Joyce Johnson
By: Brian Berger | Categories: HiLo Heroes, Literature

Perhaps the greatest of Beat’s too few female memoirists, JOYCE JOHNSON (née Glassman, born 1935), grew up in Bay Ridge, Kew Gardens and then Morningside Heights, where, at 16, the budding bohemian entered Barnard. Although she didn’t graduate, by the summer of 1955, Glassman had her own apartment, a secretarial job at a literary agency and an unexpected abortion in a Canarsie, Brooklyn doctor’s office. Also unexpected: a New Year’s 1957 blind date with Jack Kerouac, little-known author of The Town And The City (1951); a two-year, often long-distance, relationship, followed. In 1962, Glassman’s own first novel, Come And Join The Dance, appeared, as did painter James Johnson, whom she’d wed and — following a December 1963 motorcycle accident — be widowed from. A few years later, Joyce married another painter, Peter Pinchbeck; with their son, Daniel Pinchbeck (born 1966), she’d leave him in 1971. Though a successful editor with Dial Press (where her radical interests helped bring H. Rap Brown’s Die Nigger Die! and Abbie Hoffman’s Revolution For The Hell of It to print) and respected novelist (1978’s Bad Connections), not until Minor Characters (1983), her superb memoir of Beat-era New York, was Johnson’s empathetic brilliance widely recognized. Door Wide Open (2000), collecting her 1957–58 Kerouac correspondence, revealed her original black-stockinged charm too: “went mad yesterday and bought 2 lps — one a Vivaldi concerto for two trumpets which you will love… Also a Bud Powell record which I’m getting used to.”

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On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Jim Thompson and Jack Goldstein.

READ MORE about members of the Anti-Anti-Utopian Generation (1934-43).

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Brian Berger is a historian, journalist and poet. He was coeditor, with Marshall Berman, of New York Calling: From Blackout to Bloomberg.