Tag Archives: Diane di Prima

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

minorcharacters

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

 

 

Should We Judge the Quality of a Memoir by Its Confessions?

21 Oct

jamison-bookends-master315Leslie Jamison Credit Illustration by R. Kikuo Johnson via The New York Times

At the Hobart Festival of Women Writers, part of my class, “Writing Under the Influence of the Beat Generation,” was about confessional writing. As a class, we took a look back at the first examples of confessional writing in literary history before plunging into the poetry of Diane Di Prima, who is associated with the Beat Generation.

The New York Times’ Sunday Book Review posed the question “In the Age of Memoir, What’s the Legacy of the Confessional Mode?”

Leslie Jamison wrote:

These days, American literary culture features both a glut of so-called “confessional” work and an increasingly familiar knee-jerk backlash against it: This writing is called solipsistic or narcissistic; it gets accused of lacking discretion or craft. Its heritage is often traced to women writers, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, and its critiques are insidiously — and subcutaneously — gendered. So many of the attacks against the confessional mode come back to the language of the body: An author is spilling her guts or bleeding on the page. Her writing whores itself out, exposing private trauma for public fame. (Or a four-figure advance and an adjunct job.)

Ouch! But, unfortunately, so true. Jamison says:

Because people have grown so obsessed with the drama of Plath’s life, they read the poems solely as reflections of its traumas….

In other words, readers get so caught up in the content that they forget the style. This is a huge tragedy. Commercial memoirs today are all about celebrity or about hard-won, momentous moments in life. There is certainly room for works that celebrate and motivate, but is that the whole or only point of the memoir?

I’ve often heard people sarcastically remark that memoir writing is egotistical. Or else, they denigrate their own lives by arguing there’s nothing in their life worth writing about. I disagree. Whole-heartedly. First of all, the process of writing a memoir is at its core about seeking a balanced truth that is far from self-promoting. At times, the memoirist may even feel self-loathing. But again, every life matters. Everyone has something to say. Everyone is complex and interesting.

Memoir is not just about a flat telling of one’s life. It’s storytelling. It’s choosing words that capture a moment so precisely that the reader can step into the author’s world even if their lives are vastly different. Memoir, in the end, is about craft. It’s an art form.

Happy Birthday, Amiri Baraka!

7 Oct

BluesPeople

Happy birthday to the great poet, playwright, critic, and activist Amiri Baraka!

Baraka was born on this day in 1934 in Newark, the same New Jersey city where eight years earlier Allen Ginsberg had been born. His given name was Everett LeRoi Jones, and he went by LeRoi, eventually changing his name in the late 1960s to Amiri Baraka. Baraka had studied at Rutgers University and Howard University before, like  Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, studying at Columbia University. Also like Kerouac, he took classes at The New School. However, while Ginsberg and Kerouac could be found in the English departments, Baraka’s major fields of study were philosophy and religion. It is not surprising, then, that he became known for his social criticism.

As his website states:

Baraka started his professional career by joining the US Air Force in the early fifties.  Destined to be an accomplished author, he did not serve the military for long and switched to a completely different domain by opting to work in a warehouse for music records. This is where his social circle expanded and added the Black Mountain Poets, New York School Poets and the Beat Generation to it. Also, it developed his interest in Jazz music which later matured in making him one of the most sought after music critics. 

Around that same time, in 1958, he married Hettie Cohen. Together they founded the short-lived lit mag Yugen. He also edited the lit mag Floating Bear with Diane DiPrima. His first book of poems, Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note, was published in 1961. Perhaps the book he is best known for is the 1963 jazz criticism Blues People: Negro Music in White America.

Baraka has gone on to receive the PEN Open Book Award, the James Weldon Johnson Medal for contributions to the arts, an Obie Award (for Dutchman), and the American Academy of Arts & Letters award, and become Professor Emeritus at the State university of New York at Stony Brook and the Poet Laureate of New Jersey.

This is barely even scraping the surface of who Baraka is and the importance of his work. My emphasis on his connection to Ginsberg, Kerouac,  DiPrima, and the Beat Generation is an artificial construct, simply to navigate my usual Kerouac readers. Baraka’s literature and activism is integral to our nation’s history and development. The Poetry Foundation offers a more thorough biography.

Read an excerpt from Blues People on Barnes & Noble.

Find out more on Amiri Baraka’s website.

Jack Kerouac’s Birthday Celebrations Happening Across the Country

7 Mar

Jack Kerouac’s birthday is coming up on the 12th, and there are a couple of celebratory events happening.

Lowell Celebrates Kerouac has several days of fantastic events centered around what might be my favorite (it’s hard to choose just one!) Kerouac book, Visions of Gerard. They will also be honoring David Amram, who has been a great mentor in my life and work:

Lowell Celebrates Kerouac! will be spotlighting Jack Kerouac’s deeply spiritual and Lowell-based book, Visions of Gerard, throughout this 50th anniversary year of its publication, starting with the birthday events of March 2013. March will feature music by celebrated world musician David Amram, musical collaborator and friend of Kerouac, an art exhibition, educational programs, walking tours, poetry, readings, and other cultural events that celebrate the life and writings of Jack Kerouac.

Friday 8 March 2013

Kerouac: People, Places, and Things
Time: 6:00 to 10:00pm
Location: Lowell Telecommunications Center Gallery, 246 Market St.
Kerouac-influenced art exhibition opening reception

The Magnificent Pigtail Shadow
Time: 6:30 to 7:45pm
Location: Lowell Telecommunications Center Gallery, 246 Market St.
A film by Steven Cerio with the director to present, plus a reading from Big Sur played against the director’s newest short

Music for Jack
Time: 8:00 to 9:30pm
Location: Lowell Telecommunications Center Gallery, 246 Market St.
David Amram and friends. A $10 donation is requested.

Saturday 9 March 2013

Amram and Marion
Time: 10:30am to 12:00pm
Location: Welles Emporium, 175 Merrimack St.
Help Lowell Celebrates Kerouac celebrate its new merchandise home at the Welles Emporium. Musician-author David Amram and poet Paul Marion help Lowell Celebrates Kerouac celebrate its new merchandise home at the Welles Emporium. David and Paul will do readings from their books and poetry as well as Kerouac passages with musical interludes by David. They will sign books and CDs.

Jack and Woody: Two American Originals
Time: 1:00pm
Location: Pollard Memorial Library, 401 Merrimack St.
Woody Guthrie and Jack Kerouac life parallels, talk by author Steve Edington.

Mystic Jack Tour
Time: 3:30 to 5:00pm
Location: Meet at St. Louis Church, 221 West Sixth St.
Led by master Kerouac interpreter Roger Brunelle, specially presented this year in honor of 50th anniversary of publication of Visions of Gerard. A $10 donation is requested.

Lowell Celebrates Kerouac Celebrates Amram!
Time: 8:00pm to ?
Location: White Eagle Cafe, 585 Market St.
Musical event with David Amram, the Part-Time Buddhas, and guest musicians. A $10 donation is requested.

Sunday 10 March 2013

Walking Jack Loop Walk
Time: 12:00 to 5:00pm
Location: Meet at Jack Kerouac Commemorative at Jack Kerouac Park, intersection of French and Bridge Streets
End at Old Worthen Tavern at 5:00 for toasting the birth of Jack Kerouac in March of 1922

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Kerouac Birthday Walk
Time: 6:00pm
Location: Starts at Centralville Social Club, 364 W. 6th St.
On Jack Kerouac’s 91st birthday, walk with LCK group to Lupine Road birth house for readings. The walk will start and end at Centralville Social Club (364 W. 6th St.) parking lot by the prominent Ace Hardware sign on Lakeview Ave., Centralville neighborhood.

Tuesday 19 March 2013

Reading of Visions of Gerard
Time: 7:00pm
Location: Pollard Memorial Library, 401 Merrimack St.
Tour of “Jack’s Library” followed by selected readings and discussion of Visions of Gerard on the 50th anniversary of its publication. This is Kerouac’s possibly most spiritual book as he remembers his childhood years and the deep impacts of his brother Gerard’s death. Sponsored by UMassLowell and Pollard Memorial Library. Funded in part by the Massachusetts Council on the Humanities.

Thanks to Welles Emporium, the Pollard Memorial Library, the White Eagle Pub, the Old Worthen Tavern, Lowell Telecommunications, and the St. Louis de France School for hosting our events.

I also learned via LCK that the Northport Historical Society is hosting a birthday celebration for Kerouac:

Writer/Playwright, Pat Fenton will be reading from his play “Jack’s Last Call, Say Goodbye to Kerouac”, as part of the March is Kerouac Month at the Northport Historical Society. Mr. Fenton will also discuss Kerouac’s Northport years as well as his importance to American literature.

It’s the end of summer in 1964. A major cultural shift is starting to happen in the U.S., and on his last night in Northport, Long Island the America Jack Kerouac saw through a rear view mirror riding along side his “On the Road” partner Neal Cassady is slowly playing again in his mind.

Long after a small going away party that he has thrown for himself is over; Jack keeps on drinking as he prepares to move to Florida with his mother. He reflects back on his fame, his youth as a football star in Lowell, Massachusetts, and the worry that his time has come and gone. As he sums up parts of his life to the audience in a bittersweet narrative, he receives a series of soul-searching phone calls from his daughter Jan.

An obligatory stop at Gunther’s Bar down the block on Main Street, where Jack Kerouac spent much of his Northport Years, will be made by the writer, and the conversation will continue over pints of tap beer.

The birthday celebration will take place on Sunday, March 10th at 3 P.M., at the Northport Historical Society, 215 Main Street, Northport, Long Island.

The Laughing Goat, a coffeehouse and performance space in Colorado, is hosting a poetry reading on March 11:

”So, You’re a Poet,” presents Jack Kerouac’s 91st Birthday Reading & On the Road film screening: The ”So, You’re a Poet” reading series by Boulder’s ”beat book shop” has several Kerouac events on its poetry calendar. Poets who have performed in this venerable, decades-old series include the late Allen Ginsberg, Bernadette Mayer (who will be in Boulder this summer for the Summer Writing Program), Diane di Prima, Janine Pommy Vega, Anselm Hollo, and many more. The series has always been hosted by poet and Kerouac School alumnus Tom Peters, owner of the Pearl Street landmark ”beat book shop.” The series was hosted for many years by the famous Penny Lane Cafe. In the introduction to Poems from Penny Lane Anne Waldman writes ”One thinks of the legendary Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich where the Dadaist movement was born, or the cafes and bars in San Francisco which spawned the Beat Literary Movement, also the cafe Metro and the Nuyorican Cafe, both in New York City’s East Village.” The series currently takes place in the new Laughing Goat Coffeehouse, which has strong ties to the original Penny Lane. Amiri Baraka, Miguel Algarin, Lewis MacAdams, and other poets read there during last year’s Summer Writing Program. The Laughing Goat is surely a Boulder literary institution in the making.

Are there any other Kerouac birthday celebrations we should know about?

How will you be celebrating? If you can’t make it to one of the events, maybe you could write a poem or read a passage from one of Kerouac’s books or stop by the Beat Museum in San Francisco.

 

Follow Friday: Beat Generation Edition

22 Jul

Saw James Franco in Howl at the Angelika: amazing.  Now you can watch it for free on Hulu.

Replace “Moloch” with “Murdoch” in Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and this is what you get

John Allen Cassady reveals why even though he’s named after Jack Kerouac (and Allen Ginsberg) he’s named John

The Bowery Poetry Club is hosting a Diane Di Prima film screening on August 7

The Beat Museum is blogging for HuffPo

Anyone get the Penguin On the Road app for iPad?  Company loyalty means I have a Nook.

Wishing I was still living in LA County so I could see the Ed Ruscha and Jack Kerouac exhibit at the Hammer Museum