I just used orange, lemon, and lime.
  2. Slice the citrus into circles. The Leo Zoe Musing recipe put all the ingredients in a pitcher. I think this is a great way to allow the flavors to really permeate the drink. However, I was worried that the drink would lose its bubbles so I put the citrus on a plate and made each drink individually. When you’re ready to make the drink, place the citrus into the cups. I suggest one of each citrus circle. This is important to do first so that there’s less splashing and less mess.
  3.  Pour the coconut soda over the citrus slices in the cup.
  4. Feel free to muddle a bit or serve without muddling the citrus. Yamas! (That’s Greek for “To your health!”)

 

Malibu Citrus Soda

  1. Follow steps 1 through 3.
  2. Add a dash of splash of Malibu Rum. My proportions were about 1/4 Malibu and 1/4 coconut soda.
  3. Cheers! Yamas!

 

The beverages were a hit!

CitrusCoconutSoda

 

August and Everything After

10 Aug

CountingCrowsAugustandEverythingAfter

It’s August. How did that happen? This summer seems to have flown by. What do I have to show for it? A faded sunburn. An outdoor theatre experience. A few trips out to the boroughs, where it’s much more pleasant to dine al fresco. A writing intensive that resulted in a couple more chapters of my memoir written. But have I lived a life worthy of a new memoir?

Have I seized the day? Have I made it to the Met to see the rooftop installation? Have I stuck my toes into the cold waters of the Atlantic? Have I rode the Wonder Wheel? Have I packed my bags and jetted off to an exotic location? No. It feels like most days I have been bogged down with freelance work. Bogged down with obligations. Bogged down with emotions. Bogged down with rain.

It’s so easy to lose track of time. The older I get, the faster time flies.

In 1993 Counting Crows put out August and Everything After. The album is perhaps the most influential album on my life. My friend lent me the album, and I played it on my walkman over and over and over and over. I remember sitting in the car while my family shopped at a gardening store and just listening to the album on repeat. The melancholy lyrics spoke to my teenaged self. The album got me into the literature of Saul Bellow, who became one of my favorite authors. Years later, a friend in college and I bonded over our adoration of the album. Sometime later, another friend and I went to see the Counting Crows in concert with the Goo Goo Dolls. Years after that, a boyfriend put one of the songs on a mixtape for me. Then years after that, another boyfriend also liked Counting Crows. The years pile up. More memories get made.

And now it’s August and I’m wondering what the “Everything After” is….

 

Happy National Book Lovers Day!

9 Aug

StephanieNikolopoulos2

“There is no mistaking a real book when one meets it. It’s like falling in love.” ~ Christopher Morley

Happy National Book Lovers Day!

I don’t read as much as I used to these days. Or, maybe I read more. It’s hard to tell. As an editor, I read all day at my job. But it’s a different type of reading. It’s more like a spot-the-difference puzzle, where I’m on the lookout for Briticisms and double punctuation marks. It’s not reading for pleasure, though it is pleasurable.

I am a book lover.

Much of my life is what it is because of books. My mother used to bribe me with books when I was a child. Books opened up a world to me. Reading became not just an activity but a refuge, and not just a refuge but a part of my identity. When I went away to camp, I took a sign language class. We were told to use the letter from our first name and the sign for an activity we enjoyed to create a unique name for ourselves. My name was an “S” opening a book.

Later, in high school, I dropped math class and took an extra English class in addition to my AP English class. My first or second semester of college, I took three English classes at the same time. It was wonderful! It felt so me. I felt like I was living out my true self. On spring break, I went to City Lights in San Francisco and dragged my best friend around the city, reading her Lawrence Ferlinghetti‘s poems.

I absorbed myself in the pages of books for hours at a time, discovering not just kindred spirits and captivating lands but turns of phrases and how punctuation influenced a reading. When I learned to read, I also began to learn to write. Reading and writing were two sides of the same coin for me. One inspired the other. I am at my best, I feel my most authentic, when I am involved in both.

A few years ago, while working full time in book publishing and going to grad school full time for creative writing, I co-authored Burning Furiously Beautiful. It was a wild, intense time. I would wake up early before work and edit, a habit this non-morning person is not a natural at. I turned down plans with friends. I surrounded myself with books. And you know what? I miss it.

I miss the intensity of reading and writing and breathing words. I miss being assigned books that challenge me. I miss being exposed to new ideas. I miss the deadlines. I miss the workshops. I miss the camaraderie. I miss the solitude. The quiet nights. The passionate flurry of ideas.

I recently did a writing intensive with some friends. We tried to push out twenty pages a week. That’s more than I was required to do in grad school. It felt good. It wasn’t necessarily sustainable, but it got me back into the habit. As well, I’m doing the Goodreads reading challenge and trying to read a book a week. I’m woefully behind. Woefully. But it has gotten me back into the habit of reading for pleasure. I ask people to recommend books to me, so I still am being exposed to things I wouldn’t normally select for myself. Sometimes my friends read the same books; sometimes I read the book for my book club; sometimes I read the book for Bible study; and sometimes I get around to reading the books I excitedly bought but remained on my bookshelves. I read on the subway. I read in bed. I read in the bathtub. I read on NJ Transit.

And I’m about to read right now before bed! I’m finally getting around to reading Vivian Gornick‘s The Odd Woman and the City.

 

Charles Dickens Quote on August

8 Aug

SNikolopouloswebsite

“There is no month in the whole year in which nature wears a more beautiful appearance than in the month of August.”

~Charles Dickens in The Pickwick Papers

 

You may also be interested in how Jack Kerouac’s hometown inspired Dickens.