Nominee #1: Patti Smith
Patti Smith is someone I have loved for a long time but I often forget about her. It’s a terrible thing to forget about such an interesting person but from time to time I do. I first learned about her when I read Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk in high school.
I don’t remember Patti Smith being a huge part of the book but she was certainly prevalent enough to have a captured my attention: an enigma of sorts. This socially awkward musician/poet/artist who didn’t seem carried away with drugs and maintained herself in the face of a culture of constantly losing oneself. A poet- a real live NYC poet! Oh, if I only dared to dream so high. Later I would see the movie, Foxfire, and hear Patti Smith’s Dancing Barefoot and my love would only become more engrained.
And so Patti Smith has drifted in and out of my life. Recently at a brunch, her memoir was mentioned with incredible praise. Just Kids is well worth the read. I’m only halfway through it and my love is deepening still. Patti Smith is so personable, so humble, so self-aware without being self-conscious or self-involved.
Although Patti Smith apparently doesn’t like dinner parties as she is not particularly social, I hope she will accept my hypothetical invitation.
Nominee #2: Joyce Carol Oates
If you know me, you know this is an obvious choice. I have loved Joyce Carol Oates for 10 or 11 years now. When I was in high school selling tickets at performing arts theater, one of my coworkers gave me her copy of Foxfire: Confessions of An All-Girl Gang. At 15, as an angry confused teen girl who desperately wanted to belong to someone or something, there was no greater gift than this book. It was dark and dangerous, vaguely sexual and haunting. I was Maddy without gang or I wanted to be anyways.
I won’t show you the poorly done, poorly chosen (at least I feel so many years later) tattoo I have that is a result of this book. If you’ve read it-you know.
From that point, I read considerably more JCO books (including those written in her pseudonym) than anything else. I’ve read somewhere between 25-30 of her published works (novels, novellas, collections of short stories, etc) and sadly this means I’ve read less than half of her work. In the world of publishing, her very name is synonymous with “prolific”. And she lives up to this without fault.
When I was in college I wrote my thesis on Blonde, her story based on Marilyn Monroe. I did it poorly and sometimes I think of writing it over, to really get it right this time. I met JCO at a reading of The Falls at University of South Carolina at Columbia. She was incredibly tall and frail looking. She gave the air of not really being there, as if she could just float away at any moment. When I handed her my copy of Blonde to sign, I told her I was writing my thesis on the work. She asked me what the title of my thesis was. I didn’t know. Her eyes widened a little without looking at me and she said, “Good luck with that,” in a way that I knew meant she thought I needed it.
If she came to my dinner party, I would do better.
That’s all the invitations I’m managed to churn out so far. More to come. RSVPs required.