Tag Archives: Ann Charters

Image-Making in Correspondence: Hemingway and Kerouac

19 Feb
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There’s something so intimate about reading other people’s letters. I remember in high school one of my friends found someone’s folded up note, and I read it over and over again because I was so fascinated by their voice and the bluntness of what they’d written.
The New Criterion has an interesting article up about The Letters of Ernest Hemingway 1926-1929, edited by Rena Sanderson, Sandra Spanier, and Robert W. Trogdon. In “The master off duty,”  Bruce Bawer writes:
One thing that needs to be said about these letters is that there’s a lot of conscious image-making going on in them. As one of his biographers, Jeffrey Meyers, has noted, Hemingway pursued a path of “scrupulous honesty in his fiction” but routinely felt compelled, in both his conversation and correspondence, “to distort and rewrite the story of his life.” Indeed, already in these documents dating to his late twenties, we find Hemingway recounting his experiences in a way calculated to make him come off as the same strong, stoic figure who, in succeeding decades, would take hold of imaginations around the world, thanks largely to splashy Life and Look photo spreads of the Nobel laureate on safari, at bullfights, and deep-sea fishing.
It reminded me a lot of Jack Kerouac, who both in his novels and his letters rewrote the story of his life. On message boards, people often ask what Kerouac biography they should read. It feels too presumptuous to recommend my own Kerouac biography, but I like to suggest people read Kerouac’s letters, edited by Ann Charters. Not only do they provide insight into his life, but they’re as engaging as his novels. Full of vigorous prose.
I’ve often wondered if writers correspond with the knowledge or hope that their letters might one day be collected and read by literary critics and obsessive fans and therefore take extra care in writing them? Or, was it that they were already writing to literary critics—their author friends, their agents, their publishers—and therefore trying to write in an entertaining, impressive style? Or perhaps, they are such great writers that even their letters come out with flair?
Bawer says:
Not Hemingway. He didn’t labor over these things—to put it mildly. When he wrote to his parents and editors, his main objective was to get certain personal or professional obligations out of the way; his letters to such eminences as T. S. Eliot and James Joyce, in which he faked at least a touch of humility and deference, were chiefly a means of networking. Even when he’s sending off dispatches to such authentic amis as Ezra Pound, Archibald MacLeish, and Gerald and Sara Murphy, with whom he’s truly eager to stay in touch and swap literary news and gossip, he’s not out to amuse or scintillate; on the contrary, you can feel him winding down after a day of “real” writing.
Perhaps there’s encouragement in that. One doesn’t just “sit down at a typewriter and bleed,” as Hemingway said. Nor did Kerouac simply write On the Road in three weeks after seven years on the road, as discussed in Burning Furiously Beautiful. Authors—even the very best ones—consider their audience, write, and rewrite.
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Remembering John Clellon Holmes

30 Mar

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Earlier this month we celebrated what would’ve been John Clellon Holmes’ 88th birthday. Today marks the anniversary of his passing from cancer at the age of 62 in 1988.

Holmes’ first published book was Go, a fantastic novel about the early Beat scene featuring the same cast of characters that Kerouac wrote about in On the Road. In fact, Kerouac and Holmes remained life-long friends, after initially meeting on their way to a party in 1948.

Somewhat recently — 2010 — Ann Charters and Samuel Charters edited Brother-Souls: John Clellon Holmes, Jack Kerouac, and The Beat Generation. Here’s the write up on Barnes & Noble:

John Clellon Holmes met Jack Kerouac on a hot New York City weekend in 1948, and until the end of Kerouac’s life they were–in Holmes’s words–“Brother Souls.” Both were neophyte novelists, hungry for literary fame but just as hungry to find a new way of responding to their experiences in a postwar American society that for them had lost its direction. Late one night as they sat talking, Kerouac spontaneously created the term “Beat Generation” to describe this new attitude they felt stirring around them. Brother Souls is the remarkable chronicle of this cornerstone friendship and the life of John Clellon Holmes.

From 1948 to 1951, when Kerouac’s wanderings took him back to New York, he and Holmes met almost daily. Struggling to find a form for the novel he intended to write, Kerouac climbed the stairs to the apartment in midtown Manhattan where Holmes lived with his wife to read the pages of Holmes’s manuscript for the novel Go as they left the typewriter. With the pages of Holmes’s final chapter still in his mind, he was at last able to crack his own writing dilemma. In a burst of creation in April 1951 he drew all the materials he had been gathering into the scroll manuscript of On the Road.

Biographer Ann Charters was close to John Clellon Holmes for more than a decade. At his death in 1988 she was one of a handful of scholars allowed access to the voluminous archive of letters, journals, and manuscripts Holmes had been keeping for twenty-five years. In that mass of material waited an untold story. These two ambitious writers, Holmes and Kerouac, shared days and nights arguing over what writing should be, wandering from one explosive party to the next, and hanging on the new sounds of bebop. Through the pages of Holmes’s journals, often written the morning after the events they recount, Charters discovered and mined an unparalleled trove describing the seminal figures of the Beat Generation: Holmes, Kerouac, Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Gregory Corso, and their friends and lovers.

In addition to reading any of Holmes’ works, Brother-Souls provides a portrait of an author whose work deserves more recognition.

I’m Soooooo Pretentious

18 Mar

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I told a boy I’m reading Proust, and he told me that sounds pretentious.

He suggested I check out Michael Crichton. …As in the author who writes about dinosaurs.

I have to laugh at the suggestion of sounding pretentious for reading Marcel Proust, though. I’m usually called immature and not well read for reading Jack Kerouac. The irony is that my inspiration for reading Proust is Kerouac. David Amram had actually mentioned to me how he and Jack read Proust’s A Remembrance of Things Past, and when Walter Salles and Ann Charters spoke after a screening of the film adaptation of On the Road they talked about the role of Proust (Swann’s Way is seen a few times onscreen). Paul and I decided to read Swann’s Way, and each got different translations, which I think will give us a well-rounded perspective.

I just can’t win! Either I’m pretentious or I’m banal. Haha, good thing I’ve never cared what people thought of my reading habits.

Research, Research, Research

29 May

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Just a few of the books we’ve been using as research for Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.”

Are the Beatniks Anti-American?

27 May

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAmerican flag outside Kerouac’s birth home

I came to read Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti with little to no preconceived ideas about the Beat Generation. I had heard of Gilligan but never Maynard G. Krebs. I associated goatees with Ethan Hawke and turtlenecks with Sharon Stone. I liked the poetry bit in So I Married an Axe-Murderer but associated it with the spoken word poets of 1990s coffeehouses. So when I picked up The Portable Beat Reader, edited by Ann Charters, I had no presupposed knowledge of the writers in it or the culture they apparently inspired, apart from having discovered the book in a photo spread of a teen girl’s magazine. The kids in the spread looked like how I looked–or, rather, the cooler version of how I wished myself to look. That seemed as good a reason as any to beg my mom to buy the book for me.

I discovered humor and beauty and sensitivity in the words of the poets and novelists associated with the Beat Generation. When I read Kerouac explain the definition of “beat” as being both beat down and beatific, I understood and believed his words. It enlightened the way I read On the Road, and yet I read it sympathetically in the first place. I was a lot like Sal Paradise, hanging out with a friend who was wilder than I was. I longing to hit the road, to escape the humdrum of the suburbs and walk the city sidewalks of New York.

It was only later that I discovered that many others viewed the Beats and their work quite differently. It was only through reading biographies and nonfiction books on the Beats that I came to see that these writers were referred to as “beatniks,” and that that had a negative connotation. The term was a derogatory amalgamation of “Beat” and “sputnik,” and not being up on my history in my teen years, I understood it simply to mean they were “far out,” like a satellite in the space race. I had certainly heard of the Cold War, but it took me longer to understand that “beatnik” suggested the writers were somehow anti-American.

The idea of the Beats as anti-American took a long time for me to wrap my head around. Kerouac had written such a beautiful novel about America. He seemed so in love with the country and even made me fall in love with it in a new way. Before then, as the daughter of an immigrant, I had considered travel as something to do outside of America. I’d been to Europe but never the West Coast. Reading the Beats, I wanted to know more about this splendid vision of America they described. Sure, Ginsberg challenged America, but growing up decades later than him I was encouraged in school to think independently as he did. One could speak up in love. One must speak up in love.

As I continued to study Kerouac in particular, I learned about how he had been in the Merchant Marine during World War II. So much of what I read emphasized that he’d gotten discharged from the US Navy after being diagnosed with “schizoid personality.” It took more digging to hear a story like this one of how much Kerouac respected even the American flag:

At a party with Kesey’s Merry Pranksters Kesey came up and wrapped an American flag around me. So I took it (Kerouac demonstrates how he took it, and the movements are tender) and I folded it up the way you’re supposed to, and put it on the back of the sofa. The flag is not a rag.

The Beats were far from squeaky clean, but anti-American? I don’t see it. Perhaps the Beats didn’t jive with sock hops and malt shops, but maybe that’s a good thing because those 1950s stereotypes whitewashed the truth and left out large segments of the population. Some of us had fathers who spoke with an accent the way Ricky Ricardo did. Some of were intelligent but didn’t like stuffiness. Some of us liked to play our music LOUD. Some of us were friends with the outcasts. Some of us were misfits ourselves.

This Memorial Day, remember that many who died fighting for our country were just kids looking for a chance to escape from home or hoping for a chance to make something of their lives or desiring to be a part of something bigger than themselves. And think about today’s generation of Americans, those who may be a little rough around the edges or a little outspoken but who are so full of life, liberty, and justice.

You may also be interested in Memorial Day: Kerouac in the Merchant Marines.

My Year in Review: 2012

4 Jan

What a full year 2012 was! Here’s a quick little recap:::

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In January I announced that the rumors were true. But it took the full year for it to finally look like this.

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In February I joined Pinterest to discover how it may help me as a writer and have been happily pinning ever since.

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In March my personal essay was included in the book Creating Space.

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In April I was one of the editors representing the Burnside Writers Collective at the Festival of Faith & Writing. It was so special to get to catch up with the other editors and writers, whom I just adore. I also had the opportunity to teach a writing workshop while I was there.

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Image via On the Road with Bob Holman / Rattapallax

In April I also worked to create awareness about what we lose when we lose a language. My interview with poet Bob Holman appeared in BOMBlog.

In May I received my MFA in creative nonfiction from The New School. I had a fantastic thesis advisor and a beloved peer group, who challenged me to dig deeper in my memoir about growing up Greek American. After I read a snippet at our thesis reading, an instructor I’d never even had came up to tell me how much he liked my work!

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Image via The Human Tower / Rattapallax

In June I witnessed the world record being broken for the tallest castell on a rooftop.

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In July I heard Amber Tamblyn read for The Paris Review at the Strand. Afterwards we somehow ended up on the elevator together, and I didn’t say anything to her. I never know in those situations if it’s polite to say something like “nice reading” or if the person just wants her privacy. I know she’s involved in the Beat literature community, though, so I should’ve probably talked to her about that.

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Image via The Millions

In August an article I wrote about a funny incident I had related to Jack Kerouac sparked a fiery debate and went viral, getting mentioned everywhere from The New Yorker to The Paris Review.

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Photo via RA Araya

In September I had one of the most surreal moments of my life–reading with David Amram. I got to hear him perform again, this time as an enthralled audience member, in December.

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Photo via RA Araya

That month I also read for poet Miguel Algarin‘s birthday bash.

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I also road tripped through northern and central California, visiting Cannery Row, City Lights Bookshop, The Beat Museum, and attending my college friend’s wedding.

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In October Hurricane Sandy hit New York, and I spent a lot of time in bed.

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In November I failed miserably at NaNoWriMo, but I had a lot of fun creating this ever-evolving Pinterest board for the book I never wrote.

I also gave a reading that got upstaged by a wedding proposal.

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In December there was a flurry of Jack Kerouac-related activities to promote the film adaptation of On the Road, and I got to see author Ann Charters and film director Walter Salles in person at IFC. I also got to take a writing class with screenwriter Jose Rivera at 3rd Ward.

I also went out to Lowell and got to meet Jack Kerouac’s friend and pallbearer Billy Koumantzelis.

 

What were the highlights of 2012 for you?