Stephanie Nikolopoulos, a writer and editor embracing the beatific and author with Paul Maher, Jr. of Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road speaks to Festival co-organizer, Breena Clarke about her passion for Jack Kerouac and The Beats.
Furiously Passionate Part One: Stephanie and Breena Q&A
Clarke: I’m of the generation that kind of took our counter-culture marching orders from the Beats. You’re a couple of thousand years younger than me. How did you fall under the spell of Jack Kerouac and the Beats?
Nikolopoulos: I first heard about the Beats in perhaps the most unlikely of ways—a fashion magazine aimed at teens. I was seventeen years old, reading Seventeen magazine when I flipped to a spread featuring “real” teens talking about their favorite music and books, one of which was “The Portable Beat Reader” edited by Ann Charters. When I discovered the book on the shelves of my local bookstore in New Jersey, I asked my mother to buy it for me. I was instantly hooked. I read through Gregory Corso’s poem “Marriage” over and over again—and to this day I continue to read it over and over. I got a kick out of Tuli Kupferberg’s “1001 Ways to Beat the Draft,” a satirical pamphlet about the Vietnam War. I revered Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poem “Dog.” I tried to emulate Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” with my own bad poetry at the time. Prior to reading these poems, my favorite poet had been John Keats, whom I still enjoy and study, but the poets of the Beat Generation opened up a new world of poetry for me—one that was humorous, raw, experimental, uncontained. What I found particularly intriguing was how self-referential the poems were. It was as if they were writing witty poems to and for each other, instead of just trying to craft beautifully written poems a wide readership would admire.
Clarke: BTW I love the stark black and white look of your blog. http://stephanienikolopoulos.com I like your photo, too. The crisp, sharp look makes me think Kerouac would follow your blog.
Nikolopoulos: Thanks. As I read Ann Charters’ compendium, “The Portable Beat Reader”, Jack Kerouac’s name kept popping up in other people’s writing—Amiri Baraka’s “In Memory of Radio,” Ferlinghetti’s “The Canticle of Jack Kerouac,” Neal Cassady’s letters. Who was this Jack Kerouac? Why were all these other writers writing about him? His “Essentials of Spontaneous Prose” and “Belief & Technique for Modern Prose” fascinated me. I wanted to know more, and I must’ve talked incessantly about the Beats because at Christmas there was a copy of Kerouac’s On the Road under the tree from my mother. I wasn’t cool enough to know about counter-cultural literature, and although I was familiar with the image of goateed bongo players on tv I didn’t know the term “beatnik” and didn’t associate it with the Beats, so I came to read Kerouac and the other poets and writers labeled as the Beat Generation without preconceived notions. I found Kerouac’s work especially to be tender, nostalgic, rich in language. It was only after I began reading biographies and other nonfiction works about the Beats that I learned of the cultural and literary criticism surrounding the Beats, and it just didn’t resonate with my experience reading their works. I couldn’t understand how someone would get the image of a “beatnik” from reading On the Road, when for me the passages that stood out were the ones when Kerouac described the fields in California and the feeling of being let down by friends.
Stephanie Nikolopoulos returns to Festival of Women Writers 2015. She will lead the workshop, CUT-UPS, JAZZ-POETRY, AND PICTURE POEMS: Writing under the Influence of the Beat Generation. This workshop is open to all registered participants. For more INFORMATION: http://bit.ly/1PwXSft
REGISTER for Festival of Women Writers 2015 at: http://bit.ly/1brkNH9
LISTEN to Stephanie Nikolopoulos read from Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road: https://youtu.be/L_uR4Fn8dqg