Minor Characters, by Joyce Johnson, published in 1987. (Wikipedia)

Back in 1957, when Joyce Pinchbeck was one of the mad ones Jack Kerouac described as mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, she went by a different name, Joyce Glassman, the central woman, amongst many others who played an oftenoverlooked role—as much as muses as authors themselves—to the young founding members of the Beat Generation.

She is an author of several books, including Minor Characters—detailing the role of the Beat women—that is one of the clearest recollections of the wildness of those years, as well as an accomplished journalist with articles pubished in Harper’s, New York, The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and the Washington Post. And a collection of her love letters to Kerouac, Door Wide Open: A Beat Love Affair in Letters, was published in 2000 by Penguin Books.

When we caught up with her at the Sixth Annual Howl hosted at Columbia University last year she read to the audience during an evening filled with jazz and laughter and poetry in celebration of Jack Kerouac’s and Allen Ginsbergs lives from an unusual selection from Visions of Cody, a book published posthumously, under the direction of Joyce herself.

After the event we reached out to her to ask about the selection, and why the long forgotten Hector’s Cafeteria was worthy of being recalled at such an occasion.

This was her reply:

I decided to read an excerpt from Visions of Cody for a number of reasons. First of all, I feel that the obsession with On the Road has warped the understanding of what Kerouac achieved in the books that followed, where there was a further development of his extraordinary voice. He himself felt that Cody was his most important book, but only a small portion of it got published during his lifetime. In 1972, when I was an associate editor at McGraw Hill, I was able to realize my dream of publishing the entire novel. I edited it in the way Jack would have liked me to—in other words, hardly at all, mostly conforming the names of the characters and correcting typos.

I also asked Allen Ginsberg to write the introduction. The sketch of Hector’s Cafeteria comes from one of my favorite parts of the novel, where Jack wanders around New! (sic) York, sketching what he sees in what he called a state of “tranced fixation.” The extraordinarily beautiful prose in this section of Cody gives an unparalled picture of an older New York that is quickly being erased today, in which, in 1951,there were still innumerable physical vestiges of the earlier 20th century. Starting in the 1930’s, cafeterias used to be ubiquitous—places where a penniless writer like Jack could sit for hours over a cup of coffee, observing the life around him. Often Jack walked around the streets hungry in the fall of 1951—he put all his hunger into his depiction of Hector’s extraordinary bounty, none of which he could have afforded at the time he was writing. The cafeteria was also located near Times Square—an area he had haunted since his arrival in New York to go to prep school.

All best,

Joyce

Preserving Joyce’s “New York that is quickly being erased” is a large part of our mission at Literary Manhattan—not just because it is a piece of our history, but because it is a means to engage young readers desperate for connection to literature as timeless as it has ever been.



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