This week was the first ever Beatnik Shindig, hosted by The Beat Museum in San Francisco. I’m a huge Beat fan and have been since I was 19 years old. I’m so very fortunate to have worked with and become friends with Director and Founder of the Beat Museum, Jerry Cimino and his wife Estelle (whom he met in a bookshop after graduating college!).
For me, The Beat Museum is much more than a museum: it’s a gathering place, one that draws people in and invites them to be comfortable and share their stories. It is an all important archive of all things Beat. Someone called Jerry up and said, hey I have an old piano that used to be Allen Ginsberg’s. If you drive up here and pick it up, you can have it! People want to contribute to the Museum and help preserve this literary history. The Beat generation were a bunch of miscreants (I say this with love as I would identify myself and many of my friends as thus) who moved around a lot and couldn’t seem to settle down. As a result, things they owned, touched, used, are all over the country. People don’t know what to do with these items, but they realize this Beat history is a large part of our American literary canon, and they want to contribute.
The infamous Joan Anderson letter that was lost was found, and for sale, and on display for a private viewing (that I attended—ahem) at The Beat Museum last year. The letter which Neal Cassady wrote and then sent to Jack Kerouac (both estates are suing for it) was briefly for sale, and during that brief time period, The Beat Museum started a kick-starter campaign to raise funds to buy the letter. (I contributed because to me, this letter belongs in San Francisco, and more precisely, in The Beat Museum, which is open every day, all day.) Because of the overwhelming support The Beat Museum received in its efforts to save this Beat history, Jerry decided to hold the first ever Beatnik Shindig.
This Shindig stretched out four days and in multiple venues. The first night, a VIP night, was hosted at the Warby Parker Store because the store was named after Warby Parker, a character in one of Jack Kerouac’s unpublished stories.
The second night was hosted at The Beat Museum. Pizza was generously donated by Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. There were so many different types of pizzas and so many of each type. And they kept being replenished throughout the night.
At the actual Beatnik Shindig, at Fort Mason Center, there was a main conference room that was filled with sellers, snacks, some booze, and live poetry readings. Of course The Beat Museum had a booth with Estelle keeping the sales going.
So many cool talks and events were planned for the event. And since I’ve become a semi-regular at the Beat Museum events I recognized a lot of the people.
I attended the Gerd Stern talk, which was titled, “I Did Not Lose the Joan Anderson Letter.” A separate blog post will follow about that. The Beatnik Shindig offered so many different types of programming. Some were historical, some creative, some physical (there was a beatnik yoga!).
I purchased two signed photographs that were taken by Carolyn Cassady of Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady. I bought them from the Cassady family, as they were running the booth and kindly chatting with people and took pictures with them. Carolyn Cassady spent so much time with them and many of the photos we have of these two literary greats are because of her. The problem is that poor Carolyn’s photos were used many times, in many publications, without her permission, without any payment to her.
I didn’t take too many pictures because I was just so excited. When I was at the opening party with Christine, I just kept standing around smiling. I was so excited. All I could think was, these are my people! I may not know them, but we are of the same ilk. We all love the Beat writers so much that we somehow were invited to this VIP party. Which means that we’re all literary, we’re all a bit subversive, we’re all a bit liberal. We all believe in equal rights. We all enjoy a creative cuss word; we all enjoy a good drink, or two, or more; we all enjoy loud people and late nights; we’ve all gotten into trouble somehow; we all read too much and simultaneously, not enough. We all talk too much and not enough. And we were all brought together by The Beat Museum, which is creating a living breathing community of Beat lovers, Beat practitioners, and Beat academics.
Thank you Jerry and Estelle, for nurturing a physical place for book nerds to convene.