Tag Archives: Town and the City

Happy 83rd Birthday, Gregory Corso!

26 Mar

bday

One of my very favorite poets was born on this day in 1930. That’s right: Gregory Corso. He was quite a few years younger than his friends—William S. Burroughs was born in 1914, Jack Kerouac in 1922, Allen Ginsberg in 1926—but was one of the first published. Kerouac had published The Town and the City in 1950, but the novel that would put him on the map—On the Road—wasn’t published for another seven years. Ginsberg’s Howl was published in 1956. Corso published his first poetry book, The Vestal Lady on Brattle, in 1955. He was only twenty-five years old. Speaking of which, Corso wrote a lovely poem called “I Am 25.” I remember back when I was in college, reading it and thinking how far off that seemed. Twenty five. What a magical age. I wrote a little poem emulating his about how old I was then, and instead of saying “I HATE OLD POETMEN!” like the line in his poem, I wrote “I LOVE OLD POETMEN!” And I do. Gregory Corso is brilliant. Both a classicist and a rule breaker.

If anyone could be called “beat,” it was Corso. Most of the people who came to be associated with the Beat Generation were middle-class suburbanites, or something close to that. Corso was born to a sixteen-year-old Italian immigrant in New York City, who later abandoned him to the Catholic Church Charities. He was sent to live with foster parents and ended up homeless on the streets of New York, eventually doing time in prison at thirteen years old for petty larceny. The story goes that while in The Tombs, the Mafia encouraged him to read, and he fell in love with poetry.

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92-Year-Old Greek Diner Shut Its Doors in Literary Neighborhood

24 Jan

Ninety-two-year-old Greek diner St. Clair has closed down, reports Grub Street, after learning the news from Brownstoner.

Owned by five Cypriot brothers, according to New York magazine, offered various Greek dishes such as the Greek Delight Platter, Corfu Salad, and Greek Moussaka alongside classic American dishes like The Best Baked Meatloaf and 14 Oz. new York Cut Sirloin Steak Sandwich. Brooklyn Daily provided a little history that when the diner was revamped in 1967 it was opened up as the New St. Clair by the Costa family. In 2007, they sold it to Spiro Katehis, who also owns the Carroll Gardens Classic Diner. The Greek diner was at the corner of Smith and Atlantic in the Boerum Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn.

In The Town and the City, Jack Kerouac housed the parents of his main character in Brooklyn and mentioned the Boerum Hill neighborhood. Of course back then, the neighborhood hadn’t gone through its yuppie gentrification—Kerri Russell and Michelle Williams have called it home—and was known as South Brooklyn or North Gowanus.

Considering the establishment had already opened in 1920 and Kerouac was in the area in the 1940s and ‘50s, it’s possible—though not proven—that he could have stopped in the St. Clair Diner.

The neighborhood is famously home to another writer: Jonathan Lethem, who told the New York Sun,  “’My image of the writer came from people like Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac.’” When he was younger, Letham hitchhiked to California and worked at used bookstores. In 2011, he was the Roy E. Disney Professor in Creative Writing at Pomona College, where I studied literature and Classical Greek.

Jack Kerouac’s Angry Postcard to His Editor

24 Dec

In 1956, Viking Press expressed an interest in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.  The author had been writing and rewriting his novel for years, and Kerouac was growing impatient as it languished in the publishing house.  He was working with an editorial consultant named Malcolm Cowley, who had first gained renown for his 1929 book of poetry Blue Juniata before writing one of the first books about the Lost Generation.  Having been associated with the Lost Generation, it in many ways made sense that he was attracted to the Beat Generation.

By the 1940s he was editing Viking Portable editions.  He championed the work of William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Walt Whitman, Ernest Hemingway, and John Cheever.  His interest in Kerouac’s On the Road is important to literary history.  What many people forget is that Kerouac was already an established novelist before On the Road.  He’d written a semi-autobiographical novel entitled The Town and the City that got respectable reviews with comparisons to Thomas Wolfe but which tanked when it came to sales.  Kerouac had literary contacts, but selling On the Road still wasn’t easy.  Cowley was interested but took his sweet time getting back to Kerouac.

On July 9, 1956, Kerouac sent him a postcard depicting the Lower Falls in Yellowstone National Park threatening to sell On the Road elsewhere if he didn’t receive his contract and advance from Viking.  You can read Kerouac’s postcard to Malcolm Cowley (as well as 14 other postcards from authors) at Flavorwire.

10 Things You May Not Know about Jack Kerouac

27 Sep

Here are ten things you may not know about Jack Kerouac.

  1. His parents were French-Canadian immigrants, and he didn’t learn to speak English until he went to school.  It wasn’t until he was a teenager that he began feeling comfortable conversing in English.
  2. He was the baby of the family.  He had an older sister named Caroline (nicknamed “Nin”) and an older brother named Gerard, who died when he was just a boy.
  3. He was a Classicist.  He used to skip school just to go read the Classics in the library.
  4. He attended prep school.  Graduating a year early from high school, he had a scholarship lined up to attend Columbia University, but they required him to attend Horace Mann Preparatory School first.
  5. While in school, he wrote music reviews.  He also had a job as a sports writer for his hometown paper.
  6. He joined the US Navy and the US Merchant Marine.
  7. His go-to food while hitchhiking across the country was apple pie.
  8. His first book, The Town and the City, was published under the name John Kerouac.  When he drew the cover he envisioned for On the Road, he also wrote his name as John Kerouac.  His parents had given him the name Jean-Louis, and John was the closest Americanization of his name.
  9. His first marriage took place in prison.  He had been arrested as a material witness after his friend murdered a man who had been stalking him.  Kerouac’s girlfriend agreed to post bail if he married her.
  10. In addition to writing, he also was a painter.