News of the winners of the National Book Award just came over the wires (a euphemism, since technology today rarely involves wires) and Just Kids, Patti Smith, won for non-fiction.
I read Patti’s memoir this summer and was WOW-ed. I guess in her speech or an interview she said that she wrote it for Robert Mapplethorpe one of the first people she met after leaving home (a dreary small town in NJ) and arriving in New York City. They lived together, were lovers, but mostly they were dedicated friends. She promised him before he died that she would write a book about their relationship. Forty years later she writes it and wins the National Book Award. Aren’t you WOW-ed?
Oh yeah and art. They were both totally dedicated to art. Patti and Robert were young and trying to figure out if they wanted college or a factory job (was there a difference?) or a third way, making art. Coming as outsiders without experience, connections, or even a university degree (let alone an MFA), they jumped in, all the way. They lived in ratty SRO hotels, bummed off friends, and ate at automats. An old couple noticing them one day with their hippy clothes and long hair remarked out loud that they were “just kids.”
JUST KIDS captured perfectly that heart-felt longing for something better. Not money or fame exactly, though they wouldn’t have minded. But, rather, that inner confidence one experiences when you know you have gotten it right. When you’re young and working through the process, wondering what it is that you want to say, the light at the end of the tunnel must seem like death. Or atleast a long long long way off.
So congratulations Patti. All those years you sat in bed because there were no chairs at the Chelsea Hotel and scribble-scrabbled on a pad of paper and Robert walked the streets taking pictures and you both had to put up with BS and naysaying—this one’s for you.
And YOU, too. Go for it. People have the power.