Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Beat Generation memoirist Hettie Jones reads at Latter Library

Posted By on Tue, Apr 1, 2008 at 3:31 AM

The consciously itinerant writers of the Beat literary movement chose a bohemian lifestyle that celebrated unfettered movement at a time when the whole country was nesting, separating themselves violently from the stultifying return-to-normal culture of the postwar economic boom and its white picket fences bought with GI loans. While the Kerouacs and Corsos were scribbling the free-form screeds that would have them celebrated as maverick revolutionaries striking blows to literary and social structure, wives and girlfriends - more often than not highly literate Radcliffe and Barnard grads who put their own manuscripts aside - brewed the espresso and typed the chapbooks.

The writer Hettie Jones, born Hettie Cohen, was one of those girlfriends of the revolution. Cohen left the comfortable nest of her suburban, middle-class Jewish family for the excitement of Greenwich Village and a job at a music magazine.Soon, she met and married the black poet and playwright LeRoi Jones and became a prominent figure in the downtown New York scene of the late fifties and early sixties as co-publisher, with Jones, of the journal Yugen. In 1964, Jones suffered an attack of African Marxist consciousness, changed his name to Amiri Baraka and left the partner whose own poems had gone unattended, for the sake of collating his.

The women of prefeminist bohemia often had one version or another of Jones' story - having deliberately rejected social convention (and by association, society's approval and support) they found that they were living lives that weren't so different from their suburban counterparts, save for the black stockings and reefer. Jones' eventual memoir, How I Became Hettie Jones, was a moving and vivid counterpoint to the acknowledged Beat classics, and wound up as part of a sort of unofficial canon trilogy of the Beat chick experience, along with the writer Joyce Johnson's Minor Characters and Carolyn Cassady's memoirs, which were adapted into the film Heart Beat.

Jones gives her talk The Beats Go On at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 1 at the Milton H. Latter Memorial Library at 5120 St. Charles Avenue. The event is part of the series Branching Out: Poetry For the 21st Century. More information can be had by calling 596-2625 or emailing marsha@poetshouse.org.

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