After Kathy Acker
A Literary Biography
352 pp., 6 x 9 in,
- Published: August 14, 2018
- Published: August 18, 2017
The first authorized biography of postmodernism's literary hero, Kathy Acker.
Acker's life was a fable; and to describe the confusion and love and conflicting agendas behind these memorials would be to sketch an apocryphal allegory of an artistic life in the late twentieth century. It is girls from which stories begin, she wrote in her last notebook. And like other lives, but unlike most fables, it was created through means both within and beyond her control.
—from After Kathy Acker
Rich girl, street punk, lost girl and icon… scholar, stripper, victim, and media-whore: The late Kathy Acker's legend and writings are wrapped in mythologies, created mostly by Acker herself. Twenty years after her death, Acker's legend has faded, making her writing more legible.
In this first, fully authorized, biography, Chris Kraus approaches Acker both as a writer and as a member of the artistic communities from which she emerged. At once forensic and intimate, After Kathy Acker traces the extreme discipline and literary strategies Acker used to develop her work, and the contradictions she longed to embody. Using exhaustive archival research and ongoing conversations with mutual colleagues and friends, Kraus charts Acker's movement through some of the late twentieth century's most significant artistic enterprises.
Beginning in her mid-teens, Acker lived her ideal of the Great Writer as Cultural Hero, and as Kraus argues, she may well have been the only female writer to succeed in assuming this role. She died of untreated cancer at an alternative clinic in Tijuana when she was fifty years old, but the real pathos of Acker's life may have been in the fact that by then she'd already outlived her ideal.
Hardly anyone writes better or more insightfully than Chris Kraus about the lives of women and artists. After Kathy Acker is an intense, riveting portrait of a writer who was raw and savvy, fragile and brilliant, whose self-deceptions were inseparable from her greatness. Quotes from her profane and passionate journals reveal Kathy the crazy poet, the bad girlfriend, the Upper East Side schoolgirl, the downtown writer, Kathy in love and in denial. Gossipy, sexy, tragic, terrific.
Julie Phillips, author of The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon
'To lie is to try,' Chris Kraus writes in this examination of the various personae of Kathy Acker, the fucked-up girl from high school who, through lying and trying, became an experimental writer of rare courage and vision. In some ways a contemporary and in some ways as far off as the days when people moved to New York and San Francisco for the cheap rent, Acker needed a key, and Chris Kraus provides it.
Benjamin Moser, author of Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector
The path of the female artist. Is hell. Chris Kraus's veracious and intricately structured portrait rouses and stirs as it documents in meticulous and fascinating detail the life, work and body of Kathy Acker and what it takes to a become a 'great writer as countercultural hero.'
Viv Albertine, author of Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys: A Memoir
Chris Kraus's After Kathy Acker sets the bar for what will surely be a new era of critical and biographical reckoning with the life and work of Kathy Acker. Kraus had a ringside seat, has done her homework, and here provides a substantive effort to pay homage not only to the complex, singular, raucous, and crucial writer and human that Acker was, but also to the constellation of artists, musicians, writers, and thinkers who were her friends, lovers, inspirations, and fellow makers of history.
Maggie Nelson, author of The Argonauts
This is a gossipy, anti-mythic artist biography which feels like it's being told in one long rush of a monologue over late-night drinks by someone who was there. As such, we learn as much about Kathy Acker as we do about the mores of the artists and writers who surrounded her in the last three decades of the twentieth century. Acker emerges as an unlikely literary hero, but an utterly convincing one.
Sheila Heti, author of How Should A Person Be?
Completely enthralling…A new generation of writers will be inspired by Kathy. It's a gift to Kathy Acker and her legacy, and a gift to all the women who read Chris' books.
This critical biography is a wonderful read for long-time fans of both Acker and Kraus, and it will likely be an engaging one even for those unfamiliar with their work, but who are interested in the development and vicissitudes of an accomplished artist's life.
Chicago Review of Books