Archives for category: Memoirs


In 1957, Allen Ginsberg was in Paris awaiting the results of the U.S. obscenity trial related to HOWL, the book-length poem Lawrence Ferlinghetti had published in San Francisco through his City Lights Press.

The 2010 film HOWL, starring James Franco as Allen Ginsberg, covers a range of subjects — including the 1957 obscenity trial — in some cases using experimental techniques (such as animation of the poem).

I particularly enjoyed Jon Hamm (MAD MEN‘s Don Draper) as defense counsel Jake Ehrlich and Bob Balaban as Judge Clayton HornJames Franco also turns in an admirable performance as Ginsberg.

I had very low expectations when I borrowed this film (HOWL) from the library — I didn’t think there was any way to do justice to the subject matter. Basically, I expected a Hollywood botch job. Count me wrong!  I was enraptured and enthralled throughout the movie, which features the entire text of Howl in animation such as I’ve never seen before.

HOWL, the movie, directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, is original, respectful, and a fine testament to Allen Ginsberg, one of America’s most important poets. Highly recommended.

Find the DVD on


April 28, 2013 marked the 90th birthday of Carolyn Cassady— the accomplished and gifted woman associated with Beat writers Neal Cassady (one-time husband), Jack Kerouac (friend and lover), and Allen Ginsberg (friend and confidante). She wrote about these iconic figures and much more in her 1990 memoir OFF THE ROAD (available at

Carolyn showed artistic gifts from her early years — at age 12, joining a theater troupe in Nashville, where she won awards for her set designs. She received a scholarship to Bennington College (Vermont) — studying with choreographer Martha Graham, philosopher Erich Fromm, and poet Theodore Roethke — and earned a B.A. in drama in 1944. After graduation, she served as an occupational therapist for the U.S. Army, then moved to Denver in 1946 to study for her master’s degree at the University of Denver while working as a teaching assistant at the Denver Art Museum.


Fate intervened in 1947, when she met future husband Neal Cassady and his friends Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. While dating Cassady, Carolyn learned he was still married to his first wife, so she moved to California to pursue work as a costume designer in the movie business. Before starting the job, it became clear she was expecting a little Cassady — and decided to reconcile with Neal. They had three children together — and, in all, spent 16  tumultuous off-again-on-again years with each other, divorcing in 1963.

In 1983, Carolyn moved to England and continued to work as an artist and writer, until her passing on September 20, 2013

Photo: Carolyn Cassady in the early 1950s with Jack Kerouac and her daughter Cathleen


FERLINGHETTI: A Rebirth of Wonder

A Film by Christopher Felver


Lawrence Ferlinghetti fans as well as people who’ve never heard of this iconic author, painter, publisher, and activist will enjoy Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder – a documentary film by Christopher Felver released in June 2013 — thanks to the movie’s “Wow! Did that really happen?” factor.

You might call Ferlinghetti “fate’s chosen son” – judging by the incredible coincidences and strokes of luck that came his way. Granted, Ferlinghetti knew how to seize the moment – as in 1953 when he stopped at the just-opened Pocket Book Shop (the first all-paperback bookstore in the U.S.) at 261 Columbus Avenue in San Francisco and made a deal on the spot to go into business with the owner (Peter D. Martin), who also published a small literary magazine called City Lights. The renamed City Lights Bookstore – a nod to Charlie Chaplin and his character “The Tramp,” who fought the system in the 1931 movie City Lights – became a magnet for artists and writers and reinvented the bookstore as cultural epicenter, meeting place, and hangout.

A few years later, in 1955, Ferlinghetti was again in the right place at the right time when he attended Allen Ginsberg’s first reading of “Howl” at the Six Gallery in San Francisco. The next day, Ferlinghetti – by this time a publisher – sent Ginsberg a telegram offering to publish the poem (“I greet you at the beginning of a great career. When do I get the manuscript?”).

The decision to publish “Howl” led to a 1957 obscenity trial where Ferlinghetti and co-defendant Shig Murao, City Lights manager, risked prison to defend First Amendment rights. When the presiding judge ruled that “Howl” was not obscene, a new chapter in American Arts & Letters opened – ushering in the publication of now-classic novels by William S. Burroughs, Henry Miller, D.H. Lawrence, and many other avant garde writers.

What I appreciated most about Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder was the personal side of Ferlinghetti’s story – again, with fate playing a starring role. In a range of interviews, Ferlinghetti shares aspects of his childhood, noting that much of his story is “out of Dickens.” Yes, this is Dickens in overdrive – and I don’t want to give away too much, because here the “Wow! Did that really happen?” factor is in full bloom. From his birth on March 24, 1919 through his WWII service in the U.S. Navy, Ferlinghetti leads a life that is alternately heartbreaking, charmed, blessed, harrowing, and sublime.

Still going strong at age 94 – on May 30, 2013 an exhibit of his paintings opened in San Francisco – Ferlinghetti shows us what it means to “live a life well lived.”

Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder is a loving portrait of the artist as both a young and old man – a celebration of an American icon who personifies what it means, and what it takes, to have the courage of your convictions and put it all on the line for your beliefs and your art. Today, everyone in the arts owes Lawrence Ferlinghetti a debt of gratitude – and watching this wonderful documentary is a place to start.

Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder is available on DVD


Book of DreamsJack Kerouac‘s dream diary originally published by City Lights Books in 1961 and reissued in 2001, is  Kerouac at his most Kerouacian (or is it Kero-Wacky-an?) — which is a good thing. Whatever he writes, Kerouac’s deep, utter charm and sincerity shine through.

In the book’s preface, Kerouac writes:“The reader should know that this is just a collection of dreams that I scribbled after I woke up from my sleep — They were all written spontaneously, nonstop, just like dreams happen, sometimes written before I was even wide awake — The characters that I’ve written about in my novels reappear in these dreams in weird new dream situations…and they continue the same story which is the one story that I always write about. The heroes of On the RoadThe Subterraneans, etc., reappear here doing further strange things for no other particular reason than that the mind goes on, the brain ripples, the moon sinks, and everybody hides their heads under pillows with sleepingcaps. Good. And good because the fact that everybody in the world dreams every night ties all mankind together shall we say in one unspoken Union and also proves that the world is really transcendental…”

Book of Dreams also includes a “Table of Characters” where Kerouac lists how the dream players correspond with characters in his novels. For example, Cody Pomeray in JK’s dreams is Dean Moriarity in On the Road.

Find the book here at



When the New Yorker published its first-ever science fiction issue — a double issue dated June 4 & 11, 2012 — no one predicted that the magazine would include Ray Bradbury‘s last published writing. (Bradbury passed away on June 5, 2012 a few month short of his 92nd birthday.)

Entitled “Take Me Home,” Bradbury’s contribution to the New Yorker‘s science fiction issue discusses the author’s favorite books as a child and includes a poignant reminiscence about a 4th of July spent with his grandfather. Read “Take Me Home” at

Cover illustration: Daniel Clowes, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED



When I visited Glendale, California, a few weeks ago for a meeting, I parked in front of the Mystery & Imagination Bookshop at 238 N. Brand Blvd. I was intrigued by the poster in the window for a book called Searching for Ray Bradbury by Steven Paul Leiva — and finally took the time today to check out the bookstore and Leiva’s Book. 

The first thing I ran across was an article in the Huffington Post (5/16/2013), where Steven Paul Leiva writes about the Mystery & Imagination Bookshop — and explains that Ray Bradbury called it, “one of the best bookstores ever.” (Read the article at

The Mystery & Imagination Bookshop also operates an online bookstore that offers rare and used books in the detective, science fiction, and fantasy genres. For more information, visit


Searching for Ray Bradbury includes eight essays written by Steven Paul Leiva about his friend and inspiration, Ray Bradbury. In the book, Leiva also writes about his work to honor Bradbury on his 90th birthday with RAY BRADBURY WEEK in Los Angeles, a weeklong series of events in 2010 that were the great author’s last public appearances. Searching for Ray Bradbury also details Leiva’s successful effort to name the major Los Angeles downtown intersection of Fifth & Flower, adjacent to the Los Angeles Central Library, RAY BRADBURY SQUARE. Find Searching for Ray Bradbury at . Visit Steven Paul Leiva at his blog for more information about the author and his work.

Book Cover illustration: Lou Romano, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Thank you to everyone who downloaded a Kindle version of PHOENIX by Philippa Mayall during our free Kindle days on 7/30 and 7/31. The book achieved #1 status on Amazon’s Free Kindle list for “Drug Dependency.”

In her memoir, author Philippa Mayall takes us from her childhood in England, where family members perished in a house fire ignited by an alcoholic stepfather to Los Angeles and her struggle with drug dependency and homelessness.

To give you an overview of the book, here is text from the back cover:

“This powerful memoir immediately establishes itself as the work of a highly talented young writer. In a voice that is strong, unsparing, never judgmental, Mayall traces her years-long journey as a young woman to find escape out of the entrapping mean streets of Los Angeles, a separated world invisible to all but its denizens. She does this with unflinching honesty and authenticity. She knows what it’s like to wake up into the harsh sunlight in a Venice Beach parking lot, cramped in an old car with other outcasts. She conveys the urgency for chemical surcease that leads her into dangerous streets, dark alleys; surcease no matter if bought by a sordid paid encounter. A punishing dawn at times finds her still searching for that illusive escape.

Through all this, Mayall is able to find poignancy and humor. She finds it in the drug recovery meetings she haunts in search of vagrant camaraderie. She finds it—and introduces the reader to a cast of memorable fellow exiles–in a rigidly ruled rehabilitation institution.

This is a memorable book–beautifully and even lyrically written. At times it is melancholy, at times hopeful, at times shocking, but it is always moving. At times it is even exuberant with the sense of a life lived determined to survive.”

JOHN RECHY, author of City of Night

Stay tuned for future Kindle giveaways of PHOENIX! Again, thank you to everyone who downloaded a free Kindle version of the book. We are trying to get the word out about Mayall’s compelling memoir — so please help us spread the word by reblogging, posting on Facebook, or emailing to friends.


The Silver Birch Press release Phoenix, a memoir by Philippa Mayall is available as a free Kindle download — a savings of $7.99 — on Tuesday, 7/30, and Wednesday, 7/31, at this link.

“This is a memorable book — beautifully and even lyrically written…exuberant with the sense of a life lived determined to survive.” JOHN RECHY, author of CITY OF NIGHT and THE MIRACULOUS DAY OF AMALIA GOMEZ


My car battery went dead a few days ago after I’d left my lights on while I was browsing at a used bookstore. I was holding my $2.99 purchase — The Los Angeles Diaries by James Brown (not that James Brown) — when I saw my fading headlights in the distance.

Yesterday, I read about 50 pages of The Los Angeles Diaries while in the veterinarian’s waiting room with my cat Clancy, who had a dental abscess and couldn’t eat. Brown’s book is one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read — and a welcome companion in a difficult setting. (It’s hard when your own pet is ill, even more difficult to witness other suffering animals.)

Brown’s stories about his Hollywood pitch meetings — especially one about the young executive who cracked open peanuts and threw the shells on the carpet during the meeting — give you a ringside seat at the inner workings of LA-LA Land.

While many editions of The Los Angeles Diaries are currently in print, I selected the book cover (above right) of the edition I found at the used bookstore.


The Los Angeles Diaries is terrific. It’s one of the toughest memoirs I’ve ever read, at once spare and startlingly, admirably unsparing. It glows with a dark luminescence. James Brown is a fine, fine writer.” MICHAEL CHABON

“One of those rare memoirs that cuts deeply, chillingly into the reader’s own dreams. It is a dramatic, vivid, heartbreaking, very personal story…cleanly and beautifully written, and it is also incredibly moving.” TIM O’BRIEN

FROM THE BACK COVER: The Los Angeles Diaries unveils Brown’s struggle for survival, mining his perilous past to present the inspiring story of his redemption.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: James Brown is the author of the memoirs, This River and The Los Angeles Diaries, and co-editor with Diana Raab of the anthology Writers on the Edge. The most recent reprint of The Los Angeles Diaries from Counterpoint Press includes a foreword by Jerry Stahl, as does the French edition, Les Carnets de L.A., from 13 eNote Books, and is currently under option for a feature film with producer Jude Prest and Lifelike Productions, LLC. Brown has also written several novels, including Final Performance and Lucky Town. He’s received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Fiction Writing and the Nelson Algren Award in Short Fiction. His work has appeared in GQ, Esquire, Ploughshares, The New York Times Magazine, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, The New England Quarterly, and anthologized in Best American Sports Writing; Fathers, Sons and Sports: Great American Sports Writing; and the college textbooks Oral Interpretations, and Creative Writing: Four Genres in Brief. Brown can be contacted through his website at

On April 17, 2013, John Densmore — best known as drummer for The Doors — released The Doors Unhinged: Jim Morrison’s Legacy Goes on Trial, a memoir about his extended legal battle with bandmates Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger over the right to use the name “The Doors.”

OFFICIAL OVERVIEW OF THE BOOK: The subject of The Doors Unhinged is the “greed gene”, and how that part of the human psyche propels us toward the accumulation of more and more wealth, even at the expense of our principles and friendships and the well being of society. A Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band, The Doors fractured because of this. In his book, drummer John Densmore looks at the conflict between him and his band mates as they fought over the right to use The Doors’ name. At the same time, Densmore examines how this conflict mirrors and reflects a much larger societal issue — that no amount of money seems to be enough for even the wealthiest people.

OUR THOUGHTS: When The Doors started out in 1965, the bandmates decided to share everything equally — and give everyone equal credit. That meant that no matter who had written a song, the credit line would read: The Doors. This has always struck me as smart — and a way of making sure that everybody stayed involved and felt appreciated, because everybody was making the same amount of money.

But after frontman/rock god Jim Morrison died in 1971, the three remaining bandmates couldn’t agree about how and when to use The Doors’ music and name, with Densmore as the holdout when it came to selling out (especially when it came to using their songs for advertising). All hail, John Densmore! 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: An original and founding member of the musical group The Doors, John Densmore co-wrote and produced numerous gold and platinum albums and toured the United States, Europe, and Japan. His autobiography, Riders on the Storm, was on the New York Times bestseller list, and in 1993 he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He has written numerous articles for Rolling Stone, London Guardian, The Nation, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, and Utne Reader. He co-produced Road To Return, narrated by Tim Robbins — a film that won several prestigious national awards and was screened for Congress, resulting in the writing of a bill. He also executive produced Juvies, a film narrated by Mark Wahlberg that aired on HBO and won numerous awards, including 2004 IDA for excellence and U.S. International Film Fest for creative excellence.


Joan Jobe Smith (pictured in June 2013 with John Densmore) — author of the Silver Birch Press Release CHARLES BUKOWSKI EPIC GLOTTIS: His Art, His Women (& me) — was a go-go dancer for seven years and in 1966 danced live with The Doors at Whisky a Go Go on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles.


Smith and her husband, poet Fred Voss (pictured at left with John Densmore) — a longtime avid fan of The Doors — attended a book signing on June 1, 2013 at Fingerprints, a record store in Long Beach, California, where they waited in line with hundred of other fans for a chance to meet Densmore and hear about his book. The reading was originally planned for late May, but Densmore rescheduled out of respect for his bandmate Ray Manzarek, who passed away on May 20, 2013 at age 74.

Like Fred Voss, I am a longtime, avid fan of The Doors — and I can’t wait to read The Doors Unhinged (great title!), available at

Photos by Fred Voss and Joan Jobe Smith