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Guide to the Kathy Acker Notebooks
1968 - 1974
 MSS.434

Fales Library and Special Collections
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Fales Library and Special Collections

Collection processed by Rhyannon J. Rodriguez, 2015.

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on May 19, 2017
Description is in English.

Biographical Note

Kathy Acker (née Karen Lehmann; April 18, 1947 – November 30, 1997) was an American experimental novelist, performance artist, playwright, postmodernist, punk poet, and sex-positive, feminist essayist and writer. Acker was strongly influenced by poets of the Black Mountain School, William S. Burroughs, David Antin, French critical theory, philosophy and pornography.

Born and raised in New York City, Acker came to be closely associated with the punk movement of the 1970s and 1980s that influenced much of the culture in and around Manhattan. Acker studied classics as an undergraduate at Brandeis University with other students who became well-known, such as Angela Davis, and aspired to write novels. Acker transferred to the University of California at San Diego, where she worked with David Antin and Jerome Rothenberg, receiving her bachelor's degree in 1968. She completed two years of graduate work at the City University of New York in Classics, specializing in Greek, but left before earning a degree. While still in New York she worked as a file clerk, secretary, stripper, and porn performer. During the 1970s she often moved back and forth between San Diego, San Francisco and New York.

In 1979, Acker won the Pushcart Prize for her short story "New York City in 1979". During the early 1980s she lived in London, where she wrote several of her most critically acclaimed works. After returning to the United States in the late 1980s, she worked as an adjunct professor at the San Francisco Art Institute, and as a visiting professor at Roanoke College, the California Institute of Arts, the University of Idaho, and the Universities of California at San Diego and at Santa Barbara.

Blood and Guts in High School (1984) is considered Acker's breakthrough work, as it is one of her most extreme explorations of sexuality and violence. Borrowing from, among other texts, Nathaniel Hawthorne's  The Scarlet Letter,  Blood and Guts details the experiences of Janey Smith, a sex addicted and pelvic-inflammatory-disease-ridden urbanite who is in love with a father who sells her into slavery. Many critics criticized it for being demeaning toward women, and Germany banned it completely. Acker published the German court judgment against  Blood and Guts in High School in  Hannibal Lecter, My Father (1991).

Acker produced a considerable body of novels, wrote pieces for a number of magazines and anthologies, and also had notable pieces printed in issues of RE/Search,  Angel Exhaust,  monochrom, and  Rapid Eye. Towards the end of her life, Acker had a measure of success in the conventional press; the  Guardian published several of her articles, including an interview with the Spice Girls, which she submitted just a few months before her death. Three volumes of her non-fiction have been published and re-published since her death. In 2002, New York University staged  Discipline and Anarchy, a retrospective exhibition of her works, while in 2007, Amandla Publishing re-published Acker's articles for the  New Statesman from 1989 to 1991, and in 2008, London's Institute of Contemporary Arts held an evening of her films.

The Kathy Acker Papers (1972-1997) are housed at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, at Duke University in Durham, NC.

Published Works

Politics (1972)

Childlike Life of the Black Tarantula By the Black Tarantula (1973)

I Dreamt I Was a Nymphomaniac: Imagining (1974)

Adult Life of Toulouse Lautrec (1978)

Florida (1978)

Kathy Goes To Haiti (1978)

N.Y.C. in 1979 (1981)

Great Expectations (1983)

Algeria: A Series of Invocations Because Nothing Else Works (1984)

Blood and Guts in High School (1984)

Don Quixote: Which Was a Dream (1986)

My Death My Life by Pier Paolo Pasolini (1986)

Literal Madness: Three Novels (Reprinted 1987)

Wordplays 5: An Anthology of New American Drama (1987)

Empire of the Senseless (1988)

In Memoriam to Identity (1990)

Hannibal Lecter, My Father (1991)

My Mother: Demonology (1994)

The Stabbing Hand (Guest Appearance on song by Oxbow, reissues of album  Let Me Be a Woman) (1995)

Pussycat Fever (1995)

Dust. Essays (1995)

Pussy, King of the Pirates (1996)

Bodies of Work: Essays (1997)

Portrait of an Eye: Three Novels (Reprinted 1998)

Redoing Childhood (2000) (Spoken Word, KRS 349)

Rip-Off Red: Girl Detective (Published 2002 from 1973 Manuscript)