Kathy Acker Notebooks
Language of Materials
Kathy Acker's Notebooks consists of 35 holograph manuscripts (over 1400 handwritten pages) and over 500 typescript pages dating from 1968 - 1974. Acker's manuscripts include numerous aborted projects, concrete poems, drafts of unsent correspondence, dream descriptions, early diaries, examinations of memory and reality, literary experiments, and writing exercises, while her bound and unbound typescripts include both works by other writers, as well as original works and typescript versions of pieces contained in her notebooks.
Kathy Acker (née Karen Lehmann; April 18, 1947 – November 30, 1997) was an American experimental novelist, performance artist, playwright, postmodernist, punk poet, and sex-positive, feminist essayist and writer. Acker was strongly influenced by poets of the Black Mountain School, William S. Burroughs, David Antin, French critical theory, philosophy and pornography.
Born and raised in New York City, Acker came to be closely associated with the punk movement of the 1970s and 1980s that influenced much of the culture in and around Manhattan. Acker studied classics as an undergraduate at Brandeis University with other students who became well-known, such as Angela Davis, and aspired to write novels. Acker transferred to the University of California at San Diego, where she worked with David Antin and Jerome Rothenberg, receiving her bachelor's degree in 1968. She completed two years of graduate work at the City University of New York in Classics, specializing in Greek, but left before earning a degree. While still in New York she worked as a file clerk, secretary, stripper, and porn performer. During the 1970s she often moved back and forth between San Diego, San Francisco and New York.
In 1979, Acker won the Pushcart Prize for her short story "New York City in 1979". During the early 1980s she lived in London, where she wrote several of her most critically acclaimed works. After returning to the United States in the late 1980s, she worked as an adjunct professor at the San Francisco Art Institute, and as a visiting professor at Roanoke College, the California Institute of Arts, the University of Idaho, and the Universities of California at San Diego and at Santa Barbara.
Blood and Guts in High School (1984) is considered Acker's breakthrough work, as it is one of her most extreme explorations of sexuality and violence. Borrowing from, among other texts, Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, Blood and Guts details the experiences of Janey Smith, a sex addicted and pelvic-inflammatory-disease-ridden urbanite who is in love with a father who sells her into slavery. Many critics criticized it for being demeaning toward women, and Germany banned it completely. Acker published the German court judgment against Blood and Guts in High School in Hannibal Lecter, My Father (1991).
Acker produced a considerable body of novels, wrote pieces for a number of magazines and anthologies, and also had notable pieces printed in issues of RE/Search, Angel Exhaust, monochrom, and Rapid Eye. Towards the end of her life, Acker had a measure of success in the conventional press; the Guardian published several of her articles, including an interview with the Spice Girls, which she submitted just a few months before her death. Three volumes of her non-fiction have been published and re-published since her death. In 2002, New York University staged Discipline and Anarchy, a retrospective exhibition of her works, while in 2007, Amandla Publishing re-published Acker's articles for the New Statesman from 1989 to 1991, and in 2008, London's Institute of Contemporary Arts held an evening of her films.
The Kathy Acker Papers (1972-1997) are housed at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, at Duke University in Durham, NC (http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/findingaids/acker/).
Childlike Life of the Black Tarantula By the Black Tarantula (1973)
I Dreamt I Was a Nymphomaniac: Imagining (1974)
Adult Life of Toulouse Lautrec (1978)
Kathy Goes To Haiti (1978)
N.Y.C. in 1979 (1981)
Great Expectations (1983)
Algeria: A Series of Invocations Because Nothing Else Works (1984)
Blood and Guts in High School (1984)
Don Quixote: Which Was a Dream (1986)
My Death My Life by Pier Paolo Pasolini (1986)
Literal Madness: Three Novels (Reprinted 1987)
Wordplays 5: An Anthology of New American Drama (1987)
Empire of the Senseless (1988)
In Memoriam to Identity (1990)
Hannibal Lecter, My Father (1991)
My Mother: Demonology (1994)
The Stabbing Hand (Guest Appearance on song by Oxbow, reissues of album Let Me Be a Woman) (1995)
Pussycat Fever (1995)
Dust. Essays (1995)
Pussy, King of the Pirates (1996)
Bodies of Work: Essays (1997)
Portrait of an Eye: Three Novels (Reprinted 1998)
Redoing Childhood (2000) (Spoken Word, KRS 349)
Rip-Off Red: Girl Detective (Published 2002 from 1973 Manuscript)
The Kathy Acker Notebooks are arranged alphabetically by title. These titles were either provided by Acker or are inferred by the object's contents. Titles that appear in quotation marks reflect a specific arrangement of words that are physically present on the object, while titles that appear in brackets indicate suggested titles and, or connections to other works.
In the case that a record includes more than one date expression, the listing will begin with its earliest. If a record is physically undated, approximate ranges are provided. These records are noted "undated" and followed by a "circa" estimate determined by the range represented by related works.
Scope and Contents
The following description was provided by Between The Covers Rare Books, Inc . (http://www.betweenthecovers.com)
Kathy Acker's Notebooks consists of 35 holograph manuscripts (over 1400 handwritten pages) and over 500 typescript pages dating from 1968 - 1974. These records trace Acker's personal and professional life while studying at the University of California at San Diego under philosopher and social theorist Herbert Marcuse, to her place among the New York literary underground, specifically revolving around The Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church, and related avant-garde art scenes.
Among the manuscripts are work that developed into her first three books,Politics (1972), The Childlike Life of the Black Tarantula (1973), I Dreamt I Was A Nymphomaniac: Imagining (1974), and the partial manuscript of her fourth book, The Adult Life of Toulouse Lautrec (1978). In addition, the manuscripts include pieces that developed into the posthumously published work Rip-Off Red: Girl Detective, and The Burning Bombing of America (2002), and the manuscript for her unpublished work, "Kathy Alexander: I Become Jane Eyre Who Rebelled Against Every One," (1973), which was her first attempt at appropriating a classic text. These manuscripts include numerous aborted projects, concrete poems, drafts of unsent correspondence, dream descriptions, early diaries, examinations of memory and reality, literary experiments, and writing exercises in which Acker explores identity, sexual desires versus sexual exploitation, the reality of history / memory in comparison to subjective truth, and the subversion of narrative with discordant sexual images and intrusive anarchist elements. Acker also refers to the New York poet community in which she was involved, including Alan Sondheim and Andrei Codrescu, mentor David Antin and his wife the artist Eleanor Antin, as well as Anne Waldman, Bernadette Meyer, Diane Wakoski, Hannah Weiner, Larry Fagan, Jerome Rothenberg, Ken Friedman, and Tom Veitch.
Acker's bound and unbound typescripts preserve a variety of documentation, including the collected works of others, in addition to original works and typescript versions of pieces contained in her notebooks. These typescripts were likely produced for and during Acker's graduate education, prepared for submission to the literary magazines which she contributed to during the early 1970s, and for her own poetry readings. These records include several notable texts including two versions of the posthumously published piece, The Destruction of the U.S., the Burning Bombing of America and the still unpublished "Continuing Saga of Drugs and War: Stripper Disintegrated," alongside a range of long and short form, diary-like and dream-descriptive, poetic works and short stories.
Conditions Governing Access
Materials are open without restrictions. Please contact the Fales Library & Special Collections for more information and to schedule an appointment, email@example.com, 212-998-2596.
Conditions Governing Use
Copyright (or related rights to publicity and privacy) for materials in this collection, created by Kathy Acker, was not transferred to New York University. Permission to use materials must be secured from the copyright holder. Please contact the Fales Library and Special Collections, firstname.lastname@example.org, 212-998-2596.
Published citations should take the following form:
Identification of item, date (if known); Kathy Acker Notebooks ; MSS 434; box number; folder number; Fales Library and Special Collections, New York University Libraries.
The Kathy Acker Notebooks were purchased from Between The Covers Rare Books, Inc., in 2015.
Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements
Audiovisual materials have not been preserved and may not be available to researchers.