Tag Archives: Burning Furiously Beautiful

Breena Clarke Interviews Me for the Festival of Women Writers Blog

22 Jul

Festival2015

Novelist Breena Clarke — whose book River, Cross My Heart was an Oprah book club pick! — recently interviewed me for the Hobart Festival of Women Writers blog.

She asks:

Clarke: I’m of the generation that kind of took our counter-culture marching orders from the Beats. You’re a couple of thousand years younger than me. How did you fall under the spell of Jack Kerouac and the Beats?  

You can read my answer that question and her others here.

I’m super excited to be participating in the Festival of Women Writers again this year!

I’ll be reading from Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” with Festival participants at WORD bookstore in Jersey City (123 Newark Ave.) on August 18 at 7:30pm.

Then September 11-13, I’ll be returning to the Catskills to teach a writing class at the Hobart Festival of Women Writers.

Daniel Radcliffe’s Looking Very Beat Generation-Era Again

20 Jul
Radcliffe image via
Though heaps of liberties were taken in the film Kill Your Darlings, I happen to have enjoyed Daniel Radcliffe’s portrayal of a young Allen Ginsberg. It appears the Harry Potter actor is a bit of a trickster and has been inserting himself into photographs from the 1940s. Check them out.
Also, did you happen to catch Daniel Radcliffe rapping Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady”? His girlfriend Erin Darke totally stole my dance moves.
Get the REAL scoop on the story behind Kill Your Darlings in my book, coauthored with Paul Maher Jr., Burning Furiously Beautiful
And find out when you can next hear me read from the book here.

Robert Frost, Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, and the Road Not Taken

16 Apr

Frost

In honor of National Poetry Month, I wanted to share some poems.

I write a lot about the road. I write about Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and even wrote a whole book about it called Burning Furiously BeautifulWhen I was much younger, though, all the way back in elementary school, I encountered Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” Here it is for your reading pleasure.

Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Frost begins his poem, “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, / And sorry I could not travel both.” It reminds me of the Gregory Corso quote: “If you have a choice of two things and can’t decide, take both.” It’s not always that easy, though, is it? You can’t always choose to go both left and right at the same time. You can’t always choose to stay and to go. Sometimes you have to make a choice.

Robert Frost says, “I took the one less traveled by.” And that’s certainly what Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, and the many other poets and writers associated with the Beat Generation did. They choose the road less traveled.

Choosing the road less traveled is not an easy choice, though. It is an unfamiliar one. It is one without precedent. It comes with risk.

Sometimes, though, it’s worth it. It can’t be a reckless risk. It must be, as my father would say, a calculated risk.

We’re All Kerouacky!

2 Nov

WereAllKerouacy02 copy

photo by author Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond

I had the great honor of opening the We’re All Kerouacky edition of Ronnie Norpel‘s fantastic reading series Tract 187 Culture Clatch — aptly* held at The West End — on October 1 with two passages from Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.”

Ronnie’s an amazing host. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Ronnie for a while now. We first met at an event organized by RA Araya that she emceed. She’s also the author of probably the only sports book I’ve willingly bought: Baseball Karma & the Constitution Blues.

She organized a killer line up for the event:

WE’RE ALL KEROUACKY EDITION
celebrating Jack Kerouac on the
45th anniversary of his becoming
a Desolation Angel

Featuring:
Kerouac Covers by Jane LeCroy
Monologues from Larry Myers
with Janice Bishop, Tom Fenaghty & Ronnie Norpel
Author Stephanie Nikolopoulos (Burning Furiously Beautiful:The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road”)
Music by Elliott Levin, Saxophone (Philadelphia)

I had so much fun mingling and chatting with others who enjoy Jack Kerouac’s writing. I loved seeing the way music and spoken word intertwined. It was a beautiful way to remember Kerouac’s legacy.

Some of my friends from the Redeemer Writers Group even came out, which was really special.


*I say aptly because the writers associated with the Beat Generation used to hang out at a bar called The West End. The Broadway bar closed down years ago, and this new incarnation is at 
955 West End Avenue.

 

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You can purchase Burning Furiously Beautiful via lulu.

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My “Burning Furiously Beautiful” Reading at Lamprophonic

4 Oct

Lamprophonic

lamprophonic2

images via Lamprophonic

Right on the heels of my reading at the We’re All Kerouacky edition of Ronnie Norpel’s Tract 187 Culture Clatch, I was selected to read a section from Burning Furiously Beautiful at New York’s Lamprophonic reading series on October 3.

I was super excited when I discovered that I would be reading with one of my fellow New School MFA alums, Amy Gall! She’s gone on to become Program Manager at National Book Foundation, and I always enjoy hearing her perspective on the literary industry. The other readers that evening were Bill Adelson, Emily Chamberlain, Christina Quintana, and Marco Yan.  Each writer’s work was so unique. It was great to hear such different works all in one evening!

Lamprophonic was founded by Clare Smith Marash. I absolutely enjoyed working with Clare. She’s one of the most organized reading series organizers/hosts I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. If you’re a bit of a type-A reader, who likes everything laid out for you beforehand so you know where you are in the lineup, you will appreciate all the hard work Clare does. She puts you at ease with her encouragement and precision.

The Lamprophonic reading series is held at Bar Thalia (2537 Broadway). It’s attached to none other than Symphony Space, an Upper West Side performing-arts center with a rather illustrious history.

So many of my most favorite people came out for this reading! I’m so touched by all the great people in my life!!

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Discover upcoming Lamprophonic readings via the series’ Facebook page.

Discover upcoming Burning Furiously Beautiful readings by signing up for my mailing list (enter your email address in the form to the right of this page) and through the book’s Facebook page.

“The War Is Over! John Lennon Lost!”: Did the FBI Kill John Lennon?

1 Aug

uslennon

Yesterday I wrote about Allen Ginsberg’s connection to Timothy Leary and the CIA. I’ve already told you before that the Beat Generation influenced The Beatles, and today I’m here to tell you John Lennon had a connection to Timothy Leary and the FBI. Welcome back to Conspiracy Theory week!

Years ago, I went to the Angelica to see the film Jesus Camp, which I reviewed for Burnside Writers Collective. During the screening, a woman burst into the theatre and shouted:

The war is over! John Lennon lost!

Only in New York, right?! I think she was in the wrong room. The year was 2006, and another film was out at that time: The U.S. vs. John Lennon. That film pointed to evidence that the US government had tried to silence John Lennon, who had become increasingly counter-cultural as the years wore on and influential in his anti-war protests. From what I’ve read, it is alleged that, under Nixon, the government tried to deport Lennon, who was living in New York when he was fatally shot.

Most know the story of John Lennon’s murder outside the Dakota on December 8, 1980, as the lone act of Mark David Chapman, who plead guilty. He was examined at Bellevue Hospital—where Beat icons William S. Burroughs, Joan Vollmer Adams Burroughs, Carl Solomon, and Allen Ginsberg spent time (read my book Burning Furiously Beautiful for more details!)—and believed to be psychotic. He had been carrying J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye at the time of his murder and said it “holds many answers.” However, Chapman eventually decided he wanted the insanity defense dropped, and he plead guilty. He’s been in jail ever since, denied parole at every appeal. In August of this year he’ll be up for his next parole hearing.

Conspiracy theorists hold that the US government killed John Lennon.

  • Steve Lightfoot wrote a booklet that suggests that Nixon, Reagan, and even Steven King are tied to John Lennon’s murder
  • Mae Brussell writes in “Conspiracy Planet” about a conspiracy chain revolving around Lennon’s murder

Plug in a search online for “John Lennon murder conspiracy,” and you’ll find dozens of websites devoted to allegations that the US government and FBI were involved in The Beatles’ death.

Of course some conspiracy theorists also say Paul is dead.

That’s Cute that You Think You’re Subversive: How the CIA Promoted the Radical Arts During the Cold War

29 Jul

cia

 

 

During a recent writing workshop that I’m part of with two female writers, our conversation rambled along to the topic of how the CIA had advanced abstract expressionism. That weekend one of the writers asked if I’d pass along the article I had referred to. I did a quick search for it online, and realized I’d actually read several articles about how the CIA had been involved in promoting artistic and intellectual communities that many people tend to think of as nonconformist, liberal, and subversive.

Here’s a quick roundup of articles about the CIA promoting nonconformist art and literature:

  • The article I was thinking of was The Independent‘s “Modern art was CIA ‘weapon,’” about how the CIA used art to show how free-thinking the US was in comparison to Russia during the Cold War
  • The Chronicle of Higher Education published “How Iowa Flattened Literature,” which shows the CIA’s involvement with the esteemed Iowa Writers Workshop
  • Work in Progress’George the Gentlemanly Ghost,” references the CIA being involved in The Paris Review.  It’s worth noting that Jack Kerouac’s first clip from On the Road was published in The Paris Review. (You can read more about that in my book Burning Furiously Beautiful.)
  • Encounter Magazine, the UK lit mag founded by poet Stephen Spender and journalist Irving Kristol in 1953, was funded by the CIA

I’m sure there are more, some we know of and some we don’t. Please add your stories and links in the comments section.

There’s a lot to be said here, but it raised a few questions for me:

  • Without the CIA’s help in funding and promoting modern arts, would these works have remained obscure?
  • Is modern art a scam, and traditionalists correct that it’s not real art?
  • Is the art and literature of the 1950s and ’60s a reaction to or a product of its times?
  • Can something be subversive even if it’s a political ploy?

Whole books could be written in answer to these questions. They’re important topics to consider and discuss, but I want to take a far less Big Brother approach and ask:

  • What are you trying to accomplish by being subversive?
  • Why do you want to be different?
  • Where do you get your information and how do you evaluate it?
  • Who is challenging you to think outside of your own box?

I’m all for dancing to the beat of your own drum. But is that what you’re really doing?

 

Kerouac Searched for the Authentic America

17 Jul

k2

Jack Kerouac has sometimes been accused of being anti-American or of destroying American values, and yet On the Road depicts a young man reveling in America. On the Road is, in many ways, a love letter to the true America. His honest search has inspired countless readers to pack their bags and hit the road, to discover America for themselves instead of relying on what the history books and network news report and the images coming out of Hollywood and glossy magazines.

Burning Furiously Beautiful details Kerouac’s research into American history and what he saw as he traveled throughout this amazing country.

“Devouring history books and Westerns alike, Kerouac lit out after the authentic America, an America that wasn’t mass produced or steeped in fear of atom bombs and Communism but blazed intrepidly, recklessly onward into the horizon, asking:

‘Wither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?'”

~ Burning Furiously Beautiful

Want to know which books Kerouac read and what sort of authentic people he met while on the road? Buy the book from Lulu or Amazon.

How Antonin Artaud Came to Influence the Beats

24 Apr

Antonin_Artaud_jeune_b_SDAntonin Artaud had great fashion sense.

Bronx-born writer Carl Solomon joined the United States Maritime Service in 1944 and traveled overseas to Paris, where he was encountered Surrealism and Dadaism. When he came back to the US, he voluntarily admitted himself to a New Jersey psychiatric hospital as Dadaist expression of being beat, being conquered, being overpowered. There, he received shock therapy instead of the lobotomy he requested. He wrote about the experience in Report from the Asylum: Afterthoughts of a Shock Patient.

At the psychiatric hospital, Solomon met Allen Ginsberg. (You can read about how Ginsberg ended up there in Burning Furiously Beautiful.) He introduced the young poet to the poetry of Antonin Artaud, a French poet of Greek ancestry (his parents were from Smyrna) whom he had seen give a screaming poetry reading in Paris. Artaud had written the first Surrealist film, The Seashell and the Clergyman (1928), and produced Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley’s The Cenci in 1935. The year after that, he went to Mexico, living with the native Tarahumara people and experimenting with peyote, before Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs would pack their bags for Mexico. Another year passed and Artaud was found penniless in Ireland, where he was arrested and deported. Back in France, he was sent to various psychiatric hospitals, where he was subjected to electroshock therapy. Notably, in his earlier years, Artaud had spent time in a sanatorium, where he read none other than Arthur Rimbaud.

Solomon wrote Report from the Asylum with Artaud in mind, while Ginsberg wrote “Howl” with both Artaud and Solomon in mind.

Once again, I could not find any of his poems in public-domain English translation. So, here’s a quote I found interesting and relevant from Artaud’s prose piece The Theater and Its Double:

“I cannot conceive any work of art as having a separate existence from life itself.”

You can read one of his poems, “Jardin Noir,” here.

*4/24/14: The subject’s name was originally misspelled and has now been corrected. Thanks to my reader for pointing that out!

Before the Beats, Rimbaud Had a “Bohemian Life”

17 Apr

225px-RimbaudPhoto by Etienne Carjat (1871)

Rimbaud’s kinda cute, eh?

Before Jack Kerouac coined the term “Beat Generation” during a conversation on the Lost Generation with fellow writer John Clellon Holmes, before he went on the road and lived a bohemian life, he attended (and dropped out of) Columbia University. It was through his Columbia connections—which Paul and I explain in more detail in Burning Furiously Beautiful (it’s actually super interesting to discover how they all met and became friends)—that Kerouac met Lucien Carr and Allen Ginsberg. Back then, the phrase they were throwing around was a “New Vision.”

Carr had borrowed the phrase from Arthur Rimbaud, and the young friends in Morningside Heights used it to mean:

1) Naked self-expression is the seed of creativity. 2) The artist’s consciousness is expanded by derangement of the senses. 3) Art eludes conventional morality.[17]

As a teenager, Rimbaud was part of the Decadent movement in late-nineteenth-century France. The term “Decadents” refers to the clever poets who preferred to show off their literary skill rather than emote as naturally as the Romantics. The earlier Romantics—such as William Blake, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and John Keats—used more colloquial language than the highly stylized language of the Decadents.

In a letter to a friend, Rimbaud wrote:

I’m now making myself as scummy as I can. Why? I want to be a poet, and I’m working at turning myself into a seer. You won’t understand any of this, and I’m almost incapable of explaining it to you. The idea is to reach the unknown by the derangement of all the senses. It involves enormous suffering, but one must be strong and be a born poet. It’s really not my fault.

 

Sounds like something Kerouac might write, doesn’t it? Not because the author of On the Road sought to make himself scummy by any means, but because he shook off pretensions and suffered for his art, appreciating the authenticity of experience.

I couldn’t find a translation of any of Rimbaud’s poetry that was in the public domain, so here is Rimbaud’s “My Bohemian Life (Fantasy)” in the original French:

Ma Bohème (Fantaisie)

Je m’en allais, les poings dans mes poches crevées ;
Mon paletot aussi devenait idéal ;
J’allais sous le ciel, Muse ! et j’étais ton féal ;
Oh ! là là ! que d’amours splendides j’ai rêvées !

Mon unique culotte avait un large trou.
– Petit-Poucet rêveur, j’égrenais dans ma course
Des rimes. Mon auberge était à la Grande Ourse.
– Mes étoiles au ciel avaient un doux frou-frou

Et je les écoutais, assis au bord des routes,
Ces bons soirs de septembre où je sentais des gouttes
De rosée à mon front, comme un vin de vigueur ;

Où, rimant au milieu des ombres fantastiques,
Comme des lyres, je tirais les élastiques
De mes souliers blessés, un pied près de mon coeur !

You can read a 1962 English translation by Oliver Bernard here.