Tag Archives: Larry Closs

Happy 88th Birthday, Allen Ginsberg!

3 Jun

ginsbergAllen Ginsberg at the Miami Bookfair International on November 7, 1985. Photo by MDCarchives via Wikipedia.

 

Today would’ve been Allen Ginsberg’s eighty-eighth birthday, and in honor of the Jersey-born poet’s powerful and beautiful work we asked people on the Burning Furiously Beautiful facebook page what their favorite Ginsberg poem was. I’ve loved hearing the results! So far we’ve heard:

My favorite is “Sunflower Sutra,” in which Ginsberg writes about Kerouac and him sitting under the shadow of a train as the sun set and spying a dried up sunflower amdist the machinery. The line “when did you forget you were a / flower?” slays me every time.

What’s your favorite poem by Allen Ginsberg? Leave it in the comments below or on the Burning Furiously Beautiful facebook page.

Want to read more about Ginsberg on his birthday?

And if you’ve ever been curious about how Allen Ginsberg met Jack Kerouac in the first place, you can read all about the early origins of the key people who came to represent the Beat Generation but who are all really so much more than that in Burning Furiously Beautiful.

 

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Two Love Stories Inspired by Jack Kerouac

14 Feb

“Boys and girls in America have such a sad time together; sophistication demands that they submit to sex immediately without proper preliminary talk. Not courting talk- real straight talk about souls, for life is holy and every moment is precious.” ~Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Happy Valentine’s Day! I just want to take a moment on this sappy holiday to say how thankful I am for each and every one of you who reads my blog, leaves comments, and forwards it to friends. The life of a writer can be quite solitary at times, as we hole ourselves up in a room with our notebook or computer, and I’m so thankful for the community I’ve made through writing, researching, giving readings, and social media. Maybe I’m a big old nerd for spending so much time in front of a computer, but through blogging, I met my coauthor and made friends along the way so that has to count for something!  Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules to read and support my writing!!

If you’re looking for a Valentine’s Day read this weekend, here are two great love stories inspired by On the Road.

 

Beatitude by Larry Closs

 

Mañana Means Heaven by Tim Z. Hernandez

Will you be my Valentine?

MetroCard Turns 20; Metro Token Inspired “Beatitude” Cover

7 Jan

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I’m eating my words from yesterday — today is bitter cold. The buzz word of the day is “polar vortex.” I actually caught myself subconsciously holding my breath as I walked to the subway this morning. I felt bad for the guy who had to stand outside the station handing out the free little daily newspapers, and I took one and told him to say warm! Sometimes I feel so spoiled having a desk job…. In the free AM New York I read an interesting factoid: this week MetroCard is turning 20 years old.

That made me feel kind of old. For my entire adult life, I’ve used MetroCards, but I remember actually using the old subway tokens during my teen years. Now I wonder how anyone commuting got anywhere. The idea of lugging around a bunch of coins to get to and from work seems like it would get heavy. And were there no unlimited passes at the time? I really don’t remember…. But I do remember when the transition from coins to cards was happening I thought it seemed so high-tech. It was like a mini credit card just for the Metro! Haha, oh how times have changed.

As I was thinking about the old subway tokens, Larry Closs’ Beatitude popped into my mind. The cover of the Beat-inspired novel features a cat with a subway token for an eye. I’m drawn to the graphic imagery and bold colors of the cover. It really pops.

It’s no wonder why — the cover was designed by award-winning illustrator Anthony Freda. Larry told the cover story on his blog a while back, and you can find out more about Anthony Freda and his art — I love his collages and political humor — on his website.

Now I wish I’d saved one of those tokens. The Transit Museum actually sells merch made of subway coins, but it’s not the same.

Kalo Mina! October 2013!

1 Oct

 

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“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”

~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

Kalo mina! Happy October 1st! The first day of fall was September 22, but the weather today feels more like late spring. The sky is a bright, bright blue, the color of parakeet feathers. I walked down to Union Square at lunch today and was tempted to play hookey just so I could sit in the grass and look up at the sky and dream.

September brought routine back to the city, and it was a busy month. A few highlights:

  • Attending Greek American Fashion Week and seeing the latest collections by Tatiana Raftis, Angelo Lambrou, Nikki Poulos, and Stratton, with hair by Christo Curlisto
  • Seeing Jonathan Collins’ Beat Traveller art exhibit in Paterson with Larry Closs
  • Conducting a live interview with Tim Z. Hernandez about his book Manana Means Heaven at the Spanish Harlem bookstore La Casa Azul and getting to meet all the great people who work at the bookstore as well as Tim’s insightful agent
  • Reading one of my personal essays about road trips, homelessness, and God as Jason Harrod softly strummed guitar at his album release party
  • Retreating to Connecticut for the Scripps TriState alumni book club
  • Attending the Brooklyn Book Festival with friends whom I co-lead a monthly writing workshop with and getting to hear Justin Torres read from We the Animals again. He’s brilliant. I’m obsessed
  • Watching Into the Wild. I know I’m late to the game on this one, but at least I had read the book by Jon Krakauer before. The film devastated me. It was beautiful and painful and haunting and true, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days….
  • Brunching with author Isobella Jade
  • Hearing Davy Rothbart read from My Heart Is an Idiot. I once wrote that a story of his made me “wonder if Rothbart might be my generation’s Jack Kerouac.” Yep, he’s that good. I was too shy to talk to Davy, but I met his dad and, despite my efforts to become invisible at the mere mention of audience participation, Brett Loudermilk selected me out of the audience to pull a sword out of him. Yes, you read that right
  • Reading Kristiana Kahakauwila’s story collection This Is Paradise — this is Literature. I am savoring it
  • Discovering H&M Home — whoops! There went all my money!
  • Finally getting Internet set up at my new place
  • Talked to my sister for the first time since she moved out of New York City
  • Imbibing my first pumpkin spice latte of the fall
  • Attending A Global Conversation: Why the UN Must Focus on Women’s Leadership
  • Oh and launching the e-book edition of Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” with Paul Maher Jr!!!

So yeah, that was my September. What about you? Did you read any good books? See any movies that moved you?

Adventuring with Author Larry Closs to See Jonathan Collins’ Beat-inspired Paintings

17 Sep

JonThat’s Larry Closs on the left, Jonathan Collins in the middle, and me on the right.

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Larry Closs and I took a mini road trip to attend the opening of Jonathan Collins‘ Beat-inspired paintings at the Paterson Museum (2 Market Street, Paterson, NJ). It turned out to be quite the adventure. You may remember Larry as the author of Beatitude, a book I stayed in on a Saturday night to read because I was so captivated by the story I couldn’t put it down. Larry also happens to be a great conversationalist with fascinating stories about the writers’ life, bumping into Beat authors, and his own world travels. I got so caught up in our conversation on the way over to Jonathan’s show that I didn’t pay enough attention to the train directions, and, well, if you want to know what happened, check out Larry’s blog.

The first time I ever saw Jonathan’s paintings, when he’d brought his portfolio down to Cornelia Street Cafe when I was reading with David Amram, they were so realistic I thought they were photographs. Seeing them in person for the first time I was even more impressed by their beauty. From Kerouac’s Moody Street Bridge to neon-lit bars, Jonathan’s watercolors evoke nostalgia. Larry put it this way on his blog:

The paintings illuminate—and celebrate—the sometimes hidden beauty and “mystical qualities” often overlooked in the ordinary, the everyday and even the dreary.

The show runs at the Paterson Museum through October 6.

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Gift Guide for the Beat Reader

14 Dec

The writers associated with the Beat Generation were anti-Consumerism, and I have a hard time believing they’d want anyone to buy beatnik merch. They would want you to buy and read their literature instead. However, if you have friends who love Beat literature, you may be hesitant to buy them On the Road because chances are they probably already have dog-eared paperbacks of both the standard novel and the scroll version. Here are a couple of alternative Beat-inspired gifts.

Amram

Musician and author David Amram did jazz-poetry performances with Kerouac and other poets. He also wrote the scores to films such as Splendor in the Grass and The Manchurian Candidate and has jammed with a wide variety of musicians. David Amram: The First 80 Years chronicles his genius talent. (You can watch a video of me reading with Amram here.)

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Another gift-worthy film is Ginsberg’s Karma, a “documentary about the legendary poet Allen Ginsberg and his mythical journey to India in the early 1960s that transformed his perspective on life and his work.” The film was edited, produced, and directed by Ram Devineni, and features poet Bob Holman. I saw this film at the PEN World Voice Literary Film Feast a few years ago and was inspired to get involved in some of their subsequent projects.

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Billy Koumantzelis was a friend of Kerouac’s back in their hometown of Lowell and served as a pallbearer at his funeral. I picked up this CD when I was at Lowell Celebrates Kerouac in 2011. It’s full of stories about Kerouac hanging out at bars, getting into fights, and appearing on The William Buckley Show and makes a great gift for someone who wants to hear stories from someone who knew Kerouac. (I got to meet Koumantzelis last week, and he is a true gentleman. I’ll be sharing stories from that soon.)

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Allen Ginsberg had a portrait of poet Walt Whitman hanging in his apartment. This framed portrait of Gregory Corso is a great tribute to a poet who loved the Classics.

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Jack Kerouac was inspired by author Thomas Wolfe. Bundle up Look Homeward, Angel and You Can‘t Go Home Again for the Kerouac fan.

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Kerouac wrote about the Grotto in Lowell, which is a beautiful and peaceful space to visit. Artist Jonathan Collins, whom I met at one of my readings, did a series based on the Grotto, which would make a lovely gift.

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Another person I met at a reading was Larry Closs, author of the book Beatitude.
 I stayed up late one night reading this heartbreaking-but-hopeful book of love, friendship, and the power of literature. You can read the synopsis here.

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I haven’t finished my California road trip posts yet (so many posts, so little time!), but it will include my visit to The Beat Museum in San Francisco. I was greeted by none other than proprietor Jerry Cimino himself, whose stellar work in preserving Beat history I’ve been following for many years. He took some time out to chat with me and show me the plethora of rare and first-edition Beat books. Even if your budget isn’t big enough for a first edition, you can still get archival lit mags, which make a really cool gift.

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Another place soon to be featured on my California road trip is City Lights Bookstore. In addition to rare and signed copies of books, you can also get some exclusive works here. At Sea is an “Exquisite handmade letterpress edition of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s new poem” for poet Pablo Neruda.

Of course there are tons of biographies, walking tour books, graphic novels, films, and so forth that would also make great gifts, but if you’re looking for something a bit more off the beaten path (heh), these might be the gifts you’re looking for.

Lowell Celebrates Kerouac: The Typewriter

9 Oct

 

One evening, a student came into our writing workshop at The New School and announced he’d bought a typewriter.  We were all very impressed.

“What kind?” we asked.

“Where did you get it?”

Most of us were in our twenties or thirties and had grown up using computers.  Many of us had entire mini computers—smart phones—jammed into our pockets and purses at that very moment.  We’d attended readings in bars across Manhattan, where authors had read poetry off their iphones.

But a typewriter!  Now that sounded really literary.  The click-clack of the keys echoing in a bare-bulb room.  Allen Ginsberg’s first-thought-best-thought mantra forced upon a generation accustomed to the “backspace” button on our keyboards.  Facebook procrastination less accessible.

And the history!  Continuing the beautiful tradition of authors attached to specific models of typewriters.

This evening, the documentary The Typewriter will screen at the Lowell National Historical Park Visitor Center Theater (245 Market St.) as part of the Lowell Film Collaborative with Lowell Celebrates Kerouac.  Here’s a little bit about the film from its website:

Three typewriter repairmen the filmmakers have interviewed all agree that their business is better than it has been in years.

Perhaps it is a reaction to the plugged in existence of today’s 24/7 communications world. Perhaps it is mere nostalgia and kitsch. Perhaps it is an admiration for the elegance of design and the value of time-tested workmanship. And for some, like typewriter collector Steve Soboroff, it is the appeal of owning machines on which American writers like Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Ray Bradbury, John Updike and Jack London typed some of their finest work. (He also owns typewriters once owned by George Bernard Shaw and John Lennon)

The film is directed by Christopher Lockett and produced by Gary Nicholson.  You can read fascinating typewriter stories here.

As for Jack Kerouac, he owned several typewriters throughout his lifetime but most famously used a 1930s Underwood typewriter.  His father was a printer, so even from a very young age, Kerouac was in a world full of language, literacy, typography, and printing presses.  Not surprisingly, he had a reputation for being a speed typist.  myTypewriter.com offers some background information on Kerouac’s—as well as other literary figures’—use of typewriters.  Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road will also include information about Kerouac’s typewriter.  Larry Closs‘ novel Beatitude also includes a plot involving Kerouac and typewriters.

Here’s a tip for those of you attending Lowell Celebrates Kerouac or if you happen to find yourself in Lowell any other time: you can see one of Kerouac’s Underwood typewriters, and other memorabilia firsthand at the Mill Girls and Immigrants Exhibit at the Morgan Cultural Center.  It may sound like an unlikely place to view some of Kerouac’s possessions, and it’s not really well advertised, so it’s easy to miss if you don’t know about it, but the exhibit is open 1:30-5:00pm except on major holidays.  It’s free, but even if it weren’t the entire exhibit is fascinating.  The case display for Jack Kerouac is very small, but literary pilgrims will appreciate it nevertheless, since it’s rare to have opportunities to view his personal travel gear and typewriter in person.  The exhibit is engaging in retelling the story of immigration to Lowell.  Many of the immigrants were from Greece so the exhibit gives insight into the influence of Greek culture on Lowell.

Video from Collaboration with Jazz Musician David Amram

19 Sep

 

This is the video from my collaborative reading with David Amram at Cornelia Street Cafe on Labor Day.  If you missed my full recap, you can read it here.

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.”

Recap — with Photos! — of David Amram Reading

10 Sep

 

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