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Kathy Acker

Biography

Kathy Acker was born Kathy Lehmann in New York City. As you can see from the links below, her birth date is variously given as 1947 or 1948 and even 1944. In this interview, she claims she was born in 1947. Her father abandoned her mother before she was born and she never met him. Her mother remarried and she was brought up by her mother and stepfather and known as Kathy Alexander, her stepfather’s name. Her mother killed herself when Acker was thirty. She became involved with the New York arts scene early on, particularly experimental film-makers and poets. Acker attended Brandeis and married and soon divorced Robert Acker. She then went to the University of California at San Diego where she received a B. A. in classics. She then returned to New York where she started studying for a doctorate. As she was struggling financially, she worked a variety of jobs, including as a stripper. She became involved with the St. Mark’s Poetry Project.

Her first published work was a series of prose poems called Politics in 1972 but she was only published by small presses for some time. In the mid-1970s she moved back to the West Coast, where she lived with the composer Peter Gordon. She published experimental works with small presses at this time. In 1975, Acker and Gordon returned to New York, where Acker became involved with the avant-garde scene, particularly the group of artists involved in the Downtown group as well as the burgeoning punk movement. While publishing and reading, her personal life was in some turmoil. She married and then divorced Gordon. Her mother killed herself. In the early 1980s, she moved to Britain and in 1984, she had her first work published by a major publisher – Blood and Guts in High School, which was published by the British publisher, Picador. Meanwhile, Grove Press, aware of her growing fame in Britain, started publishing her work in the United States.

While in Britain, her work started to change, moving from deconstructing texts to a more political and, particularly, feminist outlook, though she continued to play with language and the role of the narrator. In the 1990s she moved back to New York but feeling that New York had become more conservative she moved back to the West Coast. Here she continued to publish but was also involved in drama, readings (including readings with rock groups) and writing an opera libretto. She also taught at university. In 1996, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a double mastectomy. As she had no medical insurance, she did not undergo chemotherapy, preferring New Age methods of healing. Sadly, they did not work and she died at an alternative treatment centre in Tijuana, Mexico, in 1997.

Books about Kathy Acker

Chris Kraus: After Kathy Acker

Other links

Kathy Acker
Kathy Acker
Kathy Acker
Kathy Acker: 1948-1997
Kathy Acker, remembered
“I Can’t Get Sexual Genders Straight”: Kathy Acker’s Writing of Bodies and Pleasures
Obituary
Interview
Interview
Interview
Interview
Interview

Bibliography

1972 Politics
1973 Childlike Life of the Black Tarantula By the Black Tarantula
1974 I Dreamt I Was a Nymphomaniac: Imagining
1978 Adult Life of Toulouse Lautrec
1978 Kathy Goes to Haiti
1978 Florida
1981 N.Y.C. in 1979
1982 Great Expectations
1982 Hello, I’m Erica Jong
1984 Blood and Guts in High School
1984 Algeria: A Series of Invocations Because Nothing Else Works
1986 Don Quixote
1987 My Death My Life by Pier Paolo Pasolini
1987 Wordplays 5: An Anthology of New American Drama
1988 Empire of the Senseless
1988 Literal Madness: Three Novels
1990 In Memoriam to Identity
1991 Hannibal Lecter, My Father
1992 Portrait of an Eye: Three Novels
1993 My Mother: Demonology
1995 Pussycat Fever
1995 Dust. Essays
1996 Pussy, King of the Pirates
1997 Bodies of Work: Essays
1997 Eurydice in the Underworld
2002 Rip-Off Red, Girl Detective, The Burning Bombing of America: The Destruction of the U.S.
2002 Essential Acker: The Selected Writings of Kathy Acker
2007 Acker: articles from The New Statesman, 1989-1991
2015 I’m Very Into You : Correspondence 1995-1996 (her correspondence with McKenzie Wark)
2018 Kathy Acker : The Last Interview and Other Conversations