Chris Kraus Debuts Kathy Acker Biography at Scripps

Author Chris Kraus reads an excerpt from her biography on Kathy Acker at Scripps College’s Clark Humanities Museum. The biography follows the unconventional life and significant influence of Acker during the 1970s. (Morgan Albrecht • The Student Life)

Author Chris Kraus illuminated the thrilling life of writer Kathy Acker at a discussion and reading presented on Feb. 29, at the Scripps College Clark Humanities Museum. The presentation was centered on Kraus’ soon-to-be-published biography of Acker, which has been in the works since 2000.

Chris Kraus is renowned for her book I Love Dick, first published by publishing house Semiotext(e) in 1997. In addition to this work, described by some as a cult classic, Kraus has authored novels such as Torpor, Summer of Hate, and Aliens & Anorexia. She has also written numerous criticisms of the arts, with a particularly large body of criticism centered on the art scene in Los Angeles. Kraus is now a professor at the European Graduate School.

During the reading, Kraus transfixed the audience with the escapades and eccentricities that characterized Acker’s experiences. Kathy Acker is known for her boundary-breaking writing and influence in the literary scene of the 1970’s, as well as for her equally unconventional personality.

“It seems to be very confessional,” Kraus said when describing Acker’s writing. She made specific reference here to The Childlike Life of the Black Tarantula, a novel by Acker. Kraus further described Acker’s work as possessing “uncensored” qualities that were manifest, perhaps paradoxically, via “a pre-conceived conceptual framework.”

The biography, which will be the first book to chronicle Acker’s experiences in depth, begins with a portrayal of the writer’s youth in New York City in the 1970’s, and draws to a close with a chapter about her burial in 1997. The two readings Kraus presented were from these sections.

The style and structure of the excerpts were distinctive in that they are crafted using almost a narrative voice and mode. This exhibited a stylistic creativity and  elegance that evoked the literary in addition to the traditionally biographical.

During her presentation, Kraus discussed the challenges she faced during the research phases of the biography’s inception. She highlighted, for instance, the divergence of perspectives that arose from Acker’s relatives at different points in time following the writer’s death. The interviews she conducted with acquaintances of Acker in 2000, a date little removed from the writer’s death, presented “a much less romantic view of that history.”

The need to “find the right balance” of perspectives was another key element of the writing process that Kraus described.

“A question that’s come up in my mind… was what responsibility do I have to the living people?” Kraus said. She went on to describe how this “responsibility” involved the need to reconcile the often blunt viewpoints Acker expressed, which Kraus uncovered in research, with the present identities and opinions of Acker’s acquaintances.

The desire to gain a certain distance from the time of Acker’s life prior to completing the biography was one of the primary reasons Kraus chose to wait until 2012 to rekindle her work on the text. Once the work is published, readers will be able to delve into the world of Kathy Acker with what she sees as appropriate detachment.

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