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Kathy Acker Biography

(1947–1997), Blood and Guts in High School, Don Quixote, The Adult Life of Toulouse Lautrec

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American dramatist, novelist, and poet, born in New York, educated at the Universities of Brandies and California. In her narratives, documentary accounts of historical events are juxtaposed with grim imaginings on the modern world. Classic texts are often used to pass comment on literary tradition, and to provide a disquieting context for her bleak visions of late twentieth-century Western society. Blood and Guts in High School (1978), an account of young Janey Smith's trials and tribulations, incorporates dream maps, Persian poems, gritty realism, and fantastical encounters with Jean Genet and President Carter. In Don Quixote (1986) she uses Cervantes together with pastiches of Wedekind and de Sade amongst others, to provide a picaresque structure for a female Quixote's wanderings around the impoverished social and political landscape of post-war America. From her early writings under the pseudonym of ‘The Black Tarantula’ onwards, graphic descriptions of the sex act have been prominent in her work, reflecting Acker's former employment as a stripper and in porn films. Early short stories are collected in The Adult Life of Toulouse Lautrec (1975) and Kathy Goes to Haiti (1978). Later works include Empire of the Senseless (1988), a female version of Genet's novel Journal du Voleur, and In Memoriam to Identity (1990), a fictional account of the relationship between Rimbaud and Verlaine. Acker has also written poetry, plays, art criticism, screenplays including Variety (1985), and an opera libretto, The Birth of the Poet (1985). Variously described as ‘post-punk porn’, ‘post-modernist’, and ‘feminist counterculture’, her work has been compared with that of writers such as W. S. Burroughs and Jean Genet.

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