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Minor Characters: A Beat Memoirby Joyce Johnson
Synopses & Reviews
A National Book Critics Circle Award-winner, Minor Characters has deservedly become known among the cognoscenti as a classic about the 1950s, a vivid and compelling memoir of one womans coming of age amidst the angels and poets of the Beat Generation.
The friend and lover of Jack Kerouac during the two years surrounding the publication of On The Road — the book that made him suddenly and forever famous — Johnson describes with penetrating insight the circle of rebellious visionaries of which she became a part: Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, LeRoi Jones, Gregory Corso. But more than just chronicling the drama of her life with a diffident and often drunken Kerouac, Johnson describes the roles that she and the other women in her circle played as companions and acolytes to their male muses, women who set aside their own needs and ambitions, for a time, even as they searched to find their own voices and shape their own lives.
As Christopher Lehmann-Haupt wrote in the New York Times, Johnson "has brought to life what history may ultimately judge to have been minor characters, but who were to her own generation major enough to shape its consciousness."
"Johnson writes of Dostoevskian evenings, of Kerouacs disastrous confrontation with fame...of the major Beat voices and the minor characters, their women. It's a terrific book, rich and beautifully written, full of vivid portraits and evocations." San Francisco Chronicle
"Realistic rather than flamboyant, Johnson succeeds in portraying the Beats not as oddities or celebrities but as individuals. In wry retrospect, she recognizes the folly of young women rebelling against their well-meaning parents only to become subservient to indifferent men." The New Yorker
Jack Kerouac. Allen Ginsberg. William S. Burroughs. LeRoi Jones. Theirs are the names primarily associated with the Beat Generation. But what about Joyce Johnson (nee Glassman), Edie Parker, Elise Cowen, Diane Di Prima, and dozens of others? These female friends and lovers of the famous iconoclasts are now beginning to be recognized for their own roles in forging the Beat movement and for their daring attempts to live as freely as did the men in their circle a decade before Women's Liberation. Twenty-one-year-old Joyce Johnson, an aspiring novelist and a secretary at a New York literary agency, fell in love with Jack Kerouac on a blind date arranged by Allen Ginsberg nine months before the publication of On the Road made Kerouac an instant celebrity. While Kerouac traveled to Tangiers, San Francisco, and Mexico City, Johnson roamed the streets of the East Village, where she found herself in the midst of the cultural revolution the Beats had created. Minor Characters portrays the turbulent years of her relationship with Kerouac with extraordinary wit and love and a cool, critical eye, introducing the reader to a lesser known but purely original American voice: her own.
About the Author
Joyce Johnson is the author of three novels, including The Night Café. Her other books include Minor Characters, which was the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Door Wide Open: A Beat Love Affair in Letters, 1957–1958.
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