Even more than art, literature is fundamental to my life. Reading was so important to my development as a child and continues to expand my horizons to this day. I earn my living as a writer and an editor, but even my social calendar revolves around literary events. Literature is very much a part of my identity, and I make a priority for it in my life.
Big Sur (an adaptation of Kerouac’s novel) on Netflix
Epic four-hour brunch at The District with two writer friends, talking about “ethnic” literature, faith, and relationships.
After Sunset: Poetry Walk on the High Line.
My friends surprising me by taking me to a book-themed restaurant on my first night in Budapest.
Reading Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, a recommendation from my friend Jane.
Brunch with my friend Misako Oba, whose new book of photography and memoir, which I helped edit, was published.
Drinks with one of my favorite people at Durden, a bar based on author Chuck Palahniuk’s novel-turned-movie Fight Club.
New York City Poetry Festival with my writing group partner.
Reading from Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” (coauthored with Paul Maher Jr.) at WORD Bookstore in Jersey City.
Teaching a writing class at the Hobart Festival of Women Writers.
Brunch at Caffe Reggio, where Jack Kerouac and friends used to hang out.
Speaking on the panel Lessons Learned: Published Authors Share Hard-Earned Insights with Nana Brew-Hammond, Kerika Fields, Melissa Walker, Ruiyan Xu, and Jakki Kerubo at BinderCon.
Meeting regularly with one of my best friends to read and write together at the New York Public Library.
Checking out the Ernest Hemingway: Between Two Wars exhibit at the Morgan Library & Museum with a friend who is a huge Hemingway fan.
Spotting a first edition copy of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin.
Reading Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See.
Burning Furiously Beautiful on sale at Barnes & Noble.
Burning Furiously Beautiful on sale at Amazon.
My Pinterest posts called Lit Life.
I’m on Twitter.
“Every day is an experience. Every day is an adventure.”
“Pay attention to anybody and everybody, and you’ll be amazed at what you can learn.”
At the Burroughs 101 reading, Three Rooms Press announced that their next reading at Cornelia Street Cafe would be Women on Top, featuring “five feisty females”: Pam Belluck, Hettie Jones, Margot Olavarria, Marci Blackman, and Beth Lisick, and hosted by Three Rooms Press’ Kat Georges. My friend and I decided on the spot, without even consulting our schedules, that we were going.
The main reason I knew I had to be at this reading was Hettie Jones. As a Beat scholar, I’ve long admired Hettie Jones for being a woman who was more than just a muse — she is a writer with her own voice and transcends categorization. I first heard her reading at the Women of the Beat Generation panel at the Bowery Poetry Club, which incidentally was the first time I ever ventured into Bob Holman‘s poetry venue, which became an important part of my own literary upbringing. Later, while studying creative writing at The New School, one of my instructors introduced me to Hettie because he knew I was interested in Beat literature. She was so down-to-earth and honest. She talked with me for a long time, and I greatly valued her insight into the role of women in the Beat Generation. The last time I heard her read was at 2013’s Downtown Literary Festival, where she read at McNally Jackson. Obviously, it had been way too long since I’d heard her read! I loved, loved, loved the poems she selected to read at Three Rooms Press’ Women on Top reading. She read about driving, about New York City, and about the 1940s. Jones didn’t self-analyze, but what I found particularly fascinating to think about was how driving was almost a feminist act at the time. It’s not that women didn’t know how to drive; it’s that the men usually took over the driving. Jack Kerouac, however, hated driving. Occasionally, he took the wheel, but oftentimes he rode Greyhound or let his buddy Neal Cassady do the driving. I don’t think it would be fair to make some sort of leap and question Kerouac’s masculinity because he wasn’t a man who liked driving, but I do think it’s fair to say Jones didn’t let culture dictate what she could or couldn’t do as a woman. She blazed her own path.
Driving appeared to be the theme of the night. Margot Olavarria, the original bass player for the punk band The Go-Go’s, told tales from life on the road. The world of rock’n’roll is so full of men’s stories that I appreciated hearing what it was like a woman’s experience of life out on tour.
Marci Blackman had a road connection too — the award-winning novelist is an avid cyclist. Check this out: “An avid cyclist and veteran of the Sister Spit Rambling Road Show, Blackman once spent six weeks in a van with 11 queer writers on a cross country spoken word tour and 12 weeks, alone on a bicycle, pedaling from San Francisco to the outer banks of North Carolina.”
Beth Lisick is one of those authors whose name is everywhere, so I was excited to hear her read. She did not disappoint. She is a true performer, an author who makes readings lively and entertaining. She read from her work-in-progress. Now I need to work my way through her other five books.
Pam Belluck is on the health and science staff of The New York Times, and even before that she covered a wide range of fascinating news topics. She regaled the audience with stories of what it was like being a pregnant woman covering major news events.
Attending Three Rooms Press’ Burroughs 101 celebration at Cornelia Street Cafe has become an annual event for my friend and me. Last year’s phenomenal readings culminating in an epic communal reading brought the spirit of Burroughs and the Beat Generation to life, and it was no surprise that this year there were even more people in the audience than at the centennial event.
Anne Waldman is captivating. I cannot keep my eyes off her when she recites her poetry. I can’t even call what she does “reading.” She sings, chants, tells stories. It’s deeper than performance. It’s like she becomes the poem. I heard her read at the First Blues event honoring Allen Ginsberg’s work at Housing Works. With Ginsberg, she founded the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. She was also friends with William S. Burroughs so it felt special to hear her read her friend’s work. Her son, Ambrose Bye, accompanied her at the Burroughs 101 event, weaving jazz music throughout her poetry. I definitely want to see them perform together again.
Any time I get a chance to hear Steve Dalachinsky read I jump at the opportunity. The first time I ever heard the New York poet read was actually the first time I ever attended Lowell Celebrates Kerouac. After that, I ran into him at various other readings, but I am naturally shy and hate to appear fan-girlish so I was nervous about introducing myself. Fortunately, David Amram introduced me to Steve and his wife, poet Yuko Otomo, on my second trip to Lowell Celebrates Kerouac, so now I always enjoy catching up with Steve and Yuko when I see them. Steve does amazing jazz-poetry, and I tend to prefer hearing him read his own work, but he has such a reverence for Beat poetry that he gives reverence to Beat events that could otherwise come out cultish or immature.
Jan Herman is a scholar. He’s someone I’d like to just sit down in a coffee shop with and listen to him talk and tell stories. And that’s what he did at the Burroughs 101 reading. In a conversational approach, he told stories about Burroughs.
Aimee Herman kicked the evening off, bringing Burroughs’ rebellious and experimental spirit to life at Cornelia Street Cafe as she ripped up poems as she read. Burroughs, as most know, cut up his writing and rearranged it to form his work. Aimee Herman’s reading succinctly captured Burroughs’ literary methodology in that simplistic and stunning gesture.
Penny Arcade is an authentic poet on the scene since I was old enough experience the contemporary New York poetry world. She closed the evening by reading Burroughs’ aphorisms. It was the perfect ending to a perfect reading.
The Burroughs 101 celebration was hosted by Three Rooms Press’ very own Peter Carlaftes.
Ever since pioneer jazz French-horn player David Amram mentioned that he’ll be doing an urban hike, pointing out places of importance to him on the Upper West Side, I’ve been counting down the days.
I usually associate David with Greenwich Village. Whenever I see him play at Cornelia Street Cafe or (le) poisson rouge, he always tells enthralling stories of how we’re only steps away from where he and Jack Kerouac did their first jazz-poetry readings or how he used to go into the music store down the street and learn how to play instruments from around the world. It’s that curiosity, though, along with talent and tenacity that allow him to transcend any particular place or “movement” or style. Uptown, he worked, for instance, with The New York Philharmonic’s conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos; in 1966, Leonard Bernstein selected him to be The New York Philharmonic’s first composer-in-residence.
Now, the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center has acquired David Amram’s archive and is hosting David Amram’s New York, a series of free events, which includes a screening of a documentary about him and the urban hike. Here’s the info via the New York Public Library:
Composer, conductor, multi-instrumentalist, and author David Amram is a musician with a celebrated career as prolific as it is diverse. While his achievements and influences extend far beyond the city, New York has played a vital role in Amram’s life and music. Specific locations throughout New York have served as inspiration for Amram’s compositions, and his pioneering work with Leonard Bernstein and The New York Philharmonic, Arthur Miller and Elia Kazan, Joseph Papp, Jack Kerouac, Dizzy Gillespie, Pete Seeger, and many other jazz, folk, and world music artists has helped shape the city’s cultural landscape. To celebrate the recent acquisition of Amram’s archives, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts in Lincoln Center will present David Amram’s New York, a series of public programs and offerings that explore his remarkable career and ongoing relationship with the music of New York.
The series begins on Saturday, April 26 with a screening of the documentary feature film David Amram: The First 80 Years, followed by a conversation between the filmmaker Lawrence Kraman and Amram. Later that afternoon, Amram will lead a walking tour of Manhattan locations that have played a significant role in his life and music. The walk will be co-hosted by author Bill Morgan and sociologist Dr. Audrey Sprenger of SUNY Purchase.
On Tuesday, April 29, the series concludes with a special concert of Amram’s chamber music compositions, featuring a program that spans Amram’s career and musical influences. Nora Guthrie, daughter of Woody Guthrie, will also be in attendance to celebrate her commissioning Amram to compose THIS LAND: Symphonic Variations on a Song by Woody Guthrie. Performers for the concert include Howard Wall and Kim Laskowski, both members of The New York Philharmonic, former Metropolitan Opera concertmaster Elmira Darvarova, and saxophonist Ken Radnofsky. The evening will also mark the release of two new albums of Amram compositions: The Chamber Music of David Amram – Live from the New York Chamber Music Festival (Urlicht AudioVisual), featuring Darvarova; and Newport Classic Records’ album of Radnofsky performing Amram’s compositions for saxophone, including the concerto Ode to Lord Buckley and Trio for Tenor Saxophone, French Horn and Bassoon.
In conjunction with the programs, The Library for the Performing Arts will exhibit original materials from Amram’s archives.
One of the most influential and prolific composers of his generation, David Amram has composed more than 100 orchestral and chamber music works, two operas, and scores for the award-winning films Splendor in The Grass, The Manchurian Candidate, and Jack Kerouac’s Pull My Daisy–all while balancing a career as a pioneering jazz improviser, symphony conductor, and multi-instrumentalist featuring 35 instruments from around the world, all of which remain a source of inspiration for many of his formally composed classical works. Amram was a vital force in the Beat Generation, and presented the first-ever public jazz-poetry concerts in New York City in the 1950s with Kerouac. Amram was the first Musical Director and composer for Joseph Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival, for the Phoenix Theater, and for The Lincoln Center Repertory Theater, where he composed scores for new plays by Arthur Miller directed by Elia Kazan and Harold Clurman. In 1966, Leonard Bernstein named Amram The New York Philharmonic’s first Composer-In-Residence. Five years later, Amram became the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s first Musical Director for Young People’s, Family and Free Parks Concerts, a position he held for nearly three decades.
Today, Amram continues to compose music while traveling the world as a conductor, soloist, bandleader, author, visiting scholar, and narrator in five languages. In addition to the David Amram’s New York programs at The Library for the Performing Arts, Amram’s other projects this spring include the release of THIS LAND: Symphonic Variations on a Song by Woody Guthrie (Newport Classic Recordings), a live recording of Amram conducting the Colorado Symphony Orchestra in a performance of his work by the same name, and the DVD release of David Amram: the First 80 Years in May. Amram’s fourth book, David Amram: The Next 80 Years, will be published in 2015.
All events included in the David Amram’s New York series take place at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts (40 Lincoln Center Plaza), and are free and open to the public.
David Amram’s New York
Saturday, April 26 @ 1pm
Film Screening: David Amram: The First 80 Years
Post-Screening Conversation with Lawrence Kraman and David Amram In Person
Lawrence Kraman’s 2012 documentary about the life and times of David Amram features interviews and performances with Buck Henry, Pete Seeger, Sir James Galway, Kurt Elling, Paquito d’Rivera, Max Gail, Larry Merchant, Candido Camero, Bobby Sanabria, John Ventimiglia, Philip Myers, Maurice Peress and the Queens College Orchestra, David Broza, Avram Pengas, Tiokasin Ghosthorse, Floyd Red Crow Westerman, the Earl McKintyre Orchestra, and David Amram and his three children Alana, Adira and Adam. This compelling film not only explores Amram’s unique career and the breadth of his talents, but as the title implies, also proves that one of the most exciting aspects of Amram’s story is knowing that with his endless energy and zest for life, his narrative is far from over, and the future chapters are sure to be just as exciting as the past.
Saturday April 26 @ 3pm
Walking Tour With David Amram
Meet in the lobby outside of The Bruno Walter Auditorium, located at the Library’s 111 Amsterdam Avenue entrance
David Amram leads this walking tour of Lincoln Center and other nearby locations that have influenced his life and music. The tour will be co-hosted by Bill Morgan and Dr. Audrey Sprenger.
Tuesday, April 29 @ 6pm
Chamber Music Compositions of David Amram: from 1958 – 2014
Over the course of his career, David Amram has composed more than 100 orchestral and chamber music works. For this concert, he selects four of his favorite chamber works:
Trio for Tenor Saxophone, French Horn and Bassoon (1958)
Ken Radnofsky – Saxophone
Howard Wall – French Horn
Kim Laskowski – Bassoon
Violin Sonata (1960)
Elmira Darvarova – Violin
Linda Hall – Piano
Blues for Monk for Unaccompanied Horn (1982)
Howard Wall – French Horn
Three Greenwich Village Portraits (2014)
For Alto Saxophone and Piano
Ken Radnofsky – Alto Saxophone
Damien Francoeur-Krzyzek – Piano
About The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center
The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts houses one of the world’s most extensive combination of circulating, reference, and rare archival collections in its field. These materials are available free of charge, along with a wide range of special programs, including exhibitions, seminars, and performances. An essential resource for everyone with an interest in the arts — whether professional or amateur — the Library is known particularly for its prodigious collections of non-book materials such as historic recordings, videotapes, autograph manuscripts, correspondence, sheet music, stage designs, press clippings, programs, posters and photographs. For more information please visit www.nypl.org.
Don’t live in New York? Check out David Amram’s extensive calendar to see when he’ll next be in your neighborhood.
- David Amram on Contributing Our Gifts
- Blues.Gr’s Tribute to David Amram
- A video of when I read with David Amram at Cornelia Street Cafe
- Photos from when David Amram led us all in Jamming Jack at a local bar in Kerouac’s hometown of Lowell
- Amram at First Blues to celebrate an Allen Ginsberg recording
In the video you’ll hear me reading a section on Jack Kerouac’s time in Mexico, which gives some perspective on Kerouac’s faith, his sensitivity toward animals, and his tumultuous friendship with Neal Cassady. The book I’m reading from is my book with Paul Maher Jr. called Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.
Special thanks to my videographer Liz Koenig.
The event also picked up some press!
Larry Closs mentioned it in his article “Transcending Beat with David Amram.”
The Pappas Post mentioned it in “Stephanie Nikolopoulos and Jazz legend David Amram pay tribute to Jack Kerouac.”
When musician David Amram introduced me before I read with him at Cornelia Street Cafe on September 3, 2012, he very generously said people should pay attention because one day they’d see me on television. To me, though, reading with David Amram was a much bigger deal than being on television. There are countless television shows, but there is only one David Amram. While there are many fantastic musicians and writers out there whom I’d be honored to read with, there are few who hold such a special place in forming my creative identity as Amram does.
I first became acquainted with Amram through studying Jack Kerouac when I was just a teenager. I was enamored with his improvised performance as Mezz McGillicuddy in the 1957 Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie film Pull My Daisy. In fact, this photograph, featuring Larry Rivers, Jack Kerouac, David Amram, Allen Ginsberg, and Gregory Corso, who all collaborated on the film, is probably my all-time favorite photograph of the poets, writers, and artists associated with the Beat Generation. It seems to so purely capture their friendship: just a couple of people hanging out at a cafe, maybe talking about the arts, or maybe just drinking coffee late into the night and enjoying each other’s company.
Although it was literature that introduced me to Amram, his music fascinated me. Here was a musician who was more than just skillful. Amram is an innovator. He’s someone who experiments, improvises, blends genres, captivates. He is, quite simply, mesmerizing to watch and listen to.
Through reading biographies on Kerouac and also reading Amram’s own biographies, I came to discover the jazz-poetry readings Amram and Kerouac began doing in the Village in 1957. These were improvised sets, requiring each to masterfully foresee and adapt to changing tempos and moods in each other’s works. These jazz-poetry collaborations captured my imagination, challenging my view of art and the way in which it’s created, the musicality of words, and the role of collaboration, improvisation, and performance in literature. As I read about the collaborations in musty library books, forty-some-odd years after they’d taken place, I envisioned what it must’ve been like to be in the crowd at a painter’s loft or at the Circle in the Square. Did the people there realize they were part of history?
In 2001, I had the opportunity to ask Amram just that when I interviewed him for some research I was doing at the time. I sat enthralled, clinging to his every word, as he told me about all the places he used to hang out at in New York, about collaborating with Kerouac, and about how the term “Beat Generation” is just a marketing term that people later attached to the individual artists who each create unique works. As he talked, answering all of my questions and never rushing me, and later as I read another biography of his, I realized that Amram is the real deal — a creative genius and also a beatific individual, an artist who inspires and encourages.
Amram has been someone whom I’ve long admired, both on an artistic and a personal level. Reading about those 1957 jazz-poetry readings he did with Jack Kerouac, I never imagined that one day I would have the opportunity to read the book I’m writing on Jack Kerouac with him. When my former editor suggested we attend Amram’s show at Cornelia Street Cafe in the Village, I excitedly said yes. A few days later, I had to email him back to say Amram had invited me to read with him. It was completely surreal.
The September 3, 2012, show was completely sold out. I had some friends who were turned away at the door. Special thanks to Cornelia Street Cafe’s Robin Hirsch and the staff for hosting the reading and for doing such an excellent job in organizing the event. I read a short selection about Kerouac’s time in Mexico from Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, the book I’m co-authoring with Paul Maher, Jr. It was really exciting because author Larry Closs and painter Jonathan Collins, both of whom I met through the Burning Furiously Beautiful Facebook page, were in the audience. Poet and producer RA Araya, who has been hugely supportive of my work and whose birthday bash was the premiere reading from Burning Furiously Beautiful, was also there, and graciously provided the photography you see here. I had some other family and friends there as well and am so appreciative of their support. It means more to me than most people realize.
As soon as my videographer, Liz Koenig, sends the video, I’ll post it so you can hear me reading with David Amram and his band. The band, consisting of Amram, Kevin Twigg, and John de Witt played so beautifully — even more of a feat, considering Twigg had hurt his hand before the show. The music was haunting and fit the piece that I read so perfectly. I wanted to remain present in the moment, to really hear what they were playing, and savor the moment. It was one of those times in life that I wanted to tuck into my heart and cherish.
David Amram, Stephanie Nikolopoulos, Joe Pacheco
Stephanie Nikolopoulos, David Amram, RA Araya
Videos from Premiere Reading from Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road31 Aug
Here’s video from the very first reading from Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, cowritten with biographer Paul Maher Jr. This is the reading that took place at The Sidewalk Cafe, to celebrate poet RA Araya’s birthday, and the awesome band I collaborated with is called flashbackpuppy. Not only was this my first reading from the book — it was also my first time reading with a live band! We didn’t rehearse the collaboration at all. I literally met them for the first time when I got up on the stage.
Video via Liz Koenig
Video via Fred Rodriguez
Don’t forget to come out this Monday night, September 3, at 8:30, to Cornelia Street Cafe (29 Cornelia St., NYC). Just steps from where Jack Kerouac and David Amram did their jazz-poetry readings in 1957, I’ll be reading about Kerouac while David Amram plays! If you’ve ever caught any of his performances, you know that Amram is not only a phenomenal musician but also a great storyteller.
Amram & Co. includes David Amram, Kevin Twigg, John de Witt, and Adam Amram. $10 cover, plus $10 minimum.
9/2/12: That’s Jon Martinez on bass, Patrick Conlon on drums, Peter Beckett guitar playing in the videos.