cover image After Kathy Acker: A Literary Biography

After Kathy Acker: A Literary Biography

Chris Kraus. Semiotext(e), $24.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-63590-006-4

Kraus (I Love Dick) is a generous, admiring, but not uncritical narrator in this comprehensive biography of author Kathy Acker (1947–1997), “a post-punk icon for the Bush/Thatcher years.” Kraus uses Acker’s personal notebooks and correspondence, along with interviews with Acker’s friends, to chronicle not just Acker’s life but a group of avant-garde artists and intellectuals in the 1980s and early ’90s. Acker emerges here as a prolific self-mythologizer, but Kraus shows an impressive ability to clear away her subject’s fabrications while tracing Acker’s life from her upbringing on the Upper East Side of Manhattan to her death from breast cancer at 50. Without ever sensationalizing Acker’s personal history, Kraus explores Acker’s dysfunctional childhood and complicated sex life, which became the content of Acker’s inescapably autobiographical work. Kraus proves a master of her craft, displaying a wry sense of humor and giving fine-tuned close readings of Acker’s writing. She takes subtle jabs at Acker’s obsession with image and taste for conspicuous consumption, noting how Acker’s back tattoo and motorcycles burnished her public persona. Ultimately, Kraus convincingly demonstrates that Acker was a fiercely intelligent writer of “discursive first-person fiction.” The book will excite fans of Acker, though those less interested in her work might find the level of detail heavy going. [em](Aug.) [/em]