A memoir by Bill Berkson
November 6, 2018 • 6 x 9 • 280 pages • 978-1-56689-529-3
Frank O’Hara, Marilyn Monroe, John Cage, Allen Ginsberg—champagne-soaked postwar Manhattan and bohemian 1960s San Francisco come alive in Berkson’s memoirs.
Bill Berkson was a poet, art critic, and joyful participant in the best of postwar and bohemian American culture. Since When gathers the ephemera of a life well lived, a collage of bold-face names, parties, exhibitions, and literary history from a man who could write “of [Truman Capote's Black and White] ball, which I attended as my mother’s escort, I have little recollection” and reminisce about imagining himself as a character from Tolstoy while tripping on acid at Woodstock. Gentle, witty, and eternally generous, this is Bill, and a particular moment in American history, at its best.
About the Author
Bill Berkson was a poet, critic, teacher, and curator. He collaborated with many artists and writers, including Alex Katz, Philip Guston, and Frank O’Hara, and his criticism appeared in ARTnews, Art in America, and elsewhere. Formerly a professor of liberal arts at the San Francisco Art Institute, he was born in New York in 1939. He died in June 2016.
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“Since When is a sentimental prayer to the great artists Berkson knew, not unlike a bittersweet and light-hearted speech delivered at a memorial service.” —Commonplace Review
“Berkson was the ultimate fly on the wall, and through his evocative writing the reader gets to be the same.” —Ploughshares
“Since When is a pleasingly scattered series of reminisces, interviews, lists and character sketches by Berkson, who hung out in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s with scads of poets, artists and other creative types—so many that he can credibly list ‘that interesting subset of poets who were born in 1934.’” —Star Tribune
“Since When offers a significant historical addition to the dreamlike worlds in Berkson’s poetry.” —Poetry Foundation
“[Since When] serves as a vivid testament to the enduring indispensability of relationships between artists.” —Open Space
The resulting mosaic gives a vivid account of Berkson’s colorful life in the intertwined literary and artistic milieus of New York and San Francisco during the postwar decades.” —Art in America
“Imagine an ideal friend, someone of good character, honorable, congenial, smart, well-read, judicious, articulate, self-aware, open-minded, and socially graceful, a gifted writer at the center of New York’s and the Bay Area’s artistic communities for sixty years. That ideal friend is Bill Berkson, and in this marvelous book he tells the true and fascinating story of his life and times.” —Ron Padgett
“Typical of a self-assured humility, Berkson buries his accomplishments under the persona of an affable raconteur in which everything from the monumental and historic to the most mundane has the same weight, viewed from an esthetic distance.” —The New Black Bart Poetry Society Parole Blog
“Since When captures the throbbing zeitgeist of a NYC/California experimental poetry/art rhizome and brims with dazzling encounters and glamorous portraiture of some of the best, most talented minds, including the author’s own parents and their coterie. Enthralling conversation, quotation, and astute commentary: Judy Garland! Ezra Pound! Greta Garbo! Frank O’Hara! Joan Mitchell! Amiri Baraka! Poet and art critic Bill Berkson spanned high and low: uptown/downtown zones of radical art mind. The Bohemian, dandyish, psychedelic, and the troubling hegemonic follies of a USA growing old because it ‘entered the twentieth century first’ (G. Stein) all romp in here. Bill had a shining boyish inquisitiveness, phenomenal memory, and a panoramic intelligence. Read this and eat your heart out for the belletristic, wild, and intimate days of the New York School. Entertaining—you feel you are in a very glamorous movie—but never shallow, this is serious history, required reading.” —Anne Waldman
“It’s tough to write a blurb about one of the most effortlessly cool and genuinely wise people you’ve ever met, especially when they already said it best with their high school yearbook quote: ‘Plato or comic books, I’m versatile.’ That was Bill, all the way. As his student, the main theme was, ‘Be kind, be clear, and a little humor goes a long way,’ a message that impacted our class deeply and continues to do so to this very day. This memoir is a celebration of his life and friends as told by Bill Himself, in that gentle and knowing voice, tales of getting karate chopped at by Norman Mailer, drinking with Joan Mitchell, long nights with Frank O’Hara, Elaine de Kooning, and Amiri Baraka, to name a few. Essential reading for any and all!” —Devendra Banhart
“Bill was a still point in a turning world. He made grace and kindness, careful intelligence and everyday happiness, seem properties of a social commons—where you found yourself, when around him, and missed, when not. This beautiful book immortalizes that spell.” —Peter Schjeldahl