Tag Archives: Jack Kerouac

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.

 

10 Books of Beat Generation Letters

14 Jul

The other day I wrote about viewing Neal Cassady’s infamous “lost” Joan Anderson letter at Christie’s Auction House.. Letters are a great way to get to know and understand the writers of the Beat Generation. The novelists and poets were prodigious letter writers. Here are ten books of collected letters by the poets and writers of the Beat Generation.

1.

CassadyLetters

 Neal Cassady: Collected Letters, 1944-1967

2.

KerouacLetters

Jack Kerouac: Selected Letters, 1940-1956

3.

Carolyn

Jack Kerouac’s Dear Carolyn: Letters to Carolyn Cassady

4.

KerouacGinsberg

Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg: The Letters

5.

YageLetters

William S. Burroughs’ and Allen Ginsberg’s The Yage Letters Redux

6.

GinsbergSnyder

The Selected Letter of Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder

7.

GinsbergDad

Allen Ginsberg and his father’s Family Business: Selected Letters between a Father and Son

8.

HettieJonesLoveH

Love, H: The Letters of Helene Dorn and Hettie Jones

9.

DistantNeighbors

Distant Neighbors: The Selected Letters of Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder

10.

CorsoBiography

An Accident Autobiography: The Selected Letters of Gregory Corso

Viewing Cassady’s “Lost” Joan Anderson Letter

7 Jul

The “lost” letter that forever changed Jack Kerouac’s writing style was recently “found” and put on auction at Christie’s last month. If you’re someone who has read any biography about Kerouac, you’ve heard of the infamous “Joan Anderson letter.” You know the importance of this letter.

It is — what for it! — legendary.

I was on my way to Christie’s on the day before auction to see the letter when I ran into my coworker on the elevator. We exchanged pleasantries about what we were having for lunch, and I burst out in excitement — or at least the equivalent of bursting out in excitement for my shy nerdy self — that I was on my way to see the Joan Anderson letter. He had never heard of it. He knew very little about the Beat Generation. He asked about it, and I was somewhat at a loss for how to explain it. I started explaining that it was written by Kerouac’s friend Neal Cassady, who wrote in a fast-paced, confessional style.

But what is it about? he wanted to know.

Ah. Now I blushed. I said something about it being … “scandalous.” How could I explain the contents of the letter without sounding like I was into reading other people’s sexcapades? The forty-page letter was Cassady’s sexual exploits in 1946. It included stories about a woman named Joan Anderson in a hospital and one named Cherry Mary who got caught by her aunt.

 

It wasn’t about the subject matter, though. That was not what ever interested me. And it’s not just what interested Kerouac — or even Cassady. It was about telling a good story. Capturing it in a way that is real. Authentic. Captivating.

I had met Neal Cassady’s daughter’s husband at a reading in Greenwich Village, and he had shown me a copy of the letter. What fascinated me was the illustrations and handwritten addenda that I hadn’t known about.

I went to Christie’s auction house because I wanted to see the real letter in person. I’ve never seen the scroll version of On the Road. I missed it the last time it was in New York City about ten years ago. So seeing the Joan Anderson letter, a letter purported to have been lost and unseen by so most, was one of those literary moments I couldn’t pass up.

Having never been to Christie’s before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would I have to be patted down? Would I have to turn in my iPhone? Would I even be able to find the letter amongst all the other treasures up for auction? I was surprised to discover it was the very first thing one could possibly see upon entering Christie’s. I could only see a few pages of the letter, as the whole thing wasn’t on display. It was difficult to read the entire thing, but I tilted my head and read sections. I took the whole thing in. It was exciting. It felt like history. Perhaps the way some people feel about seeing the Constitution. I didn’t press my luck and try to take a photograph, but I carried the memory of it with me as I walked back to work.

The letter didn’t end up selling at auction. You can read about Neal Cassady’s Joan Anderson letter here, on Christie’s auction house website and here.

You can read Cassady’s letters in Neal Cassady: Collected Letters, 1944-1967.

 

 

 

 

Jack Kerouac’s Roman Candles

4 Jul

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Jack Kerouac’s most famous quote is this gorgeous piece of prose from his seminal novel On the Road:::

The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”

Kerouac’s words have been made into wall art and tattoos. They are inspiring and wondrous. The repetition of “mad” and “burn” drive the energy of the sentence. The verbs make you want to act, make you want — to live, to talk, to be saved. They make you burn, burn, burn. They make you feel as if your senses are exploding. You read these words, and you want to seize the day! You want to be the type of friend who makes your friends’ lives shine brighter, who creates moments in their lives that they will hold onto for the rest of their lives.

The beauty of the “fabulous yellow roman candles” that are “exploding like spiders across the stars” with their “blue centerlight” is mesmerizing.  (Italian author Elena Ferrante also write a magnificent scene involving Roman candles in My Brilliant Friend.) It’s so visual. So visceral. I’ve written before about how Kerouac may have pinched the Roman candle image from James Joyce. See this quote from Ulysses:::

…O! then the Roman candle burst and it was like a sigh of O! and everyone cried O! O! in raptures and it gushed out of it a stream of rain gold hair threads and they shed and ah! they were all greeny dewy stars falling with golden, O so lovely, O, soft, sweet, soft!

But what exactly is a Roman candle?

Years ago, when I first encountered the words “roman candles” I thought they were those eight-inch religious candles in glass. You know the ones. They usually have Mother Mary or some other icon on the glass. Kerouac was Catholic so it made sense to me at the time, and though the image in my mind’s eye was quieter, more solitary, it still enamored me. It had a holiness to it.

As it turns out, though, a Roman candle is actually what we’d typically call a firework. They’re illegal for BBQers and other regular Joes to own in New Jersey and New York — and actually now they’re illegal in Massachusetts too — so I never learned Roman candles were a type of fireworks. The world of pyrotechnics is full of Roman candles, bottle rockets, sparklers, and more!

Developed in China, the Roman candle gained prominence during the Italian renaissance. It burns ever so slowly til it reaches the pyrotechnic star. Then suddenly it bursts into colors!

Here’s how it works, according to Wikipedia:::

Roman candles are fireworks constructed with bentonitelifting chargepyrotechnic starblack powder, and delay charge. The device is ignited from the top, which should be pointed into the sky, away from people. The delay powder is packed tightly in the tube, so that the flame cannot reach around the sides of the plug of delay composition. It therefore burns slowly; as it is consumed, the flame moves down through the tube. When the flame reaches the topmost pyrotechnic star, the star is ignited. Because the star fits loosely in the tube, the fire spreads around it and ignites the lift charge. The lift charge burns quickly, propelling the star out of the tube. In doing so it also ignites the layer of delay powder beneath it, and the process repeats.

About those stars:::

The stars of Roman candles can be found in any number of colors. Colors are manipulated by adding compounds which, when ignited, release visible light and other radiation. For example, when potassium perchlorate (KClO4) is used as an oxidizer, chemical reactions involving the dissociated elements of the perchlorate—potassium and chlorine ions—create barium compounds which emit green light (especially BaCl). The potassium compounds formed by this reaction emit mostly near-infrared light, and so they do not affect the color of the star in a significant way. This reaction occurs at temperatures exceeding 2500°C (4532°F), at which KCl can ionize into K+ and Cl. Alternatively, strontium carbonate can be added to the candle to produce a red or pink star, but, because it does not oxidize, more oxidizers and fuels must be added to sustain combustion. During combustion, various strontium compounds (especially SrOH) emit red light, most of which is between 506 and 722 nanometers in wavelength.[4]

That’s probably way more nerdy information than you needed to know!

Keep the fireworks to the professionals. Yesterday a man in Central Park stepped on a firework and had to get his leg amputated!

I have the day off from work … so of course I’ve gotten sick! But that means instead of going to the beach and watching fireworks, I can bring you literary links related to the Beats and America:::

 

Be safe, and have a Happy Independence Day!!

 

 

Friday Links::: Beat Generation News

20 May

William Burroughs, writer, New York, July 9, 1975

PHOTOGRAPH BY RICHARD AVEDON / “WILLIAM BURROUGHS, NEW YORK, JULY 9, 1975”/© THE RICHARD AVEDON FOUNDATION via The New Yorker

Happy Friday! Here are a few Beat Generation-related links for your weekend reading:::

Drive, He Wrote: What the Beats Were About” (The New Yorker)

“The Outlaw: The Extraordinary Life of William S. Burroughs” (The New Yorker)

To Catch a Beat” (The New Yorker)

The Last Living Bohemian in Chelsea” (The New Yorker)

Find out which book by Jack Kerouac changed poet and novelist Naomi Shihab Nye’s life. (Hint: it’s not On the Road) (Shelf Awareness)

Behind Bars: Mike Heslop at Kafe Kerouac” (Columbus Alive)

“Palisades Park Library Cards Feature a Local Designer and a Touch of Controversy” (NorthJersey.com)

 

As always, you can purchase the Jack Kerouac biography I coauthored with Paul Maher Jr.:::

 

And, you can connect with us:::

 

Happy reading!

 

Writing Poetry in a Swedish Coffeehouse

23 Mar

fika

 

It’s nice to get out of the studio sometimes and write somewhere different. A change in perspective can kick start the creative juices and create renewed focus.

Coffeehouses seem ideal for writing poetry. There’s just something about the smell of coffee and the introspective atmosphere. Maybe it has something to do with the rich history of coffeehouse culture that dates back to the Ottoman Empire. Maybe it has something to do with what William S. Burroughs quipped:

“Kerouac opened a million coffee bars and sold a million pairs of Levis to both sexes.”

Or maybe it’s just that I’m Swedish, and we Swedes are known for our coffee habit.

In any event, I headed to the ever-expanding Swedish coffeehouse chain FIKA for a latte, a semla (the pastry pictures in the photograph), and some writing and editing. I hope to have a new poem to share with the world soon.

You may also like:::

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Will Be Teaching a Literary Relationships Class

18 Mar

Nikolopoulos teaching at Festival of Women Writers

I’m so excited to announce that I have been selected to lead a discussion at this year’s Festival of Women Writers in Hobart, New York!

The class I’m teaching will be called Literary  Relationships: Writing in, into, and to Community.

Here is the description:::

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.
For more information, visit the Festival of Women Writers website and Facebook page.
You might also be interested in:::
Also, find about upcoming readings, workshops, and how to book me on my Appearances page.

Photos from the Burroughs Birthday Bash at Cornelia Street

11 Mar
Three Room Press’ annual William S. Burroughs birthday bash at Cornelia Street Café is one of my favorite literary events of the year. I’ve been going for three years straight—since they started it!—with one of my very best friends, Sue. It’s intimate and snarky and creative. It feels like a bunch of intellectual but down-to-earth friends sitting together in a living room and taking turn sharing their favorite works of Burroughs’.
Peter Carlaftes Burroughs
Burroughs Bowie
Steve Dalachinsky Burroughs
Aimee Herman Burroughs
Burroughs Reading
Bowie Album
I won! I won!
Cornelia Street Cafe Food
The delicious food from Cornelia Street Cafe.
Burroughs Cornelia Street Cafe
A William S. Burroughs reading is the perfect place to promote his friend Jack Kerouac! Here are the postcards for Burning Furiously Beautiful (on sale at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Lulu).
You might also be interested in:::

Book Marketing in Train Stations

2 Mar

Free Books Library

I had a nightmarish situation at the train station the other night. I went out to Connecticut to visit a dear friend, and we got so wrapped up in conversation that I almost missed the last train of the night. She rushed me to the train station, where there were several others also waiting for the train.

Sigh of relief. I made it.

I ran to the ticket kiosk and purchased my ticket back to Grand Central. I thought I was just in the nick of time. The train would be pulling into the station any second.

But it didn’t.

Conversations with the several other confused bystanders led to various theories: the train had left early, the train was delayed. An app and the MTA website both said the train was delayed. We waited.

And waited.

No train. Some dude tried to get us to take an uber with him to Stamford. “It’ll get you a little closer,” he said. Not close enough, I thought. He left.

We waited some more.

Still, no train. A couple finally had enough of the waiting and also called an uber. They were going to Washington Heights and offered to split it with us. It was only going to be $80. Between 4 people that would be a bargain–especially considering the fact that I’d spent $22 purchasing the wrong ticket on the way out to Connecticut. My ever-hopeful friend believed that the train was just delayed, though, so we said we’d just wait.

And wait we did.

We waited over an hour for the train. We tried calling several numbers listed, but no one was working those late hours. There were no employees in the station. Was the train delayed over an hour? Was it canceled? Finally, an employee came by. She told us the train had come early and left without us. It was 1:45 in the morning, and the next train would come til 5am.

We tried to find an uber, but suddenly the prices had been raised to close to double of the original amount. That, and we no longer had anyone to split the cost with. The friend we were visiting told us we could crash at her place, but we hadn’t brought toothbrushes and new contacts and makeup. We endeavored to get home. We ubered back to the city, and I took a scary 3am subway ride home. I was the only woman in a train full of men. Not my wisest decisions, but I felt like I’d been leaking money and didn’t want to pay for a taxi home. I finally got in around 3:30am. I watched an episode of Frasier to unwind.

The good news in all of this is that I did a bit of free book marketing. The train station in Connecticut had a kiosk of free books, where straphangers were encouraged to take a book to read on the train. The selection was curious and random and lovely. Something for everyone. Maimonides. Edgar Cayce. Allison Pearson.

I’d heard of this take-a-book and leave-a-book trend before. And I’d experienced it years ago at hostels when I’d gone backpacking through Europe. It’s such a great way to meet new books.

I didn’t have a copy of Burning Furiously Beautiful on me, so I did the next best thing I could think of: I put a few postcards on the kiosk. What better author to read about on the train than Jack Kerouac, who was known for his intrepid travels?

 

You might also like:::

 

 

 

 

Celebrate National Haiku Writing Month with Kerouac

27 Feb

NationalHaikuMonthKerouac

Most writers know about NaNoWriMo–National Novel Writing Month in November. But did you know that February is National Haiku Writing Month?

To celebrate NaHaikWriMo, I’ve been reading haikus by Jack Kerouac and writing a few of my own.

Interestingly, Jack Kerouac’s Book of Haikus was published in Persian before On the Road was translated.

Here are a few articles from around the blog on Kerouac and haiku: