How I Became Hettie Jones

Open Road + Grove/Atlantic
2
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“A thoughtful, intimate memoir of life in the burgeoning movement of new jazz, poetry, and politics . . . in Lower Manhattan in the late 1950s and early 1960s” (Alix Kate Shulman, The Nation).
 
Greenwich Village in the 1950s was a haven to which young poets, painters, and musicians flocked. Among them was Hettie Cohen, who’d been born into a middle-class Jewish family in Queens and who’d chosen to cross racial barriers to marry African American poet LeRoi Jones. This is her reminiscence of life in the awakening East Village in the era of the Beats, Black Power, and bohemia.
 
“As the wife of controversial black playwright-poet LeRoi Jones (now Amiri Baraka), Hettie Cohen, a white Jew from Queens, NY, plunged into the Greenwich Village bohemia of jazz, poetry, leftish politics and underground publishing in the late 1950s. Their life together ended in 1965, partly, she implies, because of separatist pressures on blacks to end their interracial marriages. In this restrained autobiographical mix of introspection and gossip, the author writes of coping with racial prejudice and violence, raising two daughters, and of living in the shadow of her husband. When the couple divorced, she became a children’s book author and poet. The memoir is dotted with glimpses of Allen Ginsberg, Thelonious Monk, Jack Kerouac, Frank O’Hara, Billie Holiday, James Baldwin, Franz Kline, among others.” —Publishers Weekly
 
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About the author

Greenwich Village in the 1950s was a haven to which young poets, painters, and jazz musicians flocked. Among them was Hettie Cohen, who'd been born into a middle-class Jewish family in Queens and who'd chosen to cross racial barriers to marry the controversial black poet LeRoi Jones. Theirs was a bohemian life in the awakening East Village of underground publishing and jazz lofts, through which drifted such icons of the generation as Allen Ginsberg, Thelonious Monk, Jack Kerouac, Frank O'Hara, Billie Holiday, James Baldwin, and Franz Kline.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Open Road + Grove/Atlantic
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Published on
Dec 1, 2007
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Pages
256
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ISBN
9780802196781
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Language
English
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Genres
Biography & Autobiography / Literary Figures
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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"It works, we're in business, yeah Babe!" So begins this remarkable selection from a forty-year correspondence between two artists who survived their time as wives in the Beat bohemia of the 1960s and went on to successful artistic careers of their own.
 From their first meeting in 1960, writer Hettie Jones—then married to LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka)—and painter and sculptor Helene Dorn (1927–2004), wife of poet Ed Dorn, found in each other more than friendship. They were each other's confidant, emotional support, and unflagging partner through difficulties, defeats, and victories, from surviving divorce and struggling as single mothers, to finding artistic success in their own right. 
 Revealing the intimacy of lifelong friends, these letters tell two stories from the shared point of view of women who refused to go along with society’s expectations. Jones frames her and Helene's story, adding details and explanations while filling in gaps in the narrative. As she writes, "we'd fled the norm for women then, because to live it would have been a kind of death."
 Apart from these two personal stories, there are, as well, reports from the battlegrounds of women's rights and tenant's rights, reflections on marriage and motherhood, and contemplation of the past to which these two had remained irrevocably connected. Prominent figures such as Allen Ginsberg and Timothy Leary appear as well, making Love, H an important addition to literature on the Beats. 
 Above all, this book is a record of the changing lives of women artists as the twentieth century became the twenty-first, and what it has meant for women considering such a life today. It's worth a try, Jones and Dorn show us, offering their lives as proof that it can be done.
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award
 
“Among the great American literary memoirs of the past century. . .a riveting portrait of an era. . .Johnson captures this period with deep clarity and moving insight.” – Dwight Garner, The New York Times

In 1954, Joyce Johnson’s Barnard professor told his class that most women could never have the kinds of experiences that would be worth writing about.  Attitudes like that were not at all unusual at a time when “good” women didn’t leave home or have sex before they married; even those who broke the rules could merely expect to be minor characters in the dramas played by men. But secret rebels, like Joyce and her classmate Elise Cowen, refused to accept things as they were.
 
As a teenager, Johnson stole down to Greenwich Village to sing folksongs in Washington Square. She was 21 and had started her first novel when Allen Ginsberg introduced her to Jack Kerouac; nine months later she was with Kerouac when the publication of On the Road made him famous overnight. Joyce had longed to go on the road with him; instead she got a front seat at a cultural revolution under attack from all sides; made new friends like Hettie and LeRoi Jones, and found herself fighting to keep the shy, charismatic, tormented Kerouac from destroying himself.  It was a woman’s adventure and a fast education in life.  What Johnson and other Beat Generation women would discover were the risks, the heartache and the heady excitement of trying to live as freely as the rebels they loved.
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