In the 1970s and ’80s, American writer Kathy Acker discovered that the surest way to develop her most innovative work and secure its eventual fame was by using the widely available parts of a parallel economy in the arts—a range of tools that included Xeroxed and stapled self-publishing, pseudonymous work mailed to a network of friends, chapbooks of poetry hauled in garbage bags from one bookstore to the next, and all manner of personal theatricality. She wrote as “The Black Tarantula” and “Rip-off Red” on her way to becoming the legendary Kathy Acker. Keenly aware of the logic and methods of the mainstream, Acker chose a parallel path. Most literature is born in the margins, outside of the punishing reach of power. Ironically—from Socrates to Dickinson to Rimbaud to Acker—the power structures that anoint and preserve the work we call “literary,” are, in life, enemies of the agency and freedom that literature entails.
Acker’s biographer, the Canadian writer Jason McBride, shows us in detail how this protean force of contemporary literature made persistent, daily choices that kept her, and her work, away from publishers of the literary mainstream, within a fertile margin of creative minds in the arts and music, where the work grew into books that (especially since her early death in 1997, age 50) have become permanent parts of literature’s long future.
1 March, 2022