Sparring With Beatnik Ghosts: Round 34

The reading series that packs a punch returns to the Beat Museum, with performances by both established poets and talented newcomers.

JERRY KAMSTRA was born in a mining camp in a shack buried under thirty-five feet of snow. His father, a Dutch immigrant, made his living as a hard-rock miner. His mother was the daughter of a fruit tramp, Nettie Cody, a distant relative of Buffalo Bill Cody. By the time he was fourteen, Jerry had broken his arm eight times and had read every book in the Colton Public Library. Since then, he has worked as an abalone and salmon fisherman, construction worker, trucker and marijuana smuggler.

Kamstra is the well-known author of the top-selling books Weed: Adventures Of A Dope Smuggler and The Frisco Kid, among many other literary achievements as a poet, editor and publisher. He is a designer, artist, lecturer and educator. Kamstra lives in Santa Cruz, CA.

GERALD NICOSIA is a biographer, historian, playwright, novelist and poet, whose work has been closely associated with the Beat Movement as well as the 1960s. He came to prominence with the publication of Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac in 1983, a book that earned him the Distinguished Young Writer Award from the National Society of Arts and Letters while it was still a work-in-progress. It was highly praised by writers as diverse as John Rechy, Irving Stone, Bruce Cook, and Allen Ginsberg, who called it a “great book.”

Nicosia spent several decades in both the Chicago and San Francisco literary scenes, making a name for himself as both a post-Beat poet himself and an organizer of marathon literary events, often in conjunction with the San Francisco Public Library and the Friends of the Library. He was also involved in several video and film projects, including the public television documentary West Coast: Beat and Beyond, directed by Chris Felver, and the movie version of On the Road, directed by Walter Salles.

A lifelong friend of peace activist Ron Kovic, Nicosia spent decades studying, working with, and writing about Vietnam veterans in their long process of healing from that war. His definitive work on that subject, Home to War: A History of the Vietnam Veterans’ Movement, was picked by the Los Angeles Times as one of the “Best Books of 2001,” and has been praised by notable Vietnam veterans like John Kerry and Oliver Stone and also by veterans of America’s later wars, such as Tony Swofford, author of Jarhead, and leaders of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Against the War.

Nicosia has taught Beat literature, the Sixties, and the Vietnam War literally around the world, including in China, where he adopted his daughter Wu Ji. All this while he has continued to publish books, including several collections of his poetry, and a collaboratively written biography of Jack Kerouac’s daughter called Jan Kerouac: A Life in Memory. His experiences in China have found their way into a forthcoming book of poetry, The China Poems. He is also working on a book about racism and the death penalty in America, Blackness Through the Land, as well as a biography of Ntozake Shange called Beautiful, Colored, and Alive, which will be published by St. Martin’s Press.

Daniel Yaryan, creator of Sparring with Beatnik Ghosts, is regrettably unable to attend this round. We will work with extra diligence to ensure this round meets his standard of spectacularity.