Thursday, March 31, 2005

Interviews and the Question of Oppression

Some of the critical literature portrays Beat women as oppressed by Beat men, such as this by Alix Kates Shulman (“Women Writers in the Beat Generation,” Moody Street Irregulars 28; Fall 1994):

“Young Fifties women fleeing to bohemia to live as rebels and hoping as much as the men to escape sexual repression and stultifying convention, found themselves unsuspectingly rushing into the arms of their enemies. At the very cultural moment when women most urgently needed the power and perspective of feminism, bohemia itself, once a refuge, turned out to be a blockhouse of misogyny.” (p.4)

I think it’s important to read interviews with Beat women because they don’t tend to view themselves as victims, even if their memoirs reveal that many Beat men had very little respect for women, treated them as helpmates, and were generally dismissive of their literary and other contributions. Beat Down to Your Soul reprints the text of a 1996 panel discussion with Carolyn Cassady, Joyce Johnson, Hettie Jones, Eileen Kaufman, and Joanna McClure. Moderated by Ann Charters, the panel was held at the San Francisco Book Festival. Charters specifically asks the participants whether they view themselves as victims. Johnson’s response is typical:

“I think what a lot of younger women don’t understand is that at that time, in the late fifties, it was an enormous thing for a young woman who wasn’t married to leave home, support herself, have her own apartment, have a sex life. This was before the pill, when having sex was like Russian roulette, really. It wasn’t the moment then to try to transform relationships with men. Just to get your foot out the door into the world as an independent person was just such an enormous thing.” (p.629)

The interviews in Breaking the Rule of Cool: Interviewing and Reading Women Beat Writers are refreshing because they focus not only on these women’s place during the fleeting 50s and 60s but their continued lives as writers, their inspiration, craft, etc. Hettie Jones turns the “victim” notion on its head when she says that she was trying in her memoir, How I Became Hettie Jones, to show that Beat women were the predecessors to the later women’s movement. Shulman slams the fifties for being unprogressive when it came to women, pointing out that previous decades had produced notable bohemian women such as Emma Goldman and Edna St. Vincent Millay. So it’s interesting that Diane di Prima speaks of the fifties as a time not “right for my kind of activism” (p.101) but draws a linear progression between her anarchist grandfather who was a friend of Emma Goldman’s and her own activism in the 1960s.

I’m interested to get my hands on a videorecording of a 1994 panel at New York University entitled “Women and the Beats,” featuring Carolyn Cassady, Joyce Johnson, Hettie Jones, and Jan Kerouac (Jack Kerouac’s daughter who died in 1996 of kidney disease). I wonder what light it might shed on the “victim” question.

Also, in November 1996 San Jose State University Center for Literary Arts and the literature department of UC-Santa Cruz hosted a two-day series titled "Fast Speaking Women: A Celebration of the Women of the Beat Generation." Featured participants were Anne Walman, Janine Pommy Vega, Joanne Kyger, Bobbie Louise Hawkins, and Joanna McClure. I definitely have to investigate whether there’s any documentation of this event.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Virtual Archival Digging

Although most of the women of the Beat Generation are still alive, a search on ArchivesUSA and the Internet reveal several archival collections of interest:

Carolyn Cassady's correspondence can be located in several collections—The William S. Burroughs papers at Ohio State University; Neal Cassady’s papers at the Ransom Center; the Allen Ginsberg papers at Columbia University; and the papers of Kerouac biographer Tom Clark, also at Columbia.

Ann Charters' papers, including her correspondence as editor of the Dictionary of Literary Biography with Beat writers, can be found at the University of Connecticut.

Diane di Prima’s papers are housed in several collections:
At the University of Louisville, the University of Connecticut, the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and University of Delaware. Correspondence between di Prima and other famous writers such as Helen Adam, Jerome Rothenberg, Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, and Philip Whalen are held in disparate collections around the country.

Joyce Johnson correspondence can be found with the Edward Dorn papers at the University of Connecticut. I suspect that the Fielding Dawson papers, not yet available to the public, also contain Johnson correspondence, since the two dated for a time in the late 50s (according to her memoir, Minor Characters).

Hettie Jones' manuscripts are at Indiana University.

Lenore Kandel correspondence can be found in the Carol Berge collection at the Ransom Center.

Joanne Kyger’s papers are at UCSD, while correspondence between her and James Koller can be found with his papers at the University of Connecticut.

Janine Pommy-Vega has several items at UCSD.

There is Anne Waldman correspondence with the papers of James Koller, Bill Berkson, Ted Berrigan, Philip Whalen, James Schuyler, Bernadette Mayer, and Alice Notley.

The Beat women I have identified as “First Generation” are better represented in the Archives, but since they are not my main focus here, I will just mention briefly what I found: Helen Adam (Kent State University, Mandeville), Carol Berge (Ransom, Kent State), Madeline Gleason (University of San Francisco), and Sheri Martinelli (with Ezra Pound papers at UNC Greensboro).

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Dictionary of Literary Biography

Ann Charters was the first to embrace women in the term “Beat.” As editor in 1983 of the 2-volume Beats: Literary Bohemians in Postwar America (Dictionary of Literary Biography), she featured ten women as main entries: Bonnie Bremser, Diane DiPrima, Carolyn Cassady, Lenore Kandel, Jan Kerouac, Joanne Kyger, Fran Landesman, Joanne McClure, Janine Pommy Vega, and Anne Waldman. Additionally, she features reminiscences by Carolyn Cassady and Joyce Johnson in the appendices.

Even before scholars “reclaimed” Beat women as the precursors to the feminists of the 1960s, and before many of the published memoirs by women of the Beat generation, Charters wrote:

“Among women of her generation, Diane DiPrima is the writer who by her life and work most embodies the definable patterns of the Beat Generation. Among other things, it is she who reminds us that the generation spent as much time in urban “pads” as it did “on the road”” (p149).

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Memoirs, Myth, and Homosexuality

Yesterday, I attended a conference at the Radcliffe Institute called Feminism on the Record: ReViewing the 1960s and 1970s. The conference was held to celebrate recent records made accessible at the Schlesinger Library with NEH funds, including those of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective. I really enjoyed the keynote lecture by Winifred (Wini) Breines of Northeastern University, so what a surprise it was to return to my project tonight and find that she is the author of a relevant essay: “The ‘Other’ Fifties: Beats and Bad Girls.” That one’s in an anthology called Not June Cleaver: Women and Gender in Postwar America, 1945-1960, which I now have on hold at the Simmons library.

Brienes noted at the conference that there is a stark contrast between the heroic memoirs that have come out of such groups as SDS and the Weather Underground and those by individual women who were involved in the women’s liberation/feminist movement of the 1960s that are riddled with “blame and disappointment.” Her comment segues nicely with things I have been thinking about the bibliographic history of Beat men versus Beat women. On the one hand, we have the thinly veiled memoir of Jack Kerouac in On the Road with its trumped up version of masculinity and, on the other, we have these women’s memoirs that attempt to deconstruct and de-mythologize the Beat era. There is nothing heroic about being a “minor character.” I’ve come to the realization that one really can’t study the femininity and domesticity of the Beat women without studying the masculinity of the Beat men. The major thing missing from the literature by and about Beat women – in at least what I’ve read so far – is a discussion of the homosexuality of many of the Beat men (William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg). I mean, what were all these men running from, after all? It wasn’t just the confines of postwar American culture. For this reason, I now have sitting on my bedside table Barbara Ehrenreich’s The Hearts of Men : American Dreams and the Flight from Commitment, which includes a chapter entitled “The Beat Rebellion: Beyond Work and Marriage.” I’m holding out hope that Ehrenreich will answer some of my questions about the conflict many Beat men experienced between their real and fictional selves, and how this played out in their treatment of women.

Friday, March 18, 2005

The Case of the Missing Photographs

I'm not sure if photographs count as bibliographic history, but here is an interesting case. There are many published books of photographs of the Beat generation. To name a few:

Beats & Company: A Portrait of a Literary Generation

Snapshot Poetics: A Photographic Memoir of the Beat Era

Beat Generation: Glory Days in Greenwich Village

Scenes Along the Road: Photographs of the Desolation Angels, 1944-1960

Postcards From The Underground: Portraits from the Beat Era: A Book of 20 Black-and-White Postcards

So here is my question: Where are the women? I can give several reasons why women writers of the Beat generation were barely published. They were busy raising families, out making money to support their men, their writing under-recognized. But to be photographically erased seems an entirely different matter. I suppose the real question is whether there are photographs of Beat women languishing away in personal collections and archives (after all, many of these women are still living), or whether the men just didn’t deem them important or “there” enough to record in photographs. The published photographic histories often feature images of the more obscure and less recognized male figures of the era, but you’ll find only a handful of photographs of women.

Joyce Johnson writes in her memoir Minor Characters, originally published in 1983, that she’s never even seen photographs of Joan Vollmer Burroughs, William Burroughs’ common-law wife whom he accidentally shot to death in 1951, or Edie Parker, Jack Kerouac’s first wife. I did, in fact, find photographs of these two women in Jack Kerouac: An Illustrated Biography. (P.S. April 20, 2005 -- Unfortunately, I just located a pretty gruesome after-death photograph of Joan on the web, which I am choosing not to share.)

Then, of course, there is the question of who was taking all those pictures of the Beat men. In Breaking the Rule of Cool, Ronna C. Johnson reprints an amusing poem by Joanne Kyger from her collection, Again: Poems, 1989-2000:

“Poison Oak for Allen”

Here I am reading about your trip to India again,
with Gary Snyder and Peter Orlovsky. Period.
Who took the picture of you three

With smart Himalayan backdrop
The bear?

-- September 2, 1996

In 1962 Joanne Kyger, then married to Gary Snyder, traveled to India with Snyder, Allen Ginsberg, and Peter Orlovsky. The trip is chronicled in Kyger's recently republished journals, Strange Big Moon: The Japan and India Journals: 1960-1964. Funnily enough, I did stumble across some pictures from this infamous trip on the excellent web site of the Allen Ginsberg Trust. Click on the numbers to view them: 1, 2, 3.

Finally, Girls Who Wore Black: Women Writing the Beat Generation, features several pictures borrowed from the personal collections of ruth weiss, Ann Charters, Anne Waldman, Hettie Jones, and Brenda Frazer (Bonnie Bremser) that I have never seen printed elsewhere.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The Shortest Distance

I can't believe it took me this long, but I finally ransacked my personal collection to see if I could find any poems by Beat women hiding amongst my various anthologies. So this is what I've got on hand, without even leaving home:

The New American Poetry 1945-1960 , edited by Donald Allen

Poem by Helen Adam
"I Love My Love"

Poem by Madeline Gleason
"Once and Upon"

No More Masks! An Anthology of Poems by Women, edited by Florence Howe and Ellen Bass

Poems by Helen Adam
"I Love My Love"
"The House o' the Mirror"

Poems by Diane Di Prima
"The Quarrel"
"Moon Mattress"

Poems by Lenore Kandel
"Bus Ride"
"Blues for Sister Sally"

Out of this World: An Anthology of the St. Mark's Poetry Project 1966-1991, edited by Anne Waldman

Poem by Helen Adam
"Deep in the Sub-Way"

Poems by Diane Di Prima
"Poem in Praise of My Husband"
"Night Life in Casper"
"Waikiki Room, Minneapolis"

Poems by Joanne Kyger
"This dance"
"I don't want to repeat"

Poem by Janine Pommy Vega

Poem by Patti Smith
"Ladies and Gentleman, Blaise Cendrars Is Not Dead"

Poems by Anne Waldman
"Crack in the World"
"Tell Me About It"

A Secret Location on the Lower East Side: Adventures in Writing, 1960-1980, by Steven Clay and Rodney Phillips. This book is based on a 1998 exhibition from the Berg Collection at the New York Public Library.

There are no poems in here, but this book is a history/sourcebook of small press printing, with a lot of documentation of Beat women's contribution, such as:

1958 LeRoi Jones and Hettie Cohen started the little magazine Yugen
1961 LeRoi Jones and Diane di Prima started the mimeo magazine The Floating Bear
1964 Carol Berge's The Vancouver Report published by Fuck You
1965 Joanne Kyger's The Tapestry and the Web published by the Four Seasons Foundation
1966 Angel Hair magazine, edited by Anne Waldman and Lewis Warsh (In 2001, Granary Books published an anthology of selected materials from the magazine, Angel Hair Sleeps with a Boy in My Head: The Angel Hair Anthology)
1966 Lenore Kandel's The Love Book published by Stolen Paper Editions
1967 The World literary magazine edited by Joel Sloman, Anne Waldman, and others
1968 Janine Pommy-Vega's Poems to Fernando published by City Lights
1968 Diane di Prima's Revolutionary Letters published by Communications Co. (and back in print starting July 30, 2005!)
1970 Anne Waldman's Giant Night published by Corinth Books

A Secret Location acknowledges the behind-the-scenes editing and administrative work that many of these women contributed, in addition to their own writing, in order to produce the wealth of small press magazines that were being printed during the 1960s. A lot of the books and magazines above are now out-of-print, and A Secret Location on the Lower East Side is worth it just to see the covers reproduced.

Finally, Shaman Woman, Mainline Lady: Women's Writings on the Drug Experience, edited by Cynthia Palmer and Michael Horowitz. This anthology includes writings by and biographies and photographs of Bonnie Frazer [Bremser], Diane di Prima, Lenore Kandel, and Anne Waldman.

Sunday, March 13, 2005


A search for dissertations in FirstSearch WorldCat shows that the past decade has been a rich one for women of the Beat generation. I was not able to find any PhD dissertations, but titles of Masters theses include:

“Rhetorical Re-visioning: Women and the Beat Generation”
Jennifer Marie Boeree, University of Maryland, College Park, 2001

“Frankie Edith Parker: The First Beat Woman, A Call for Recognition”
Sharon Ann Ballard-Krishnan, Central Michigan University, 1996

“Not Just Chicks and Boy-Gangs: Gender, Sex, Writing, and the Beats in Postwar America, 1945-1965.”
Joanna E Arlow, University of Oregon, 1998

There are also several dissertations dedicated solely to Diane di Prima’s work and Anne Waldman.

Simmons even has a dissertation in the bindery by a recent graduate of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science and the History Department called “Women of the Beat Generation: Beat Chicks and the Threat of Women Rebellion in Postwar America” (Kristen Sanders, 2004). I've got this one on hold.

Considering the upward trend of literature on this subject, I imagine that we’ll see many more dissertations on Beat women in the coming years.

Friday, March 11, 2005

3 Generations of Beat Women

Ronna Johnson, in her periphrastic “Mapping Women Writers of the Beat Generation” (in Breaking the Rule of Cool: Interviewing and Reading Women Beat Writers) identifies three generations of women Beat writers.

First Generation:
Helen Adam
Carol Bérge
Madeline Gleason
Sheri Martinelli
ruth weiss

Second Generation:
Ann Charters
Elise Cowen
Brenda Frazer (Bonnie Bremser)
Joyce Johnson
Hettie Jones
Lenore Kandel
Joanne Kyger
Joanna McClure
Diane di Prima

Third Generation:
Laurie Anderson
Patti Smith
Janine Pommy Vega
Anne Waldman

It’s a wide net that she casts, and if I were really to take on a bibliography of Beat women, I would have to consider all of them. For my purposes, however, I’m mostly concentrating on the second generation, with the addition of Carolyn Cassady. This means that my search terms must include all of these women’s names individually as subject or author, as well as keywords=“Beat generation” or “Beats” and “women” or “woman.” In an attempt to place Beat women at the center of my study, I will concentrate on works expressly by or about them, rather than works that deal with them in a peripheral manner.

Tonight, I spent some time searching the abstracting and indexing services that I can access from home through the Simmons library network. I found some great looking citations for unique articles in the MLA Bibliography (which goes back to 1963, further than any of the other humanities databases on the Simmons network, though still not far enough for this project). Academic Search Premier, on the other hand, retrieved mostly book reviews, which I’ve decided to stay away from. I was particularly excited by my first successful use of Refworks, the unbelievably complicated program that’s supposed to make it easier to manage bibliographic citations. When I took the course offered by the Simmons library last week, my feeling was that the database required so much manual tweaking that it was just as easy to handle citations the old fashioned way. But today I’m feeling hopeful. I have 60 citations in my personal folder (articles, books, essays, short stories, poems), and I can sort them in multiple ways. Now I should be able to print them out on one page and carry that with me instead of lugging around a whole binder full of scribbled and printed citations. And I’m supposed to be able to output the whole thing into a bibliography with the click of a button. We’ll see about that when the time comes.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Heart Beat

I just finished reading Carolyn Cassady’s first memoir, Heart Beat: My Life With Jack and Neal, which is undeniably trashy. It seems appropriate that the book was turned into a movie starring Nick Nolte, John Heard, and Sissy Spacek. I only found out about the movie because the cover of the Pocket Books edition that I read, courtesy of Tufts University Library, features pictures of the three actors and the typical “Now a major motion picture” tagline. It was not on my agenda to investigate movies (or video recordings of poetry readings, speeches, etc.) as a type of source for this project, so I’ll obviously have to remedy that. Heart Beat is about the love affair between Jack Kerouac and Carolyn Cassady during the period in which Kerouac lived with the Cassady family in San Francisco (1951-1953?). Carolyn Cassady builds a loving portrait of Kerouac through some sweet and funny episodes without delving into any real emotional territory. In the end, her observations just lack self-awareness and insight. So I’ll be interested to tackle her second memoir, Off the Road, published a full fourteen years later (1990), to see if time and distance produce a more balanced and deeper account of the time. From what I can tell, the entire text of Heart Beat makes up a few chapters in Off the Road, with some revisions. In fact, the copyright page of Heart Beat refers to that book as a work-in-progress tentatively entitled The Third Word. I am guessing that The Third Word became Off the Road, but I can’t be certain just yet.

To give Carolyn Cassady credit: while Heart Beat lacks a feminist awareness, she does offer a perceptive take on masculinity near the end of the book. Speaking of Jack Kerouac:

"I'd never known a man with such a tender heart, so much sweetness...Sometimes he put on a show of bravado and coarseness, and it never failed to embarrass me, it was so obviously phony. Like On the Road: that wasn't Jack, just an imitation based on Neal's behavior. I remembered in the beginning when I first met him how he used to brag about getting into fist fights if some guy cast aspersions on his toughness...But I had to admit that was the type society presented as the criterion of a "real" man. Of course, he had to be drunk to act that way, which was probably why he was never far from a bottle of wine." (pp. 117-118).

Monday, March 07, 2005

Setting Out

It seems like everyone who graduates from a library science program these days should know how to blog if they want a job. So here I am killing two birds with one stone: teaching myself blogging skills while creating a project for a much more bookish endeavor, my Literature of the Humanities class in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Simmons College.

I'm setting out to investigate the bibliographic history of women of the Beat generation -- the muses, wives, and writers. (I can only hope that no one other than my professor Allen Smith will want to read about the bibliographic history of anything!) I became interested in "Beat women" a few years ago when I read How I Became Hettie Jones. Hettie Jones was the first to bring my attention to the male mythmaking behind the Beat era that was so essentially captured in Jack Kerouac's On the Road.

Anatole Broyard wrote in his 1940's memoir Kafka was the Rage: "The saddest part of sex in those days was the silence. Men and women hadn't yet learned to talk to one another in a natural way. Girls were trained to listen. They were waiting for history to give them permission to speak." (pp. 144-145) Writing about an era slightly earlier, Broyard's words could still be used to describe the Beat era. Hesitantly in the 1970s and 1980s, and more boldly in the 1990s, Beat women began to speak in the form of published memoirs. In addition to Hettie Jones's account, we have Minor Characters by Joyce Johnson, Off the Road by Carolyn Cassady, and Memoirs of a Beatnik by Diane DiPrima. My initial diggings show that there are some earlier memoirs that are already out-of-print, such as Bonnie Bremser's Troia: Mexican Memoirs.

So, I have a pile of these memoirs and assorted anthologies of writing by and interviews with Beat women slowly accumulating by my bedside table. I've started searching through OCLC WorldCat and have made numerous trips to the Simmons library and the Boston Public Library, leaving with shopping bags full of books. My initial thoughts are: the bibliographic history of Beat women is much more rich than I imagined! Meanwhile, I've only started tackling the books. Just wait 'til I get my hands on what else is out there.