Breaking the Rule of Cool: Interviewing and Reading Women Beat Writers

Breaking the Rule of Cool: Interviewing and Reading Women Beat Writers

Breaking the Rule of Cool: Interviewing and Reading Women Beat Writers

Breaking the Rule of Cool: Interviewing and Reading Women Beat Writers

Synopsis

The Beat movement nurtured many female dissidents and artists who contributed to Beat culture and connected the Beats with the second wave of the women's movement. Although they have often been eclipsed by the men of the Beat Generation, the women's contributions to Beat literature are considerable. Covering writers from the beginning of the movement in the 1950s and extending to the present, this book features interviews with nine of the best-known women Beat writers, including Diane di Prima, ruth weiss, Joyce Johnson, Hettie Jones, Joanne Kyger, Brenda Frazer (Bonnie Bremser), Janine Pommy Vega, Anne Waldman, and the critic Ann Charters. Each is presented by a biographical essay that details her literary or scholarly accomplishments. In these recent interviews the nine writers recall their lives in Beat bohemia and discuss their artistic practices. Nancy M. Grace outlines the goals and revelations of the interviews, and introduces the community of female Beat writers created in their conversations with the authors. Although they have not received attention equal to the men, women Beat writers rebelled against mainstream roles for young women and were exuberant participants in creating the Beat scene. Mapping their unique identities in the Beat movement, Ronna C. Johnson shows how their poetry, fiction, and memoirs broke the male rule that defined Beat women as silent bohemian "chicks" rather than artistic peers. Breaking the Rule of Coolcombines the interviews with literary criticism and biography to illustrate the vivacity and intensity of women Beat writers, and argues that American literature was revitalized as much by the women's work as by that of their male counterparts. Nancy M. Grace, a professor of English at the College of Wooster, is the author ofThe Feminized Male Character in Twentieth-Century Literature. Her work has appeared inContemporary Literature, theBeat Scene, and theArtful Dodge. Ronna C. Johnson, a lecturer in English and American Studies at Tufts University, has been published inCollege Literature, theReview of Contemporary Fiction, and thePoetry Project Newsletter. Johnson and Grace are the editors of and contributors toGirls Who Wore Black: Women Writing the Beat Generation.

Excerpt

A bohemian free spirit made peripatetic by the vagaries of history, Ruth Weiss is a self-proclaimed street and Beat poet. Born in Berlin in 1928, weiss escaped Nazi Germany with her parents in 1938 and immigrated to the United States. For more than a decade, she moved frequently, living in New York City, Switzerland, Chicago, and New Orleans. in 1952, she hitchhiked from Chicago to California, where she became a regular on the North Beach poetry scene, pioneering jazz poetry readings at a club called the Cellar. Her community in the San Francisco Bay area has long included painters, sculptors, filmmakers, and musicians, a blend contributing to her fifty-year production of plays, films, and paintings, which are an amalgamation of modernism and Beat.

Like many of her Beat contemporaries, weiss defines poetic language as a free-flowing force moving outward from the unconscious toward self and others. As a poet who frequently reads with jazz musicians, weiss grounds her poetics in the interplay of contrived form and spontaneous production, both in the act of constructing the text and in public performance. weiss's poetry is often made of haiku-like lyrics (Kerouac is said to have admired her facility with the form) that stream down the page almost faster than the eye can follow.

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