Tag Archives: William S. Burroughs

The British Are Coming!: The Beat Generation’s Influence on The Beatles

12 Nov

9781617804618_p0_v1_s260x420Check out the turtlenecks on the cover of Meet the Beatles

Yesterday, inspired by Olivia Cole’s article “Won over by the West: The irresistible allure of Americana for post-war Britons” for the November 2013 issue of British GQ, I kicked off a week-long series about the relationship between the Beat Generation and the British Invasion. I didn’t get too much into her article, but instead I wrote about the general history of each “group” (please take this term lightly; neither was an intended movement or formal group) and how and why they are connected. Today, I want to share a fun story with you about the two longest love affairs (Oh gosh, take that even lighter. People get so mad when I use hyperbole.) of my life: the Beatles and the Beats.

I was a HUGE Beatles fan back when I was in high school. I can’t quite remember how I got into the Beatles, but I know it’s not because of my parents. My dad didn’t listen to music. I was raised on smooth jazz, Prince, Lionel Ritchie, and Stevie Wonder, thanks to my mom. As I grew up and started discovering music on my own—Vanilla Ice, Boyz II Men, Snow, Positive K, Arrested Development, REM (should I go on? Ah, nostalgia)—she was the cool mom that listened to whatever I listened to on the radio. My mom was actually too young to be into the Beatles. In the craze of my own private Beatlemania, I pestered her for information, and she said she remembered her older sister getting a letter from their cousin in Sweden talking about this new band The Beatles and how popular they were.

One of the first exposures I had to Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation came through The Beatles. I owned a VHS — yes, I’m that old! — documentary about The Beatles. It was a pretty low-quality documentary that I think I picked up at the K-Mart at the Closter Plaza. I don’t remember the name of it, but I used to watch it over and over again after school. I remember it saying that John Lennon named The Beatles, in part, because he was influenced by the Beat Generation. I didn’t know what the Beat Generation was at the time, nor did I bother to look it up — again, I’m old, and this was before I’d ever even heard the word “Internet,” so looking things up required going to the Closter Public Library and rifling through the encyclopedias. Still, when you watch something on repeat enough times, it gets ingrained in your memory, and when you suddenly learn something new, the threads of your brain weave everything together.

Wayne Mullins explored this in his essay “Long John Silver and the Beats” for Beatdom:

Several name changes occurred in the early life of the Beatles before John Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe decided to honour the memory of Buddy Holly by changing the band name to the Beetles (as a play on Buddy Holly and the Crickets), but as John Lennon was a fan of clever word play he decided to change the spelling of The Beetles to Beatles as a way to suggest “beat” or “beat music”. As John Lennon said in a 1964 interview, “It was beat and beetles, and when you said it people thought of crawly things, and when you read it, it was beat music.”

Mullins goes on to prove the Beat–Beatles by discussion John Lennon’s art school education and the exposure he had to instructors who were fans of the Beats and the meeting of Lennon and Allen Ginsberg. He also makes notable claims about the parallel paths the Beats and the Beatles took toward enlightenment, coming from religious upbringings, looking toward the East, and returning (or at least considering) the religions of their youth. The article also points out that Jack Kerouac and Lennon both rejected the associations people made with them, preferring to remain autonomous.

Steve Turner’s book Jack Kerouac: Angelheaded Hipster also speaks to Kerouac’s influence on Lennon:

[John Lennon’s] fellow student Bill Harry specifically remembers Lennon reading “On the Road” and the short story “The Time of the Geek”, which was published in an anthology called ‘Protest’ in 1960. “He loved the ideas of open roads and travelling,” says Harry. “We were always talking about this Beat Generation thing.”

Mullins’ story about Lennon’s meeting Ginsberg was just one incident. The Allen Ginsberg Project post “Sunday 9th – John Lennon” recalls when Ginsberg invited The Beatles to his birthday party and Lennon and George Harrison showed up with their wives.

When the Nixon administration wanted to deport Lennon and Yoko Ono, Beat poet Gregory Corso wrote a letter, as did a whole lot of other famous people, according to John Weiner’s article “How Bob Dylan, Gregory Corso, Joyce Carol Oates and Others Helped Stop Nixon From Deporting John Lennon and Yoko Ono” in the Los Angeles Times.

The Beatles also had an affinity for William S. Burroughs, who appeared on the cover art of their Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Not only that, in the Dangerous Minds article “The William S. Burroughs/Beatles connection,” Richard Metzger writes:

Over the weekend, I noticed the following passage in the book With William Burroughs: A Report From the Bunker by Victor Bockris:

Burroughs: Ian met Paul McCartney and Paul put up the money for this flat which was at 34 Montagu Square… I saw Paul several times. The three of us talked about the possibilities of the tape recorder. He’d just come in and work on his “Eleanor Rigby.” Ian recorded his rehearsals. I saw the song taking shape. Once again, not knowing much about music, I could see that he knew what he was doing. He was very pleasant and very prepossessing. Nice-looking young man, hardworking.

He goes on to elucidate the obvious connection: Barry Miles, whom The Allen Ginsberg Project also points to. Miles deserves his own post, but in short the thing to know is that he owned a bookshop in London that was frequented by the Beats when they were there, and he wrote about The Beatles and 1960s London underground culture.

Tune in tomorrow when I finally get into the meat of Cole’s article by discussing her commentary on The Kinks’ frontman Ray Davies’ new memoir.

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Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!

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Is Hollywood Glamorizing the Beats or Just Retelling Their Stories?

29 Oct

“The flat Hollywood characterization allows viewers to live vicariously through Ginsberg, Kerouac and the gang, but it almost mythicizes them. Hollywood digs right into the drama — catering to what people want to see — and ignores the very human parts of them. But it may be a hard balance to keep. Even when depicting that soul-searching, it’s easy to fall to sentiment. The Beat Generation’s search for belief ends up being something we believe in. We’re all drawn to the image of explorers after all: modern pilgrims, earnestly due west like Lewis and Clark in Mustangs, toward the unknown destination,” writes Karen Yuan in her closing paragraph to “Notebook: Hollywood shouldn’t glamorize the Beat Generation’s self-destruction” in The Michigan Daily.

With descriptions like “wide, fruited plains,” “all vintage Cadillacs and cigarette escapism,” and “slick cool and soft anarchy,” Yuan’s turns of phrases are beautiful in this article. I commend her attention to language in this journalistic essay about writers. It’s a breath of fresh air from so many dry works of criticism. Furthermore, she brings up a valid point on the complexity of Hollywood trying to encapsulate the human experience. Whether one is a so-called Beat, a journalist, or a movie-goer our lives cannot be easily summed up in one film or three films … or even several volumes of literature, as it may be. Yuan herself makes that very point when she says “But it may be a hard balance to keep.”

Consequently, she seems to have out-argued her own thesis, “However, what [Hollywood] doesn’t realize is that the Beats are nothing to be glamorized,” by acknowledging the intricacy of life and that portraying “clouds of brooding angst” doesn’t create balance or reality anymore than depicting “carefree, YOLO-esque youth” does. Though she rightly suggests the Beats’ perpetual movement is related to their “existential search,” it is unclear what she thinks a more accurate adaptation of On the Road or Big Sur would be or how the murder of David Kammerer should have been told.

I would argue that the film adaptation of On the Road did a fine job of showing both sides. It perhaps doesn’t do the existential search justice but there are intimations of it, particularly in the scenes when Sal Paradise hallucinates among the Catholic saints, with the insertion of Proust, and when Dean Moriarty confesses that he doesn’t know why he does the things he does. The go! go! go! mentality comes to a screeching halt in the closing scene, indicating that maybe all those wild times weren’t all they were cracked up to be. Meanwhile, Yuan says Kill Your Darlings contains “tantalizing hints of murder,” when in fact the film does not hint but tells of the events leading up to a murder that landed three of the Beats in jail, with one of them doing time in a reformatory. It does not paint any one character as the villain, but again shows that the people involved and the events that unfolded were complex. Existentialism is a recurring theme of the film as seen through the New Vision. I haven’t seen Big Sur yet, but I’ve read the reviews of the film, and it seems to me that it’s far from glamorizing Kerouac’s life. More so, I’ve read the novel twice and know that it’s actually the antithesis of glamorizing the Beat Generation machine.

So here’s the question … or rather, I should say questions: Is documenting a life, an event, or a novel automatically glamorizing it? Where is the line between telling the truth and glorifying—when storytelling? Do stories have to be redemptive? If they are not redemptive, must they be cautionary tales? If they do not fall into these categories, are we better off ignoring them?

The pastor of the church I grew up in used to say, “Ignorance is not bliss.” Being downright oblivious or purposely ignoring issues doesn’t make them go away. The truth of the matter is the “intrigue and montages of reckless drug use” were a part of the life of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, and so forth. And I would gather that the parties and drugs and casual affairs were a lot of fun as they were happening. That’s why people do those things. To categorically demonize these things does a disservice to the truth. The truth of course is much more complex. Consequences aren’t always immediate or even a given. We can look now in hindsight at On the Road and know that Jack Kerouac died at only forty-seven years old, after abusing alcohol. However, we can cast our collective eye on Burroughs and see a man who did a lot of hard drugs who didn’t pass away until he was eighty-three years old.

Yuan says, “They wanted to rebel against this new middle-class United States and find something new to believe in….” Today’s suburban teens and Ivy League undergrads may very well still be searching for something to believe in. I think the Beats’ stories go on, not because they glamorize illicitness, but because they speak to that very basic human need to feel like more than just a cog in the machine but like we’re actually living, that our lives have meaning. I think this is part of what Yuan is advocating for, and I think it’s actually there in the films and in the literature. It’s just not whitewashed, pristine, perfect. But then again, neither is life.

 

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Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!

Limited Time Offer: 10% Off the Paperback of Burning Furiously Beautiful

10 Oct

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Exciting news!

Pop the champagne! The paperback edition of Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now on sale.

Limited-time offer

We’re giving you an extra 10% off now through the end of Lowell Celebrates Kerouac. (Unfortunately, the books won’t arrive in time for us to sell physical copies at the festival, but at least you’ll get a discount!)

What’s the book about, you ask?

Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is the most up-to-date and accurate account of the development of American writer Jack Kerouac’s groundbreaking 1957 novel, On the Road. Using archival resources as the foundation of this book, Kerouac scholars Paul Maher Jr. and Stephanie Nikolopoulos have fashioned a gripping account of the internal and external experiences of Kerouac’s literary development.
Fueled by coffee and pea soup, Jack Kerouac speed-typed On the Road in just three weeks in April 1951. He’d been traveling America for the past ten years and now, at last, the energy of his experiences flowed through his fingertips in a mad rush, pealing forth on a makeshift scroll that he laboriously taped together. The On the Road scroll became literary legend, and now Burning Furiously Beautiful sets the record straight, uncovering the true story behind one of America’s greatest novels.
Burning Furiously Beautiful explores the real lives of the key characters of the novel—Sal Paradise, Dean Moriarty, Carlo Marx, Old Bull Hubbard, Camille, Marylou, and others. Ride along on the real-life adventures through 1940s America that inspired On the Road. By tracing the evolution of Kerouac’s literary development, this book explains how it took years—not weeks—to write the seemingly sporadic 1957 novel. Through new research and exclusive interviews, this revised and expanded edition of Jack Kerouac’s American Journey (2007) takes a closer look at the rise of Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation, giving insight into Kerouac’s family roots, his time at sea, the shocking murder that landed Kerouac in jail, his romances, and his startlingly original writing style.
Who is my coauthor?

Paul Maher Jr. is the author of the critically acclaimed biography Kerouac: His Life and Work and Empty Phantoms: Interviews and Encounters with Jack Kerouac
Check out my exclusive interview with Paul here.
You can judge our book by its cover
We’ve gotten a lot of compliments on our cover. Credit goes to Igor Satanovsky. He’s an award-winning cover designer that I’ve worked with for many years now on various publishing projects. Igor also is a poet (buy his book here!) and studied with Allen Ginsberg.

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Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!

“Burning Furiously Beautiful” eBook Now Available!

30 Sep

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Happy Monday! I have BIG news to share today. Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an eBook! You can get it for $8.99 at Lulu.

Here’s a bit about the book from Lulu:

Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is the most up-to-date and accurate account of the development of American writer Jack Kerouac’s groundbreaking 1957 novel, On the Road. Using archival resources as the foundation of this book, Kerouac scholars Paul Maher Jr. and Stephanie Nikolopoulos have fashioned a gripping account of the internal and external experiences of Kerouac’s literary development.

And here’s our synopsis:

Fueled by coffee and pea soup, Jack Kerouac speed-typed On the Road in just three weeks in April 1951. He’d been traveling America for the past ten years and now, at last, the furious energy of his experiences flowed through his fingertips in a mad rush, pealing forth on a makeshift scroll that he laboriously taped together. The On the Road scroll has since become literary legend, and now Burning Furiously Beautiful sets the record straight, uncovering, among other things, the true story behind one of America’s greatest novels. Burning Furiously Beautiful explores the real lives of the key characters of the novel—Sal Paradise, Dean Moriarty, Carlo Marx, Old Bull Hubbard, Camille, Marylou, and others. Ride along on the real-life adventures through 1940s America that inspired On the Road. By tracing the evolution of Kerouac’s literary development and revealing his startlingly original writing style, this book explains how it took years—not weeks—to ultimately write the seemingly sporadic 1957 novel, On the Road. This revised and expanded edition of Jack Kerouac’s American Journey (2007) takes a closer look at the rise of Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation.

The ebook can be read in the following formats: Windows, PC/PocketPC, Mac OS, Linux OS, Nook, Apple iPhone/iPod/iPad, Android, Kindle (Amazon), Sony Reader, Blackberry Devices, Palm OS PDAs, Cybook Opus, Bebook (Endless Ideas), Papyrus (Samsung) Jetbook (Ectaco), Windows Mobile OS PDAs.

A print book is forthcoming.

Friday Links: …Punctuation!

27 Sep

In honor of it being National Punctuation Day earlier this week (the 24th, to be exact), here are some punctuation-related links:::

Mary Norris’ delightful piece on National Punctuation Day in The New Yorker

Literary agent Sterling Lord talks about how deeply Jack Kerouac thought about punctuation in his recent memoir Lord of Publishing

“Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition,” said Kerouac in his “30 Beliefs and Techniques for Prose and Life

Alexis C. Madrigal gets to the bottom of William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac duking it out over the Oxford comma in The Atlantic

I suggest The Atlantic is creating their own fauxlore in their beatnik punctuation story

Thoughts on punctuation in haiku, with references to Ezra Pound, Amy Lowell, Jack Kerouac, R. H. Blyth, Sora, Yaha, Richard Wright, James Hackett, Choshu, Hashin, L. A. Davison, David Coomler, and e. e. cummings

e. e. cumming’s liked to play with punctuation in poems like r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r

Roi Tartakovsky considers this topic in E. E. Cumming’s Parentheses: Punctuation as Poetic Device

“There are some punctuations that are interesting and there are some punctuations that are not,” says Gertrude Stein in Poetry and Grammar

Poet Bob Holman explains how to read a crossed out word out loud in The Brooklyn Rail

David Foster Wallace used endnotes to capture fractured reality

Check out “the greatest literary project of all time“: The punctuation-named lit journal The Ampersand Review

Punctuation impacts how readers perceive a work, I argue in this Writing Wednesday post

Which punctuation tattoo would you get?

Grammar Girl is the best go-to guide for “quick and dirty tips” on punctuation

Want exclamations in bed?! Check out the punctuation pillows from PB Teen

New Trailer for “Kill Your Darlings” Released

23 Aug

KillYourDarlingsPoster photo via imdb

The new Kill Your Darlings trailer released! You can check it out here.

Kill Your Darlings is the film about the 1944 murder in which Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs were named as accessories.

Just like in the film adaptation of On the Road where the Marylou/LuAnne character got a lot of publicity because she was played by Kristen Stewart even though LuAnne wasn’t the focus of the book, the buzz around Kill Your Darlings is Harry Potter‘s Daniel Radcliffe playing Allen Ginsberg even though Ginsberg was not the murderer, not the person murdered, and not named as an accessory.

The film is directed by Greek American John Krokidas and stars Daniel Radcliffe as Allen Ginsberg, Ben Foster as William Burroughs, Elizabeth Olsen as Edie Parker, Dane DeHaan as Lucien Carr, David Cross as Louis Ginsberg, Jack Huston as Jack Kerouac, and Michael C. Hall as David Kammerer.

It premiered at Sundance this year, where it was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize, and is set for limited release here in the US on October 18, 2013.

I set up a Kill Your Darlings Pinterest page if you’re interested in seeing photos of the real-life people involved in the murder and of the actors and people involved in the film.

Will you watch Kill Your Darlings when it comes out?

 

The Great Valhouli Fauxlore: Atlantic Uncovers Truth Behind Kerouac-Burroughs Fight

9 Aug

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Those of us who devote our time studying the life and work of Jack Kerouac and yet who simultaneously spend a lot of our time on Facebook already called “hoax” on that photograph that was being circulated around about a plaque on how Kerouac and William S. Burroughs got into a drunken fight over the Oxford comma. I assumed it was a digitally manipulated photograph. As it turns out, though, it has a fascinating back story. Alexis C. Madrigal uncovered the truth behind the plaque — which actually exists — in the story “Facebook Fauxlore: Kerouac, Burroughs, and a Fight Over the Oxford Comma That Never Was” in The Atlantic.

It’s a great piece — minus the odd portrayal of the Greek American behind the plaque. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

Hot on the trail of something fishy, Madrigal contacted sources Paul Marion; The Morgan Center; Martha Mayo, head of the Center for Lowell History; and Tony Sampas. Marion, author and employee at UMass Lowell Center for Arts and Ideas, had seen the plaque and knew that it was created to promote Mill No. 5 at 250 Jackson Street in Kerouac’s hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts.

Marion referred Madrigal to Ted Siefer’s article “Mill No. 5 brings transformation to Lowell” in The Boston Globe, which explained that developer Constantine Valhouli, with business partner Jim Lichoulas III, was transforming the former textile mill into an office building:

with a kind of fun-house brio to attract the eclectic, off-beat, and hip: boutique movie theater, yoga studio, farm-to-table restaurant, a lounge/library in the style of an English manor — the whole thing decorated with architectural materials salvaged from the likes of Dr. Seuss’ house.

It would appear that Valhouli ascribes to the same Beat philosophy of improvisation as Kerouac. Siefer says:

Valhouli likens the development of the project to how jazz musicians build a song. “We’ve not built from a plan,” he said. “You play a theme, and you just keep playing improvisations over it.”

Madrigal points to the pivotal paragraph in The Globe story for proving the plaque is a fake:

And there, in the 13th paragraph, was proof that we were looked at a false sign: “Inside the entry hall will be a reconstructed early 19th-century New England schoolhouse,” the Globe wrote, “an exhibit that will be part of what Valhouli calls the Lowell Atheneum [AHA!], which will also feature a collection of hand-painted pseudo-historical plaques from New England history [DOUBLE AHA!].”

Madrigal, who went on to interview Valhouli, then explained that Valhouli and Lichoulas thought up the idea of creating “a series of plaques commemorating events that never happened” to support Mill No. 5. They hired Ould Colony Artisans‘ Robert and Judy Leonard to paint the plaque by hand. The artists had created many other historical signs in the Massachusetts area.

I found Madigral’s investigative reporting enthralling.

Still, I was put off by this aside:

I had to get in touch with this Valhouli character, who was, no doubt, swirling his mustache near some railroad tracks looking for damsels.

Okay, I’ll concede that Constantine Valhouli certainly sounded like a “character” for faking people out — although I’m not sure we generally refer to conceptual artists or those who come up with brilliant marketing schemes as “characters.” Instead, I think we tend to use terms like “inspired” and “business-savvy” to describe people who manage to get others talking about their work. A quick look at Mill No. 5’s Facebook page, and the tongue-in-cheek branding is evident:

We’re working on the bathrooms at Mill No. 5 today. Which made us think of the central question of paleontology:
Q: Why can’t you hear a pterodactyl go to the bathroom?
A: Because the P is silent.

Brilliant Subway Panhandling Prank Flips the Script

Hahahahahaha. This. Oh this. The Hipster Logo Design Guide.

But there was “no doubt” in Madrigal’s mind that Valhouli had a mustache and that he swirled it, like some sort of old-timey Western villain? Is the mustache assumption because he’s Greek American or because The Boston Globe article referred to his work as “Disneyland for hipsters”? Where did the leap from real-estate developer to someone who hung out at a train station get made? Was this supposed to tie him closer to Kerouac — or make him sound like some sort of train-hopping hobo? He was out “looking for damsels”? What??

With today’s access to personal information on the Internet, it took only seconds to find Valhouli’s LinkedIn page, and — unless it too is a hoax — discover he (fittingly) received his BA in English and fine art from Georgetown University, where he went on to get his MA in interactive technology. From there, he got his MBA from Columbia University’s Business School. He received the Charles G. Koch Fellowship and was a Peter Agris Fellow. He did equity research for Morgan Stanley and was director of business development for Incogniti before becoming principal at The Hammersmith Group, which describes itself as “a boutique strategy consulting firm with concentrations in real estate and technology.” His LinkedIn summary reads, in part:

Constantine has been featured in the BBC, Businessweek, CNN, Forbes, Fortune, Newsweek, and the Wall Street Journal. He has guest lectured at Columbia Business School, MIT, New York University, and has served as a panelist on internet industry events and at the U.S. Department of State.

There wasn’t a profile picture to verify him peeking out of a train tunnel to leer at women. The Atlantic has created its own “fauxlore” about Constantine Valhouli. Oh, how the tables have turned.

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This post has been updated to correct the publication to The Atlantic.

The Writerly Blog Hop

3 Apr

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Huffington Post columnist and Burnside Writers Collective colleague Emily Timbol invited me to join a blog hop organized by writer Kirsten Oliphant of the wonderfully titled blog I Still Hate Pickles. You may remember that I participated in The Next Big Thing Blog Hop last year. I kind of feel like they’re the chain letters of the blog world and am infinitely curious who’s in my six degrees of separation.

Kirsten says in her “about me” section on her blog that she doesn’t like rules, so it should come as no surprise that she gave me and the other blog hoppers some general guidelines but told us we didn’t have to follow any set format or answer every question. Since I’m one of those creative types that tends to actually like rules (blame the editor side of my brain), I am taking a literal approach to the blog hop and answering her questions one by one.

 

What makes you (or makes a person) a writer?

A while back there was a funny meme going around called “What People Think Writers Do,” which shows just how relevant it is to discuss what makes a person a writer. There are all sorts of writers—some are political journalists, some write children’s books, some have their books turned into films, some are hobbyists. I don’t think it’s fair to place absolute judgment on who qualifies as a writer. There are many poets and fiction writers who only became famous late in life or even after death. Is a little girl writing in a diary a writer? What if I tell you her name is Anne Frank? Is a doctor who writes poetry on the side a writer? What if his name is William Carlos Williams? Okay, but what if that doctor is a career oncologist who writes nonfiction about cancer? Does it make a difference if his name is Siddhartha Mukherjee and he won a Pulitzer Prize for The Emperor of Maladies? Even if he never writes another book again? Is a blogger a writer? Is a grant writer a writer? Is someone a writer just because they have to write emails at work? Is there a difference between being a writer and writing? I wouldn’t say that whether someone is published or not or whether someone earns money or not means they are or are not a writer, but I would suggest that being a writer, in the sense of it meaning more than someone who occasionally writes their name on a check or writes a grocery list, means being intentional. This could mean being intention in carving out time for writing or being intentional in the selection of words, but not necessarily so: William S. Burroughs, for instance, used a cut-up technique that displaced authorial syntax yet he is still considered a writer.

So do I have the right to call myself a writer? Well, my name has appeared on book covers across the country and the New Yorker and the Paris Review have mentioned my writing. Then again, I don’t live off my writing—I didn’t even make a thousand dollars off my writing last year—and most people have never heard of me. I call myself a writer because even when I’m not writing I am thinking about writing.

 

Why is it sometimes hard to fess up to being a writer?

There are two big reasons why I sometimes have a difficult time admitting I’m a writer. The first is that when I introduce myself as a writer to people, they automatically ask who my publisher is—and I mean even people who aren’t in the industry suddenly want to know who the gatekeepers who let me through are or want some sort of proof that validates me as more than just the (in their mind) dreaded hobbyist. I feel like it’s like saying I’m a woman, and then someone asking who my gynecologist is. For the record, Barnes & Noble and HarperCollins Publishers have published books containing my writing. The truth, though, is that I sometimes don’t feel comfortable confessing to being a writer because I haven’t written, or published, a full-length book by myself—yet.

The second reason I don’t always like confessing that I’m a writer is because I am an editor. I personally feel that these two callings work well together, but I have noticed that people in publishing houses tend to think that the only reason I am an editor is because I’m trying to get published. I wish I was that savvy! The truth is that I began a career in book publishing because I love working with words. When I was starting out as a proofreader, the idea of being an author seemed like some far-off imagery dream, like being an astronaut. I always had a need to write, and even back then wrote for various publications, but I wasn’t diligently working on my own book. I really love working at a publishing house, seeing a book go from concept to finished product. I love working with authors and helping them achieve their dreams. From my experience, there are a lot of people in the industry who are editors and publishers because they love books and not because they themselves want to be writers. I just happen to be both.

 

How does writing affect your identity or otherwise impact your life?

I tend to view my experiences through the lens of being a writer. When I go to an art gallery, I automatically think that I have to write about the art I saw. When there’s a particularly momentous current event, I feel the need to write it down in my diary. It’s not just a matter of mining life for stories. I process information by writing. I often joke that I don’t really know what I think about something until I write about it.

Being a memoirist has helped me understand my identity beyond being a writer. Agents and editors tell writers that their main characters should never be a writer. But what do you do if you’re a memoirist and your main character is you, a writer? You dig deeper, you don’t allow your writerly self to speak for who you are. When you can’t rely on that shorthand of clichés about being a writer, that fancy wordwork that hides your true identity, you’re left with just yourself. Writing doesn’t just allow me to be myself—it forces me to be myself.

Want to join the blog hop? Answer the questions however you see fit on your own blog and post a link below as well as link to Kirsten’s post.

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.

Anne Waldman Speaks on How Beat Poets Selling Out Helped Naropa

28 Jan

If you have about an hour to spare, this interview with poet Anne Waldman at the University of Texas at Austin touches on Jack Kerouac’s awareness of the arts world at the time, the New York School poets and Black Mountain poets, Beatnik-inspired clothing and selling out, how the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa got its name and why it’s not named after Gertrude Stein, the passing of Gregory Corso and Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs’ cut-up techniques, women of the Beat Generation, the Bowery Poetry Club, and her mother’s time in Greece. It’s a thoughtful interview that’s well worth listening to.

The interview was in conjunction with the Harry Ransom Center’s 2008 exhibit On the Road with the Beats.