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A New Biography of 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 20th 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. – 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 literary biography, 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 20th century’s most significant artistic enterprises.

Since her mid-teens, Acker lived her ideal of the Great Writer as Culture Hero. Arguably, she was the only female writer to succeed in assuming this role. She died of untreated cancer at an alternative clinic in Tijuana when she was 50 years old, but as Kraus argues, the real pathos of Acker’s life lies in the fact that by then she’d already outlived this ideal.

Chris Kraus on After Kathy Acker: Something about Acker’s work still communicates deeply, even to those who aren’t aware of her intelligence, humour and compositional approach. Her achievements were singular, but they were not hers alone. She attained them within a larger community of writers and artists, many of whom, such as the choreographer Pooh Kaye, the musicians Jill Kroesen and Peter Gordon, the artist and publisher Leandro Katz and countless others, haven’t been given their rightful place in art history. Acker’s life can’t be described without a description of the collective soul her work emerged from.

Acker’s texts channel Peignot, Bataille and Catullus. By reading her writings very closely, I began channelling Acker.


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